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Letters from...Egypt

Cairo-born and based, Kuwait-raised Nancy is a qualified Christian psychologist working with a Christian ministry which supports families across the Middle East.

Nancy writes: "I’m glad to begin blogging on this SAT-7 website, since I firmly believe in the ministry’s vision to minister to Christians throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

"I was born in Cairo and raised in Kuwait. The Lord graciously led me to Him when I was 13. My life has been forever changed by His amazing grace. I hold a Bachelor of Science Degree in Christian Psychology from a Christian university in the US. Following the Lord's calling, I moved back to Egypt upon graduation and have since been working at a Christian organisation which serves families throughout the Middle East. The Lord has blessed me with a wonderful husband and two great kids."

How Egypt celebrates Christmas

“Out of Egypt I called my Son.” (Hosea 11:1)

These verses are treasured by every Egyptian Christian. The Gospel of Matthew (2:13-15) tells how Hosea’s prophecy of Israel’s deliverance was fulfilled in a new way in the life of Jesus. The God who had rescued His people miraculously in the Exodus now snatched His Son from Herod’s snare when an angel appeared to Joseph telling him to flee with Mary and the baby Jesus to Egypt.

So how have the close proximity of Jesus’ birth and the historic stay of Jesus as a baby in Egypt impacted the way Egyptians celebrate His birth?

Nativity and children's choir at St Mary church, Heliopolis (SAT-7)The historic Coptic Church, which celebrates Christmas on 7 January, has for centuries preserved Christmas as a special celebration preceded by a 43-day Advent fast. It is said that the 40 days resemble the 40 days Moses spent on the mountain to receive the Word of God. Similarly, Coptic Christians fast to prepare themselves to receive the Word who became flesh, Jesus Christ. The remaining three days commemorate a tenth century event when the Mokattam Mountain in Cairo is believed to have moved three times due to the prayers of the Church, proving the truth of Christianity to the Fatimid Cailiph Al Mu'izz Ledeenallah Al Fatemy.

Following the 43-day fast, Coptic Christians attend a special Christmas Eve Mass on the evening of 6 January in Coptic churches throughout the country. This ends at midnight in most churches, after which families gather for a big feast to break the fast. Christmas day on 7 January is usually spent with extended family members either at home or outdoors.

While gifts are not a big part of the Egyptian Christmas tradition, adults give children in the family a monetary gift called an “edeyya.” New clothes for all the family, especially children, are also a trademark of Christmas in Egypt.

Catholic Egyptians also observe Advent but celebrate Christmas with the Western church on 25 December.

Over the years, the Evangelical Church in Egypt has joined the Coptic Church in celebrating Christmas on 7 January. Unlike the Coptic and Catholic Churches, they do not call for an Advent fast, but do have special Christmas services either on Christmas day or Christmas Eve. Children are an important part of these and usually rehearse for weeks beforehand to be part of a children’s Christmas choir.

"Christmas culture"

Although not much has changed in the ways Christians of all denominations celebrate Jesus’ birth, the cultural adoption of Christmas as a holiday has significantly increased in recent years. It used to be that only Christians bought Christmas trees, decorated their homes, and attended “Christmas Carols”. These days, however, shopping malls are adorned with Christmas trees and decorations, most toy stores offer a “Santa” to hand out toys to children, and many from different religious backgrounds enjoy going to Christmas Carols with Christian friends in schools, churches or hotels.

Also worth noting in the last decade is that 7 January was declared a national holiday. Christians are no longer alone in taking the day off of work; it has become a holiday for everyone.

My prayer is that the Church in Egypt will continue to hold firmly to the sacredness of Christmas and that it will see the cultural adoption of Christmas as an opportunity for the Church to share publicly its celebrations of the Saviour humankind so desperately needs. I hope this cultural celebration will never lead us to dilute the powerful message of Christmas as has happened in many parts of the world. We cannot remove CHRIST from CHRISTmas!

Merry Christmas. Kol sana wento tayyebeen!



Pride in Egypt’s miracle canal

Egypt Rejoices! That’s the English translation of the highest trending hashtag this past month in Egypt. On 6 August 2015, the New Suez Canal was opened with grand ceremony by President Al-Sisi. Billboards heralded the opening as “Egypt’s miracle and gift to the world” as Egypt’s head of state oversaw the opening from the deck of the El-Mahrousa - the first ship to pass through the canal at its original opening in 1869.

Egypt showing Gulf of Suez and canal (iStock)Leaving aside the differing worldwide reactions to the new canal, let’s travel back to that first voyage of the El-Mahrousa through these waters. The original Suez Canal was opened on 17 November 1869 after 10 years of hard labour by a million Egyptian workers, under French supervision. Lacking today’s drills and cranes, it was dug manually with 100,000 laborers dying in the process. “The Suez canal has always been a symbol of the Egyptian people’s will,” Vice-Admiral Mohab Mamish, chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, told journalists in Ismailia.

