In the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, we read of the Holy Family escaping the terror of King Herod and his attack on the infant boys of Jerusalem. They find refuge and safety for a few years in the arms of the people of Egypt. Egyptian Christians take pride in their ancestors’ role of protecting Jesus and his parents.
For the past month, we have experienced the hospitality and friendliness infused in Egyptian culture for ourselves. In some ways, the three of us might picture ourselves as that same family, being welcomed into the arms of the Egyptian people.
A significant difference is that while they were escaping from political violence, we have moved much closer to it by coming to begin our work with the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo.
Many have been concerned that we have stepped into harm’s way as the events of what many here are calling a second revolution have unfolded. But in spite of the “rocky” first two weeks we have had in Egypt, we can now easily imagine Joseph and Mary, with young child in tow, being warmly embraced with the ubiquitous greeting that we have heard countless times: “Welcome to Egypt!”
We arrived here in Cairo on June 25, a few days before demonstrations against then President Morsi were scheduled to begin at locations across the country. In our last week of preparations to move to Egypt, we had anticipated that we would need to lay low over our first weekend in the city. But we had no idea that what were anticipated to be significant demonstrations against the Morsi government would turn into a removal of the Morsi government.
We live some distance away from any of the areas in which demonstrations are usually held. Despite any desire we might feel to join in or experience the demonstrations alongside our global partners at the seminary, for reasons of safety we have kept our distance and observed from afar. Fortunately, our apartment just happens to be right off of one of the major streets in Cairo, giving us a front row seat for a massive march that took place on June 30 as demonstrators streamed from Tahrir Square to one of the presidential palaces.
From our fourth story window we had a clear view of the road, and we watched as wave after wave of demonstrators marched by, filling the street with flags and the air with the sound of chanting and cheering. It was clear that this was a peaceful movement. Families marched together, Christians and Muslims walked side by side.
Egyptians of all walks of life participated in these historic demonstrations, including many faculty, staff and family members from the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo. By Saturday, July 6, after President Morsi had been removed, we were able to sit down with some of them and hear their stories and their perspective on the dramatic events of these past two weeks.
As part of the Christian community here in Egypt they felt incredibly betrayed by the government of Mohamed Morsi. While there had been many promises of cooperation and inclusion, some felt that life was actually worse for them under Morsi than it had ever been under former President Hosni Mubarak.
For them, the events of June 30 were not a military coup, but rather a massive movement of the people of Egypt reclaiming the values and priorities of the January 25 revolution from the Muslim Brotherhood, who had amply demonstrated that they intended to take Egypt in a completely different direction.
While they are deeply saddened by the violence that has taken place following the president’s removal, they also take pride in the fact that the demonstrations to remove Morsi were peaceful, hopeful, and inclusive. Some say that this past year of struggle under Morsi has been worth it, because the world can now see where his loyalties lie.
In moments when we wonder if we should have waited a few more weeks before making the move to Egypt, we give thanks instead that we have been here to witness such a historic moment for ourselves, and are not reliant upon the interpretation of events through the media.
Cable news commentators and think tank experts certainly have their perspective and opinions, but more valuable to us are the concerns and aspirations of the Christian community here in Egypt and their role in bringing democracy, inclusion and peace to this place that once sheltered the Son of God.
It is our hope that even though the stories of Egypt’s second revolution have started to fade from your news cycle back at home, you will continue to think of and pray for the people of Egypt. It is our prayer that members of the PC(USA) will recognize the deep connections we have with the Presbyterian Church in Egypt.
When you see a mass of people gathered in Tahrir Square on your television or computer screen and on the pages of your newspapers, you can be confident that in those crowds are Egyptian Presbyterians taking a stand for peace, inclusion and democracy. When you read stories of Egypt’s transitional government and its attempts to listen to all voices, know that the voices of Egyptian Presbyterians are sometimes being heard for the first time.
When you consider how your mission dollars can effect change in a changing world, know that a commitment to Presbyterian World Mission and our 150-year partnership with Presbyterians in Egypt means that even though we are not able to stand with them in the street, we can stand with them in the pew, in the classroom and in our hearts.
If you would like to know more about supporting mission co-workers, please contact Nicole Gerkins by email at Nicole.Gerkins@pcusa.org or by phone at 888-728-7228, ext. 5611.