Friday, May 26, 2006

Happy Days are Here Again

The last several days here in Cairo have been wonderful. My jobs have been going really well and I am excited about the work ahead. I am continuing to work on photographing the old volumes that the Synod of the Nile has so that I can make digital copies of them. Most of them are books containing minutes from Synod meetings that date back to the late 1800’s. It’s really amazing to see the beautiful handwritten Arabic that has since become a lost art. Nobody really writes like that anymore. Emil, the General Secretary notified me that my work, while tedious, is not in vain. He told me he recently traveled to a small town in upper Egypt and used material from one of the books to inform people about a school that used to exist in their town. He used it as an example of the type of ministry that they ought to be doing.

The school was started by American missionaries in the late 1800’s and served Muslims, Christians, and Jews, in a co-educational environment. By comparison, schools run by the Egyptian government are segregated by gender to this day. The idea of teaching children from all the major religions in a gender-mixed environment was revolutionary at the time.

Somehow a Muslim, who is also an ex-parliament member, found out about Emil’s presentation and decided to lend a helping hand. He informed the congregation that his older brother, who was also a parliament member, went to that school as a child. He explained how the school had shaped his brother’s life and how it enabled him to make something great out of his life. He told the congregation how important it was that the church had this educational ministry and how it affected the life of the community and the children who lived there and of all the good that came from that ministry. Sadly, his brother is no longer alive, but the man’s testimony to the success of the ministry drove Emil’s point home: church ministries in Egypt can’t be about evangelism, but they can still shape communities and change people’s lives regardless of their religion. Emil wants to revitalize ministries that aren’t about seeking some benefit for the Church, but for society in general.

I recently completed the update of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo web site. The site still has a kink in that the link to the online card catalog doesn’t work, but that wasn’t a part of my deal. I hope those that are responsible for that part of the site work that out soon. But I am pleased with the way the site looks and how it flows. Check it out at http://www.etsc.org.

Now that my work on the web site is relatively complete, I am plowing full steam ahead into the three PowerPoint presentations that I must complete before the upcoming graduation. I’ll talk more about that as I complete them.

Yesterday evening I went to Al Azhar Park, which is a really nice park that overlooks a portion of Cairo, with three of my friends. Brice, my “supervisor” at the seminary; Tukei (pronounced “2-K”), a Ugandan seminary student; my Iraqi friend that you know by the name of “Ramsis,” and I enjoyed a nice stroll around the grassy areas. We talked about a plethora of subjects from the types of plants that were planted in the park, to the war in Iraq.

Brice had to leave early, so Tukei, Ramsis, and I sat around and watched the sunset and listened to the Muslim calls to prayer that drifted up from the numerous mosques in the city below. Later, we took a cab back to our neighborhood.

Ramsis communicated with the driver about where we wanted to go since he can speak Arabic fluently. The taxi driver started guessing where Ramsis is from since his dialect of Arabic is different from Egyptian Arabic. “Jordan?” he asked. “No,” said Ramsis. “Syria? Lebanon?” “No,” answered Ramsis. Finally he told the taxi driver he is from Iraq. Then a few moments later I started speaking in Arabic to Ramsis, trying to learn the correct pronunciation of particular words, and this caught the curiosity of the taxi driver.

He asked me where I am from. I told him America, and he responded by jokingly holding his hands up in the air as if to say, “Don’t shoot!” We all laughed and I heartily patted him on the shoulders from the back seat. It was a few more minutes before he caught on to what was plainly obvious to me. He had an American and an Iraqi sitting side by side in his back seat. I could almost hear the gears grinding. “He’s an Iraqi… and… you’re an… American?” That’s what I imagined he was thinking. A few minutes later he said, “How is this possible?” referring to our uncommon friendship. I was tempted to say, “Because we are Christians,” but I thought better of saying that to a Muslim taxi driver. In the end we both smiled and shrugged. Later, I reached over and shook Ramsis’ hand and said, “I’m glad you are my friend.”

Yours in Christ,
Jason

3 comments:

Heather said...

God is truly amazing.

Jason, can I repost that last little bit to my blog? I really would like to share that with my friends.

Jason said...

Of course. As they say in Egypt, "As you like."

Amy said...

Ah, Jason, that's just lovely. Both that your work is meaningful and you have friendships that others are surprised (and probably given nhope) by.