Well, I said in the last Cairo Update that I would only write
again when there was something worth writing about. As you know,
I have suspended all meetings for the first three months of 2002
in order to concentrate on studying Arabic. Previously I've been
too busy to study, or at least used the meetings as an excuse
why I couldn't.
Well, so far so good. I can't say it has gone really well, but
progress has certainly been made. My goal was to be able to take
meetings without using a translator, and I think that I'm almost
at that point. Admittedly, I can now only do a limited amount
of talks but that will improve with practice. I have found that
there are now many more distractions apart from taking meetings!
I have taken just a handful of meetings since January. One was
a meeting that I cancelled in December, and therefore felt a moral
obligation to re-schedule. I was glad that I went. It was a conference
for about 60 boys from a deprived area (deprived by Egyptian standards!)
These were *real* children, and not church children, if you get
my meaning. The boys were in their early teens, had many questions,
and were really searching. By the end of the meeting about one
third of them made a commitment.
Many of the boys had come from difficult situations. I spoke with
one who had problems with his father, who drinks a lot and often
gets violent. The boy had been thrown out of the house many times
and he was asking how to deal with the situation. This was typical.
The ones who made a commitment wanted to know how to apply it
to their own situations. We hope they will be attending a local
congregation in the area in which they live. There are some who
are members in the congregation who have organised follow-up.
Another conference I attended was one which was forced onto me.
To understand what I mean, you must know something about Egyptian
culture. Usually when someone asks you a question, you have to
try to give them the answer they want to hear to be polite. So
when I am asked if I can take a meeting, I cannot repond with
a straight forward "no", that would be quite inappropriate.
Now that I am concentrating on Arabic, I have suspended all meetings,
but to be polite I tell people to phone me first and I will check
the calendar. If they get round to giving me a call, I will tell
them that I am already busy on that day (they assume another meeting,
whereas I am studying Arabic!)
One lady asked me if I could do a one week conference in upper
Egypt, I gave the set response- "Get back to me with some
dates and I will check the calendar". As she told me later,
what she heard was, "Tell me the dates and I will book them
in the calendar". She went ahead and booked the conference
with me as the main speaker, booked the music leader, arranged
a series of meetings and advertised them to the church. A couple
of weeks before the conference was about to start she called me
to tell me the dates. Well, either she genuinely misunderstood
what I meant, or she used typical Egyptian tactics to out manouver
me (and this wouldn't be the first time!). I reluctantly agreed
to go for the week.
So, in the middle of Feburary I went to a village of about 4000
people. It was in the midst of a farming community of Si'eedies.
I've written about these people before, they are the ones who
are the butt of many Egyptian jokes. It is said that they are
big, strong and have the mentality of a retarded labrador dog,
but when angered change into savage rottweilers. When I was with
them I was careful not to share any of the Si'eedie jokes I have
To be honest I like these people a lot, the characature that the
other Egyptians have about them is unfair. I left on a Sunday,
and during my time there I had about two or three meetings a day.
I returned exhausted but rejoicing. I can split the time into
different areas of the village, security, food, health and ministry.
As I mentioned, the village was in the middle of Si'eedie farming
community. There were no facilities that you might find in a city
like Cairo. During my stay I didn't see a single pharmacy, supermarket
or phone booth. Neither was there a proper road system in the
village. Despite these difficiencies the village could be considered
quite affulent compared to other places in upper Egypt since each
house had electricity and running water. The village was about
25% Christian, with four congregations present. After I arrived
I heard that there had been problems between the two communities,
some Christians had been killed. (It has to be said that with
these types of problems, it is always churches that are burnt,
or Christians killed, never ever the other way round. There is
little publicity about it on national or international news).
Because of the problems of attacks, I had to have an armed escort
throughout my time in the village. The pastor had to register
my visit before my arrival so that security arrangements could
be made. From the train station to the church I had an armed escort.
