Monday, June 15, 2015

Contextualization: Egypt

Having worked in primarily Christian, English speaking countries in sub-Saharan Africa for the past ten years, I knew that Egypt would be different in many different ways.  But I didn't expect the difference to become so apparent in the very first meeting that I had.

I arrived at the guest apartment in Cairo at 3:30 am, after a trip that (including a long layover) took around thirty hours.  My first meeting was scheduled for noon with Dr. Wahid Whaba, and his wife, Dr. Laila Risgallah. 

It didn't take long for Dr. Whaba to tell me why he believes the work of Discipling
Marketplace Leaders is important for Egypt at this time.  He said, "Christians are leaving Egypt very rapidly for Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, and other places.  Over 100,000 have left so far.  We are between 15-17% of the population as it is, so this is a big exodus.  But I believe our call comes from Jeremiah 29 which reminds us to stay and build houses, and plant gardens, and seek the peace and prosperity of the city.  This relates to business. But we don't know how to do it.  The pressures are immense.  The economy has suffered since the revolution in 2011.  That is why I think the message of DML at this time is so important."

In Christian countries, the work of DML is to help people understand that there is no split between sacred and secular, and that all of our work should be done "as unto the Lord" with the Church being at work from Monday to Saturday in the Marketplace.  In a country where the Christians are by far the minority, where they raise their children to know that just by virtue of their name (if it is Christian instead of Muslim) they will not receive equal treatment, and where jobs are held for Muslims only, it seems that there is already a deep understanding of how faith impacts all of life.  Where the opportunity is here may be in exploring how to stand firm when feeling like you are in captivity, as in Jeremiah 29, and understanding how to do be the Church from Monday-Saturday in a world that doesn't accept your faith.  We can look to examples like Joseph and Daniel, both of whom were in captivity yet rose to be the top government official right next to the pharaoh/king, due to working with excellence and integrity.  Both of these men could have had the attitude of not trying their best as it wasn't their land; of cheating the land, just as they were cheated of freedom.  Yet both men decided to seek the peace and prosperity of the land and work diligently, and through that work, not only they but their God was recognized.

I have used the example of Joseph and Daniel many times, but it now jumps to the top of the list of Biblical characters when examining the business people God used throughout the Bible.  Another message that finds its way into the DML teaching is being both a light and a covenant (which comes from Isaiah 42: 5-7) in the midst of darkness.  As you know, when you turn a light off, it doesn't take any time for darkness to take over.  When Christians leave Egypt, they take their light with them.  To stay takes courage and prayer; it is not an easy decision, based on many factors.  But for those who stay, knowing the Church's affirmation of their work in the Marketplace, intentionally praying for each other as they work and bear witness through their actions, and having a place to talk through the frustrations and challenges of working in such an environment, can become a primary role of the church.  The reason that the Muslim religion was so successful in Indonesia was because the Muslims went in and worked in business, and through commerce won people.  The Christians had arrived at the same time but set up churches and tried to win people through revivals.  There is an opportunity here for Egypt.  Dr. Wahid believes that this is a crucial and important time for Christians in Egypt and that the ministry of DML can be instrumental in it.

Other differences that I have observed, maybe you are wondering?  Dangerous at this time as they may be gross generalizations based on very little knowledge, but here are some:
View from my window
  • It is obvious that in order to drive in Cairo, you have to be an INCREDIBLE parallel parker and be very comfortable with very narrow spaces as cars are parked everywhere.  
  • Egyptian men seem very hospitable and helpful as several men around me in the ninety-minute customs line checked in with me several times afterward to make sure that I got all my luggage, that I had a ride, or just to see if there was anything else I needed.  Very polite, very hospitable.
  • Cairo is very dry and dusty - they say you can dust your house and two hours later have to dust it again.  The country receives between 0-7 inches of rain per year, depending on the location.  Contrast this to Liberia which receives 220 inches of rain per year, or Michigan which receives 32 inches of rain per year.  This dust causes lung problems as well.
  • I learned that most widows do not remarry here - it is considered disloyal to your late husband. 
  • There is a heaviness here - a stress that is almost palpable. I feel it emotionally and physically.
It is interesting to me that my initial reaction to being in Egypt is similar to my initial reaction to Liberia - both love and fear at the same time.  For Liberia, it was post-war with ex-combatants all around, causing some fear, but a love for the people and compassion for the hardships they were experiencing.   For Egypt, there is fear in the possibility of persecution, of terrorism, of IS, and yet so quickly a love for the people and a compassion for the hardships they are experiencing.