The Suez Canal’s significance lies in its being the shortest route for sea transport between Europe and Asia, connecting the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea. It allows ships to travel between Europe and South Asia without navigating around Africa thereby trimming 7,000 kilometers from the sea voyage from Europe to India.

World conflicts and wars have forced its closure multiple times. Perhaps the best-known disruption was during the Suez Crisis or what is commonly known here as the Tripartite Aggression. The UK, France, and Israel invaded Egypt after former President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s decision to nationalise the canal and hand it over to the Suez Canal Authority in 1956. Another war in 1973 also led to its closure until 1975.

A few months into his presidency, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi launched a new endeavour for the canal. Known as the New Suez Canal, it would now allow two-way access for 72 kilometers. Waiting and transit time will be significantly reduced. According to the Suez Canal Authority, transit time will be shortened from 18 hours to 11 hours for the southbound convoy, and waiting time for vessels slashed to three hours at most from 8-11 hours. All of this will reduce costs and make the Suez Canal more attractive for shipping companies. The anticipated returns include increasing the average daily traffic from 49 to 97 vessels by 2023 and a boost to Suez Canal revenues from $5.3 billion at present to $13.226 billion in 2023. This is expected to greatly increase job opportunities and provide a much-needed stimulus to the Egyptian economy.

Cause for pride

Old and new on the canal (Pic: Guy called Darren)These are great expectations for a nation and only time will tell whether the forecasts will be fulfilled. What no-one can deny is that the canal has given ordinary Egyptian citizens with a reason to rejoice and to be proud. To rejoice, because there finally seems to be a glimpse of hope after years of social, economic, and political chaos. To be proud, because a mammoth project that experts said would take three years was completed within a year – thanks to the thousands of Egyptians who worked day and night for 12 months through scorching summer heat and the biting cold winter. Many interviews with workers showed how happy and proud they felt at investing their time and lives into constructing something worthwhile for their nation, while others were simply happy to be employed and able to feed their families.

A climax of the Opening Ceremony was the momentous pass-by of two huge cargo ships in both lanes of the Suez Canal, watched by the president and hundreds of international leaders. It was something in which most Egyptians felt they could take pride.

“This is a huge undertaking on a world scale. It has been completed in a time that is frankly astonishing,” said Peter Hinchliffe, secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping. The days preceding the Opening witnessed billboards, countdowns, and Egyptian flags in the streets, and the big day itself was made a national holiday when public transport was free and public gardens open to all.

Yet my heart wanders to the very, very poor; some 26 per cent of the population who live in miserable conditions, well below the poverty line. They need more than one day in a year to celebrate. Please join us in prayer for them; that their lives will be improved through this and future endeavours. We deserve to rejoice no more than they do. I echo the Psalmist’s words: “I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy” (Psalm 140:12).



Charlie, Charlie and Egypt’s fascination with fate and fortune

“Charlie, Charlie, are you here?” One of the latest - and strangest - internet phenomena has been the Charlie Charlie Challenge: a curious game that uses something similar to a Ouija Board with yes/no answers, and two pencils to summon a demon named Charlie. Participants ask questions about the future and Charlie is said to respond with a “yes” or “no” by turning the pencil towards one of these words previously written on the paper.

Videos have gone viral around the world, en route taking in Egyptians – who have been intrigued by magic and divination since Pharaonic times. They have drawn in children, teens and adults.

Abydos Temple, Upper Egypt. Egyptians have been fascinated by divination since Pharaonic times. (Pic: Richard White, Flickr Commons)What gives this “game” so much appeal? Does it really originate in South American folklore as some claim? Is it a marketing stunt for a movie, as others believe? Or is it really something very dangerous that people play with at their peril?

Egypt’s own fascination with the mysterious - magic, or heka, as they called it - pervaded every aspect of ancient Egyptian life. It was practised by priests, sorcerers, Pharaohs and some individuals and was an inseparable part of their religion.

Many believe their “fate” is predestined and this belief stirs their curiosity to know who they will marry, if they will be able to have children, if their children will have a successful life

Modern-day Egyptians continue to be intrigued by divination, using techniques such as palm reading to learn what the future might hold. Also common is coffee cup reading, where the fortune-teller, most likely a woman, “reads” the remains of your cup of thick, Turkish coffee after your drink it. This is practised among Muslims and Christians alike. Its roots, I would say, lie in Egyptians’ deep cultural belief in fate. For Muslims it is part of their religion. For Christians it is part of their culture. Many believe their “fate” is predestined and this belief stirs their curiosity to know who they will marry, if they will be able to have children, if their children will have a successful life, and so on.