During my stay in the church building there was a 24-hour armed
escort outside. I was allowed to venture outside the church once
since we wanted to visit a small village to do a meeting. The
four of us left the church and were surrounded by an armed escort
of five soldiers and government security agents during the short
walk. In the village we were not allowed to take a meeting, so
instead we sang and prayed with the people in the street. At one
point I got out some modelling balloons to entertain the children
- for this type of area modelling balloons are quite a novel idea
and it got a lot of attention. Some security guards approached
me during my light entertainment and I initially thought that
it was to stop me because what I was doing could be considered
as being a "meeting". Instead they insisted that they
wanted modelling balloons too. I believe it was Al Capone who
said "You can get further with a nice word and a gun, than
you can with a nice word alone". They got their balloons,
and whilst walking back it seemed a bit surreal to see them wearing
sunglasses, carrying a kalashnikov AK47 in one hand and balloon
rabbit in the other.
Even after five years I still have difficulty coping with many
types of Egyptian food. My experiences during this trip were fairly
typical; many times I had to surpress my natural gag mechanism
in order to not insult my hosts. My first meal was a bad omen
of what was to come. I was served liver, olives, salt-cheese and
bread. Man, I had difficulty getting the liver down. The salt-cheese
(by the taste of it) I imagined as being half cheese and half
salt, and completely unpaletable to anyone from England. I was
pleased that I only had to endure molochaya once. This is the
stuff I have referred to in the past as being exactly like mucus
in terms of sight, texture and taste.
As a result of the food, and maybe something to do with the cloudy
water, I had to remain within running distance of a toilet from
the start of the second day. In addition I contracted a sore throat
which grew into a full head-cold. The situation became worse when
I started to be eaten alive by body-lice which took up permanent
residence in my bed. These persistant little parasites kept me
awake most nights. I got up on the Tuesday morning after having
very little sleep the night before, I guess about two hours. I
looked forward to a shower to scrub my body with a brillo pad,
however, the water was off for a couple of hours (this is typical)
so I had to wait until after lunch. By the end of the week my
bed and all my clothes were infected. I had many bites - I counted
12 on my right hand alone. I cat-napped during the daytime, but
still I was exhausted by the end of the week through lack of sleep.
Despite the discomforts the my time in upper Egypt was well spent.
I am limited by how much I can say about it. Beforehand the normal
attendance was about 80 per week. During the week of special meetings
that grew to about 300, and even people listening from outside
because they could not get in. Before the meetings officially
started, people were coming early and starting off impromptu worship
sessions before the worship leader arrived. People responded,
numbers have stayed up in the weeks since we left. I wondered
why the response was so good, but after attending a women's prayer
meeting I understood completely. They prayed with loud, gravelly
voices using non-sophisticated words- but they were persistant,
they cried out to God to touch them.
As a Westerner it is easy to feel that you are in a deprived area
with simple people who need help. After visiting the prayer meeting
and seeing how they prayed, I realised that I was the person who
came from a deprived country and in terms of praying I needed
their help. After taking a meeting for the same women I did the
mistake of making a couple of balloon models for the ladies present
to take to their children. Afterwards they all wanted one. They
weren't polite about it either, they were insistant and wouldn't
be passified by my words. The really persistant ones stayed with
me and followed me- in the end I had to give in. I realised that's
why they are good intercessors - they prayed like the persistant
widow in Luke 18.
So as you see, I have been kept busy with things in addition to
Arabic, and the time in upper Egypt gave me the incentive to work
on the Arabic even more.
Until next time, toodle pip,
PS I've attatched a photo of the church in upper Egypt. There
is a partition going through the middle of the church to separate
the men from the ladies (this is necessary for cultural reasons).
The photo was taken at the beginning of a children's meeting,
it just shows the half of the church to the speakers left hand
side. The photo doesn't show the fact that to get the children
in the building there were many surrounding me on the stage area
Return to Cairo
population is 66 Million
is four times the size of the UK
Only 3% of the land can be used for arable crops
has 18 million people and is growing by 1 millon each year.
is the Largest city in Africa and the Middle East
literacy rate is only 45%
total of 11 languages are spoken in Egypt
Debt per person is $790
annual income is $630
is estimated to be 17%
Approx. 85% Muslim and 15% Christian
Christians are affiliated to the Orthodox Church, less than
1% of the population are Protestant
- There are
an estimated 100,000 street children in Egypt