Greetings after one week at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo. I have received a fine welcome here and started following through on the plans made by Dr. David Grafton, my predecessor. The fall semester does not begin until the 25th of September so I have done some exploring along with my work. The picture to the right sets the tone for ministry by the Christian Church in Egypt and throughout the Middle East. It is of the Citadel or fortress first begun by Salad al-Din in 1176, the noted opponent of King Richard of England and other Christian crusaders, and of the mosque of Muhammad 'Ali, a major worship center for the Moslems of Egypt until today. Moslems comprise well over 95% of the people living in this country. It symbolized the close connection between religion and politics of that era. Such a connection of church and state we might assume has waned our modern age of the "separation" of these two institutions of our societies, but it is still very present in modern Egypt and the Middle East. Moslems often view Christianity as connected to the political agenda of the United States and the "western" world, and discourage evanglization by Christians in their lands outside of narrow conclaves of their established, walled properties. Freedom of conscience is protected, but not the opportunity to evangelize on the part of "foreign" Christian groups.
This can be illustrated by the second picture, of the Church of St. Andrew in downtown Cairo, (to the right). You can see that services are at 10:00 a.m. on Fridays and Sundays and that the sign is quite modest in size. Few people attend on Sundays, because it is a regular working day in Egypt. The doors through which I took this picture are only opened briefly during the week to allow children to enter for school, for a refugee assistence program, or prior to and following worship times. Otherwise the doors are closed, and the walls obscure most of the church buildings. I asked the pastor if he could erect a bigger sign, or string a banner across the entrance and he answered: "Probably not. Only the long established orthodox communities could probably get away with something like that, and it would need to be within their walls."
Yet, there are efforts I am beginning to learn of where Christians seek to initiate dialogue with Moslems, while being sensitive to the long and harsh histories and the present realities of antagonisms between our faiths and our nations. The Rev. Paul-Gordon Chandler, an Episcopal priest at St. John's in Maadi, a suburb of Cairo, has just published a book entitled: "Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road, Exploring the New Path between Two Faiths." It should be released by now in the states, and I am looking forward to reading it and discussing it with the author. You might wish to check it out.
I have so much to learn and and to share of this experience which is unfolding daily. I will write in about two weeks, as we approach the opening of the school year. (9-2-07)