While most churches clearly steer their congregations away from such practices, many Egyptians are Christians simply because they were born in Christian families. They rarely (if ever) go to church, and know very little about their faith or the danger of such practices. Many end up in despair if their “fortune” doesn’t turn out well, or if they’re promised a future that is never realised. That’s not to mention the spiritual impact of such practices!

Sadly, these practices are sometimes improperly translated into the lives of those who commit themselves to Christ. Once intrigued with the supernatural, they enter into Christianity seeking only the supernatural. Like Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:9ff), intrigued by the disciples because of their “magic”, many simply want the supernatural dimensions of Christianity. They end up with very shallow faiths that have no real foundation in the Word of God. They view the Christian life only through the lens of spiritual warfare without being equipped with spiritual warfare armour (Ephesians 6:13-17). They go along in life waiting for the next miraculous intervention by God. Many end up abandoning the faith out of despondency.

The solution? I believe it is balance. On one hand, we need to recognise the reality of the spiritual realm with its good and evil forces. On the other, we should not focus so much on this that we lose sight of how God is equipping us to fight and be salt and light to a desperate world. The spiritual battle is real, demons are real and very dangerous, and the Bible clearly states that, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). We are asked to be vigilant, certainly not to play games with demons, and to “put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, (we) may be able to stand (our) ground, and after (we) have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13).



Embracing the cross April 2015

“The people of the cross.” Remember this statement? In the words of ISIS, it was the crime of which 21 ex-patriate Christians in Libya were found guilty and worthy of beheading by ISIS a few months ago.

Delegates gather at the Cross at the Witnessing His Majesty prayer conferenceAs we approach Easter, I cannot help but once again think of those brave 21 whose faith and final cries, “Lord… Jesus Christ!” shook the world. What kind of faith did they have in Christ? What kind of pride in not only living but dying as “the people of the cross”?

According to an article in El-Watan News, a popular privately-owned local newspaper here, a key ISIS leader stated that they gave the 21 a chance to renounce their faith and be set free, but they refused. They had over a month while being held hostage to do so. And from what we’ve seen of the brutality of ISIS, I imagine that month was filled with multiple forms of abuse to pressure those 21 to renounce their faith in Christ. Achieving that would have been seen as a great victory by the terrorists.

As Wazala’s interview with some of the families shows, the 21 came from very impoverished backgrounds. They had received minimal education and sought work in Libya out of desperation to provide enough income for their families at home to survive. They did not have degrees in theology. They did not earn certificates in apologetics. They were very simple men who “did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (Revelation 12:11).

What did they see in the cross? What was worth dying for and leaving behind mothers and wives and very young children? They saw an amazing power that is foolishness to their murderers and to many others. As Paul wrote, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

In the light of this, I actually thank God for the turmoil in the Middle East - for the imminent threat to die for one’s faith. Does that sound strange? In Egypt, we see that it has made us stronger as Christians. Knowing that the danger is very close is a blessing that deepens our commitment to Christ - to a Saviour who was not overcome by events but went to the cross in full control as the King of the Universe.

Dr Maher Samuel beautifully illustrated this in his message at the “Witnessing His Majesty” Prayer Conference broadcast live by SAT-7 last weekend. He reminded us that Christ was completely in charge of the events leading to the cross and on the cross. He was not overwhelmed, he was not involuntarily led to the cross, he did not give in to human plots for his crucifixion… he amazingly orchestrated every detail of his judgment, crucifixion, and resurrection.

Jesus is Sovereign! From the beginning of time and to eternity, He is Sovereign! But do we as Christians display this to the world? Do we display this message of power? Or do we remain silent and lead the world to believe that the message of the cross may, after all, be a message of foolishness by a misguided individual who claimed to be God and failed to save Himself? What a responsibility we bear!

Embracing the Cross at the prayer conferenceIn a recent message I heard by Ravi Zacharias, he shared that our faith in Christ must rest “Not merely (on) content but conviction, not merely (on) conviction, but communication, not merely (on) communication, but consistency.” We all know the content; the “head knowledge,” but do we have the conviction to die for our faith? And if we do have the conviction, do we communicate it well? Are we living letters for Christ to a world that has never been so desperate for answers to the deepest questions and longings found only in Christ? And if we do communicate it, do we do so consistently even when the storms of life rage around us? Or are we inclined to deny Him when the going gets tough?

May the glorious Easter message shine anew in the hearts and lives of Christians across the globe. May it be so apparent through us to those around us that people wonder. And then, may we “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks (us) to give the reason for the hope that (we) have” (1 Peter 3:15).

