July 29, 2013
Lessons from the Egyptian Church
One couple’s adventures during Egypt’s Second Revolution.
It is beyond difficult to capture in a few short paragraphs all we experienced during our time in Egypt. We scheduled our trip to Cairo ages ago. Our purpose? To spend time with old friends, to learn what fellow brothers and sisters were doing for the sake of the kingdom, and to connect with other followers of Christ who desire to reach Egypt’s majority population. A second revolution was not on our original agenda. Neither were bread shortages or endless lines to simply replenish gasoline. And we certainly did not plan to scramble for last-minute transportation as taxi companies were grounding their cars.
Our scheduled departure on June 30th was the same day as the official protest against the Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Morsi. While we were preparing for a trip abroad, millions of Egyptians were preparing to retake their revolution and demand a leader that did not have an agenda outside of serving the people through a democratic government.
Their reasons for ousting their first elected president were many, but what we found particularly interesting was that Christians and moderate Muslims alike were banding together under the common interest of saving Egypt from economic ruin. And because of this, almost every conversation we had with close friends, new acquaintances, and even the barber in the Garbage Village, eventually turned to their personal opinions of the president, their plans for the protests, and their predictions of what these protests would bring.
While we were there, we had one unique privilege after another, meeting with believers from many different denominations and sects to hear how they are doing, what they are doing, and how they were feeling about the potential second revolution. For non-denominational Westerners, this trip was both eye opening and humbling as we learned from the Egyptian body of Christ. We were welcomed into a house church to pray together. We spent several days serving alongside our Orthodox brothers and sisters to serve children in under-resourced communities. We even had the extraordinary privilege of witnessing the baptism of a new disciple who was renouncing the majority faith system.
We met with people among the church who are inviting Muslims into the work they are doing. Many in one rural region are taking notes from a sweet lady who is working to provide women with trade skills so they can be self-sustainable. She is addressing the economic independence of women in these villages better than anyone else, and she is Muslim.
Not far from Tahrir Square, an evangelical church has set up a field hospital to serve those wounded in the protests. They are getting many of their supplies—and many of their volunteer doctors—from within the Muslim community.
We don’t want to paint a rosy picture, because the Church makes up only 10 percent of the population and can quickly become the target of persecution and violence. And as we write this, we hear from our friends in Cairo that the ousted regime is making threats against the Coptic believers.
Having said that, when we think of our friends and co-laborers within Egypt, we have much to learn from them. Their joy is palpable and it is contagious.
We have reflected on the lessons we learned for our whirlwind time in Egypt, and we are rich with new relationships and understanding. We spent a lot of time listening and learning from our brothers and sisters, and several themes stood out.
First, many within the Church are actively engaged in the political processes that have led to both the first and second revolutions. They have not shied away from speaking their voices and advocating for the rights of Christians and Muslims alike.
Second, in a country that is majority Muslim, we saw numerous examples of our brothers and sisters building relationships with their neighbors, in many cases working together with them to improve economic stability and serve the sick and wounded. This sounds entirely too simple, but it was profound that our friends who can often be persecuted by hardliners are intentionally building relationships with their Muslim neighbors.
Third, in the event anyone is living under a rock and hadn’t noticed, the world is becoming increasingly smaller as technology continues to knit us all together. As we spent time in Egypt, it became clear to us that everything going on in the country affects us in the West, and vice versa. The models we create in the West really do have an impact around the world. More than 230 years ago, the United States began a rocky trek towards democracy. Egypt is just now beginning this process and the road will be long and arduous. We often find ourselves expecting them to step into immediate maturity on this journey, forgetting the painful path our own people took in shaping a new government. With a large amount of their population illiterate, and propaganda being flung around like manure, they have a hard path ahead. Almost every friend we met there is not just addressing the spiritual questions of the people, but also the issues of education, cultural awareness, and literacy so their own healthy form of government can grow.
Fourth, we saw two clear examples of how the Body of Christ is seeking the shalom, the peace and justice, of their city. A large evangelical church on the edge of Tahrir Square responded to an immediate need during the first revolution and set up a field hospital in their courtyard. This year, they took the warnings of an impending second revolution to heart and prepared well in advance for any wounded that might be brought to their doorstep. They have already served many, and they have done so without regard for religious or political affiliation. They have simply been a refuge to the needy.
In another part of the city, the Center of Love inside the Garbage Village is serving the least of these, day in and day out. They have a school for the mentally and physically disabled in their community, serving a population that previously had no hope. With the little they have to work with, they have created a center with class rooms, a physical therapy center for those with Cerebral Palsy and other physical disabilities, and they have recently begun serving children who are deaf and dumb. Anyone is welcome, and they actively pursue the parents of potential students to ensure their children are well cared for.
Fifth, we know there has been much distrust among different denominations and sects within the Egyptian church, and this from a long history of foreign rule. But since the first revolution, we have seen a church more and more unified in one Spirit, intent on one purpose. The result has been prayer, fasting, and working together in harmony. They have a long way to go, as we all do, but the way they model grace and unity under pressure left us amazed and humbled.
So how do we in the West apply these lessons learned to our own context? We must begin praying, as they have. What if we, as people who believe in the one true God (John 17:3) came together to pray and to fast, and to build unity rather than division? What if our common goal was to see Christ glorified in our behavior, in our speech, and in our leaning on him? And what if we continued to build friendships from around the world, listening to the stories of what is happening on the ground? What if we prayed for our own body, the worldwide church, as though we were in the fray with them?
Jimmy Lee is President of re:source global and Sarah Martel Lee serves as the Director of the Ministry Venture Fund. Re:source works to mobilize financial and human capital investment towards global initiatives and individuals advancing the gospel around the world.