Ekhristos Anesti, Alithos Anesti. Christ is Risen! He Is Risen Indeed! Happy Easter.



The ways of life and death February 2015

“ISIS’s mission is to enforce the sovereignty of God. Christ’s mission was to enforce the sovereignty of God.”

This shocking introduction to one of Dr Maher Samuel’s recent televised messages (see clip below) speaks volumes in the light of the recent regional developments and international comments. Dr Samuel went on to explain the vast contrast between the two, for while ISIS sought to enforce the sovereignty of God through death, Christ offered the sovereignty of God through life. ISIS uses the sword to force people to submit to God’s sovereignty while Jesus hung on the cross to bring people to life so that they would choose the sovereignty of God.

From the torture and beheading of innocent lives, through the appalling burning of the Jordanian pilot, to the most recent gruesome beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya, along with dozens more atrocities committed by ISIS, do we as Christians in the Middle East have a role to play?

I was recently blessed to view a filming by SAT-7 (see clip below) of one of the Iraqi child refugees who was forced to abandon her home, school and just about everything, to survive. She was filled with so much hope and faith in God… I was stunned! After enjoying the stability that every child desperately needs, suddenly this little girl was thrust into maximum instability with no home, no school, no friends, and a clearly unknown future. She taught me so much about the true meaning of faith. Myriam worships a God who gave up His only begotten Son and died so that she may have LIFE and have it more abundantly.

When asked how she felt towards ISIS, Myriam said, “I don’t want revenge. I don’t want to kill them. I pray for them.” Wow! I’m reminded of the burning of churches that took place in Egypt over a year ago and the Christians who held up a sign in their burned down church that read, “My terrorist brother, I came today to pray for you.” I’m also reminded of the mother of a young girl who was shot and killed in front of her church, and the genuine forgiveness that this mom expressed to her daughter’s murderers. She declared on secular Egyptian TV that she not only forgives them, but prays that they would repent of their sins! And this week the brother of two of the young Egyptians murdered in Libya after going there simply to find work to support their families said the same. He called in to a live worship programme on SAT-7 and prayed that God would open the eyes of his brothers’ killers.

How desperate is the world to see such real witness of the Church of Christ! Christ embodied a philosophy of life while ISIS embodies a philosophy of death. This is such an opportune time for Christians to be true ambassadors for Christ’s philosophy of life. We serve a living God and only if we are truly at peace with Him through the intimate type of knowledge He desires, can we be at peace with others (and forgive those who persecute and kill us), and be at peace with ourselves. As Ravi Zacharias recently quoted Thomas Merton, “We are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves, and we are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God.” Indeed, not until we are at peace with God, can we be salt and light to a desperate world.

For what kind of philosophy could possibly drive a human to burn another human to death alive or horrifically behead 21 innocent young men? What kind of philosophy could make this human so proud of such a gruesome crime that he would video tape it and display it to the world using professional production? That’s the question that thousands around me have been asking. It’s the question that has made it on talk shows, newspaper headlines, and certainly flooded social media outlets. People are hungry for answers like never before. Now more than ever before can people see the contrast in Christ’s powerful words, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10, NKJV).



Festivals galvanise ministry to region in despair November 2014

“Jesus… Jesus… Jesus…” the song that was born at the historic prayer night on September 11, 2011 has become the theme song of any large Christian event in the country. The two largest annual Christian events were held in October this year. Thousands of Christians throughout Egypt anxiously anticipated attending Count it Right and Onething. These are two massive church events hosted by Kasr El Dobara Evangelical Church (KDEC).

Linked in prayer on final night of One Thing“Your decision is your choice”. That was the slogan of this year’s Count it Right, an annual Christian mega-event hosted by KDEC. This “festival” as it is called, seeks to minister to those from either non-Christian backgrounds or nominal Christians who aren’t really living out their faith.

It certainly is a festival! KDEC invites teams who perform all types of stunts from motorbike and skateboard shows to power stunts and even an illusionist. All the teams are Christians who perform their shows to minister to people and share the salvation message. The teams are positioned in stations and people rotate freely through the stations to view the shows.

Count it Right added three new stations or “tents” this year, one that addresses the sexual harassment/abuse of children, one that addresses atheism, and a third for marital counseling. The largest “tent” or stadium, hosted praise and worship teams, and popular worship leaders, Ziad Shehada (from Jordan) and Maher Fayez (from Egypt), along with an evening sermon and salvation message.

Families of all ages, but particularly youth, filled the Beit El Wadi site where the event is held. A total of 40,000 people attended either one or more of the four-day event and SAT-7’s social media engagement reached over a million! Testimonies were stunning. Hundreds gave their lives over to the Lord and many who claimed to be atheists experienced God’s divine touch. One young man who was very aggressively defending his atheistic beliefs in the Atheism Tent came up to Pastor Sameh Maurice at the end and told him, “After hearing you speak, I cannot not believe in God!”

Many committed their lives to ChristHundreds of couples were ministered to in the Marital Counselling Tent, renewing their vows and confessing serious offenses and infidelity to one another. One woman who came to Count it Right alone, phoned her husband and asked him to come and their marriage was reconciled there.

“Draw me after you and I will run”. Different slogan, different depth, different conference. Onething calls committed Christians to gather for prayer and worship. Onething Egypt was birthed based on The International House of Prayer (ihop)’s Onething, headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, USA. This year, for the first time, the event hosted Mike Bickle, Director of the ihop, and Misty Edwards, a senior leader and worship leader at ihop. Along with Mike and Misty were several other local speakers and the KDEC worship teams.

Since Onething targets Christian believers seeking a greater depth in their walk with God, the daily schedule was a lot more intense than it was at Count it Right. Each of the three days included two morning sermons and one evening sermon, all preceded with times of worship. It was incredible to see thousands come from all over the nation to pray and worship the Lord.

Misty Edwards joined One Thing worship musiciansWhile Onething initially targeted young adults, each year the age range of attendees seems to widen. As I stood in the huge stadium with approximately 10,000 people in attendance each day, I stood in awe at the children, teens, adults and senior adults, all united to worship the Lord. SAT-7’s social media reach was stunning once again, with a social media engagement of over 650,000!

What a blessing it is to be able to worship the Lord amongst thousands physically and millions via satellite and YouTube in a nation that lies in the heart of a region in despair! Christians in our neighboring countries are being forced out of their homes or killed for the sake of Christ and we are still blessed to be able to worship amongst thousands! May the prayers of the thousands at Onething who prayed for our region in distress be heard!



Educating Egypt September 2014

It’s back-to-school time! But are children excited about it? Unfortunately, most children tend to dread going back to school. It seems to be a universal sentiment… but why is that? School is supposed to be a place where kids learn and more importantly, are instilled with a love of learning.

Photo: Camellia Hussein, Flickr Commons

What has gone wrong in our education systems, in our parenting, in our own attitudes as parents towards schooling? The answer in Egypt is even more complicated than it appears in the West. I’ll explain why in a minute.

But let me begin with a brief overview of the types of schools available for parents to choose from. While I couldn’t find an accurate statistic, it seems that most Egyptian families cannot consider any option other than the free public school system. Unfortunately, this means a dismal level of education and facilities.

Those a little better off have the option of what they call, “language schools.” These are schools with better buildings, and a higher emphasis on teaching languages such as English and French. Fees for language schools range from $400-$1,000 a year.

Those at an even higher standard of living have the luxury of admitting their children into what are called “international schools.” These are either British, American, French, or Dutch schools and follow international curricula. School facilities are better in every way. So are the teaching methods that concentrate on instilling critical thinking skills and building character, rather than just stuffing children with facts and figures that they forget after leaving the exam room. This all comes at a cost, of course, with fees ranging to as high as $20,000 a year.

Bad education

Now, back to our dilemma… why is it that most kids dread school? I would say it has to do with our schooling system, and the priorities that we esteem as a culture and upon which we base our parenting.

Our public schooling system has been suffering for decades. Teachers are very poorly paid, work in very poor conditions, and most have never been taught to respect students. Students who don’t follow the rules face corporal punishment and humiliation. Who would want to teach or go to school in such miserable conditions?

Our “language schools” must use national curricula, which are largely built on having kids memorise what is being taught, with no chance to question, discuss, or critically think through the material. They are expected to simply study what the teacher and books dictate, and regurgitate it in the examination. The student’s final grade is based almost solely on two major examinations. The result… students who don’t really understand what they’re studying, and who just want to memorise and provide the “right” answers and pass on to the following grade.

The pressures in our education system are intensified by parents who place the grades their children acquire-regardless of any knowledge or learning attained- at the highest priority. Children are often beaten, punished, and humiliated when they fail to achieve high scores. Parents often do so to avoid a sense of shame among relatives and neighbors… they want their child to get the highest scores.

It’s tough to expect children who undergo so much stress both at school and home to love learning and be excited about going back to school.

Photo: Viewport, Flickr Creative Commons

As part of my work in family ministry, we try to help parents recognise that their sense of dignity should not be contingent on their children’s academic success, and that their children’s academic success cannot simply be measured by high scores in a test. Instilling a love of learning in their children is a much more valuable lesson and investment on the long-run. A child who loves learning will make a habit of learning throughout life, excelling in school, university, and beyond as a productive citizen.

As Christians, we have an even added advantage of following in the footsteps of our Teacher, who built His entire ministry on discipleship… the ideal form of education. He not only taught theoretical principles, but embodied every principle He taught. He did not only ask His disciples to memorise the Torah, as the Pharisees did, but taught them to test every teaching they received (critical thinking), be living letters for Christ (practical application) and “make disciples of all nations” (teach others).

If Christian families applied the example of Christ in education… I believe we could revolutionise our view and attitude towards education!



Loving our neighbours in a Ramadan summer – July 2014

“Friska… friska…” That’s what you’ll inevitably hear on the shores of Alexandria. “Friska” is a popular wafer and honey treat commonly sold on Alexandria beaches.

Friska salesman by Karim Rezk Flickr CommonsIt’s summertime! Summer is family time for Egyptians. Extended family members usually enjoy travelling together to the various resorts throughout the country. From the North Coast Mediterranean Sea with its beautiful turquoise waters to a stunning underwater experience in the Red Sea, Egypt’s unique year-round sunshine and shores are a special treat for locals and tourists worldwide.

At least they are when it’s safe enough to come to Egypt! Things certainly seem more hopeful this year, compared to our past three summers, and we’re praying for the sense of security we enjoyed several years ago.

Our nation has been through a lot in the last three years. From the post-revolution havoc of summer 2011 when we saw prisons being broken into and a curfew imposed, to the summer of 2012 when the Muslim Brotherhood were in power. Then, on to the summer of 2013 with the June 30 Revolution, the ousting of Morsi, and retaliation by the Brotherhood with terrorism and the burning of churches.

This summer is ushering in some brighter hopes, with a new presidentAlexandria by Emad Faled, FlickrCommons and an opportunity to return to stability. Yet bombings have continued and the whole region is ill-at-ease in the face of threats from Islamist groups like ISIS.

Serving neighbours during Ramadan

In the midst of all the unrest, Christian Egyptians have a great way of turning their trials into opportunities to serve. Ramadan has coincided with summer in the past three years and, in spite of attempts by the Muslim Brotherhood to stir sectarian strife between Christians and Muslims, Christians have responded in love particularly during the month of Ramadan.

Churches have organised free evening Iftar (Arabic “break a fast”) meals on large tables in front of their churches, and Christian families have been inviting neighbours into their homes. It’s been an amazing scene to witness.

"There is no way they can succeed in separating us. My best friend is a Christian. We are one.”

As I was waiting for our children to finish their swimming lessons, I chatted with a Muslim mum and the topic of sectarian strife came up. She immediately said, “There is no way they can succeed in separating us. My best friend is a Christian. We are one.” The Egyptian church has succeeded in displaying a glimpse of our Saviour’s love to our fellow Muslims.

Ramadan lanterns by Zeinab Mohamed, Flickr CommonsMy prayer is that the Church will continue to do so, even when political tensions lessen and the economy improves. May we continue to recognise our calling to be salt and light to a desperate nation. And may we continue being living letters for Christ to neighbours who are desperately searching for answers.

An article in one of our local papers today read: “The upcoming years will witness a tsunami of atheism.” Is the local church prepared? I certainly hope and pray that we will live in a way that is worthy of the precious calling we have received.

Carpe Diem, Coram Deo… seize the day in the presence of the Lord.



A president's inauguration: joy and questions – June 2014

Cafe in Gamaliya, Cairo, 26 May, showing its support for Al-Sisi. Photo (c) Jonathan Rashad“Tahya Masr,” Arabic for “Long live Egypt” is the phrase I heard repeatedly as I stood in the long lines awaiting to cast my ballot for Egypt’s president. A statement fuelled by hope, driven by patriotism, and unashamedly declaring a clear intention to vote for El-Sisi, who chose “Tahya Masr” as a very clever campaign slogan.

Three long election days ended with a huge majority win for El-Sisi who claimed close to 97% of the vote. While his vast popularity among the people almost guaranteed his win over opponent Hamdeen Sabahi, the 97% vote was a lot higher than most people anticipated.

Brighter future

Incredible feelings of joy and patriotism filled Egyptian homes and overflowed into celebrations on almost every street in not only Cairo, but throughout Egypt! Fireworks, Egyptian flags, cars honking, patriotic songs played from cars and on TV, were just some of the ways that Egypt celebrated. Hope in a brighter future was finally on the horizon after three long years of socio-political chaos.

Joy culminated as Egyptians worldwide watched an inauguration ceremony of President El-Sisi with world leaders coming to partake in this historical occasion. For the first time in Egyptian history has a president given over reigns of presidency to another. The current president is usually either dead or in jail!

Yet this joy seems to be coupled with caution in the minds of most in regards to the future. Will President El-Sisi really be able to unite a fractured nation? Will he be able to restore the average citizen’s desperate need to feel safe? Will the needs that prompted the January 25th Revolution be met… the need for food, freedom, human dignity, and social justice? The President addressed all of those in his first speech to the Egyptian people during his inauguration celebration… but Egyptians have heard lots of hollow promises over the years, and do not have the capacity to bear any more.

Church applauded

As for Christians, most seem optimistic. Pope Tawadros was invited to President El-Sisi’s inauguration ceremony, seated immediately next to the Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar (Egypt's most senior Sunni cleric) in the front row. The President mentioned the role of both the mosque and the church in leading the upcoming period, applauding the church’s role in relaying a message to the world of the Egyptian people’s unity, in spite of attempts from certain societal factions to stir dissent and ignite civil war between Christians and Muslims. As the President mentioned in recent media appearances, he was impressed at how Christians reacted to their churches being burned… not in retaliation, but by offering love and forgiveness.

Watch Reuters news report of Al-Sisi’s inauguration and public reactions here

It’s certainly a hopeful time for us here in Egypt. But my prayer is that the Church would not drift back into its comfort zone and begin taking things for granted again. We must continue to engage our people and pray for our nation; for our president, for our upcoming parliamentary elections, and for the future of Egypt. Democracy is just a newborn baby in Egypt that requires a great deal of attention and nurture.

Tahya Masr!



Reliving the Passion – April 2014

“Ekhristos Anesti!” “Alithos Anesti!” These are words commonly heard in Egyptian Christian circles at this time: “Christ is risen!” we greet one another, “He is risen indeed!” we reply.

Happy Easter! It’s a busy time for Christians in Egypt. Coptic Orthodox Christians, who make up about 90 per cent of the Christian population here, spend Passion Week, the last week of Lent, in daily evening church services. Each service commemorates part of Christ’s journey to the cross in an attempt to relive the exact sequence of events leading to Christ’s crucifixion.

Palm crossImmediately preceding Passion Week is Palm Sunday, a joyful celebration in churches across the country of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Families gather together to create crosses and other ornaments using palm branches. I hope you like the one I made (see picture). It’s a fun time—especially for children!

Passion Week comes to its pinnacle on Good Friday where Egyptian Christians of all denominations spend the day at church, reflecting upon Christ’s incredible atoning sacrifice for each one of us.

Saturday night is Easter Eve! Following a church service, Coptic Orthodox families get together for a late past-midnight meal to break their 55-day long vegetarian fast.

Easter Day! It’s a time for the entire extended family to get together for a big celebratory feast.

Having lived in the US for several years, it’s interesting to note that while Christmas seems to be a bigger event than Easter in the West, Easter is described in Arabic as “El Eid El Kabeer” which translates “the big feast”, as opposed to Christmas—“the small feast”. All bias aside, I believe that’s the way it should be for Christians. While Christ’s miraculous birth is of significant importance, Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection are undoubtedly the foundation of the Christian faith.

But the ultimate question that every Christian worldwide must ask is: Am I living a life worthy of the enormous cost paid for me on the cross? Does my everyday life outside of church reflect the God whose name I bear as a CHRISTian? Or do I deny Christ like Peter did or sell Christ like Judas did?

The glorious news is that as soon as we recognise our weaknesses, we can declare with the Apostle Paul, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Hallelujah, He is risen Indeed! Have a glorious Easter.


PS: I hope you like this Easter song, sung in a less traditional location in Lebanon.


Mums make history – March 2014

March 21st is Mother’s Day in Egypt. It’s a big day everywhere in Egypt, marked by fun family gatherings at mum or grandma’s house, gifts, flowers, and songs celebrating mothers on national television. But what is Mother’s Day really all about?

Mums and kids visit SAT-7 at Cairo Book FairCurious about March 21st and where it originated, I dug a little into the history of Mother’s Day in Egypt. I found out that the idea of Mother’s Day was first introduced by journalist Mustafa Amin in 1943. It was overlooked at the time and ridiculed by President Gamal Abdel Nasser but then eventually accepted.

The first Mother’s Day was celebrated on March 21st, 1956. It also marks the first day of spring. Egypt took the lead, with other Arab countries later adopting the same date.

The Bible is filled with great examples of mothers. To stay close to the Egyptian context, I’d like to look at an example highlighted in the sermon at my church last week. The speaker reminded us of Jochebed, the mother of Moses. Jochebed refused to give in to Pharoah’s evil scheme of killing infants. She had the Godly wisdom and creativity to make a basket, coat it with tar to make it waterproof, and set it in the Nile River. Any mother can feel the very tough emotions that Jochebed must have experienced as she placed her son in the river. Yet, Jochebed had an inspiring faith in God that overcame the harsh reality she was experiencing. She was certain that the God who gave her her little one, would certainly care for him. And we see the amazing story of God’s faithfulness unfold in the life of Moses and his role in saving God’s people and making history! It’s amazing how a simple step of faith from a mum can make history!

A modern example of a mum who made history is Howida Refaat Azer, the mother of Mariam, a 12-year old girl who was fatally gunned down by terrorists in front of her church on 21 October, 2013. Interviewed on television a little over a month following her daughter’s brutal death, this mum stunned the world! She did not seek vengeance, as the thousands of others who lost loved ones over the past three tumultuous years in Egypt, have. She asked forgiveness for the killers! She said she is praying that the Lord would bring them to repentance before they die, asking that their eyes would be opened to the Truth!

TV presenter Wael El EbrashyThe TV presenter, Wael El Ebrashy was stunned! “You are an amazing example to the Egyptian people of expressing forgiveness to those who know nothing about forgiveness. Most people whose kids are killed say they won’t feel better till vengeance is taken, till they kill them with their own hands… but you have utter forgiveness!”

El Ebrashy concludes, “There is no better example of an Egyptian mum who has this amazing sense of forgiveness even for those who killed her daughter. I think this message could kill the terrorists out of rage… their hearts have been darkened, yet this mum has completely forgiven them, asking God to light up their hearts and forgive them. Even though Mariam’s mum came here on a wheelchair because of the bullets that hit her body, yet she comes with all this forgiveness and a desire to pray for the killers and terrorists so that they would repent!”

Mariam’s mum concludes with these poignant words, “If they used a machine gun or whatever it was to kill my daughter, I want to tell the Egyptian people that we have an even stronger weapon. Our weapon is to fast and pray that God would bring these terrorists to repentance.”

What an amazing witness for Christ to the millions who saw this episode! What a heroic mum! Mothers have a multitude of ways to make history through the immense responsibility and privilege granted us by God!

Happy Mother’s Day!



Too great expectations – February 2014

Hello and greetings from Cairo, Egypt!

Well, a lot has been going on in Egypt in the past three years. After 30 years of political stability, suddenly two major revolutions occurred ousting two presidents, and resulting in much political and social turmoil.

I’d like to reflect on one of the major current happenings in Egypt, the upcoming presidential elections. But instead of commenting on it from a political perspective, I’d like to tackle it from a Christian worldview.

Choosing a president but hoping for a Saviour? (Photo copyright Jonathan Rashad, Flickr Commons)To be honest, I’m quite disappointed at how many Christians are placing all their hopes for the future on presidential candidates - placing them on “saviour” pedestals. No matter how qualified a candidate is, he will always have limitations. This expectation of perfection will only lead to further discontent and upheaval!

This reminds me of the people of God in the Old Testament who demanded a king in spite of the Lord's warning of what the King would do. Samuel spelt out the consequences very clearly: “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses… He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants… When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day” (1 Samuel 8:11-18, NIV).

In spite of all the details of God’s warning including the fact that He will not answer their cries… they insisted. They wanted a king like “like all the other nations” (1 Samuel 8:20, NIV).

They had the Lord God Almighty, the King of kings as their King, yet He didn’t seem enough for them. They wanted a physical king to go before them. They wanted a saviour they could see with their very eyes.

History seems to be repeating itself, as it often does. Here we are again, waiting for a saviour we can clap eyes on, expecting him to do the impossible. Unfortunately, with this mindset, no matter how good our next president turns out to be, we have a recipe for destruction. Whoever is elected, the reality is they , will never measure up to the people’s “saviour” expectations.

I wish the Church of Egypt would wake up and place their hope in the true Saviour. We have a godly mandate to pray for our nation and to be faithful citizens. May we fulfill this role rather than disappointing the heart of our heavenly Father and hindering our nation’s progress.




Read Nancy's blog

December 2015 - How Egypt celebrates Christmas

September 2015 - Pride in Egypt’s miracle canal

June 2015 - Charlie Charlie and Egypt's fascination with fate and fortune

April 2015 - Embracing the Cross

February 2015 - The ways of life and death

November 2014 - Festivals galvanise ministry to region in despair

September 2014 - Educating Egypt

July 2014 - Loving our neighbours in a Ramadan summer

June 2014 - A President's Inauguration: joy and questions

April 2014 - Reliving the Passion

March 2014 - Mums make history

February 2014 - Too great expectations

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