Weekly Edgework #92 - May 2, 2006

Land of the Pharaohs

Out of Egypt have I called my son. (Matthew 2:15)

I am writing this article the second day after Ruth and I arrived home from our visit to see our son Nelson in Egypt where he is serving with MCC as an English teacher on a one-year SALT assignment. I am not yet in a frame of mind to attempt writing anything profound, so I am simply putting into words what this experience has meant to me. I did keep an extensive journal during our travels that might be available on-line some time in the future. For now I will simply skim the cream off the top of my heart to share with you. It may not be profound, but it will be personal.

When Nelson leaves Egypt in July and moves into his future with God elsewhere, you might say he will be following a biblical precedent. In Hosea 11:1 God reminds the Isrealites that When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt have I called my son. Many years later, when recounting the story of how Joseph and Mary had to flee to Egypt with their infant son, Jesus, Matthew sees a parallel here by saying, This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt have I called my son.’ And it is clear to me at this point that the experiences Nelson is having in Egypt will leave an indelible mark on his life wherever he goes. In a very real sense he will be called out of Egypt as well.

I can not speak for my son, but I can speak about how I was impacted by our trip to see him. First I must tell you about how my faith was strengthened. When we planned the trip late last year I had begun to sense my energy levels rising and my doctor encouraged us to go. “Just don’t plan too tight a schedule,” he advised. However an increased level of activity in the months leading up to our trip set me back considerably and I began to be somewhat anxious about whether I could, indeed, make the trip.

I even seriously contemplated calling off our visit to Egypt. But a few days before our departure, as I was contemplating these things, I experienced a palpable sense of peace. There were no voices, or flashes of light – only a peace that passes understanding and an assurance that I would be alright. I was somewhat skeptical and afraid to share my experience, but I told Ruth about it that evening. And as they say, “The rest is history.” While I needed more periods of rest than my 23-year-old son, every day of our stay in Egypt was filled with new adventures which I enjoyed to the full. God sometimes surprises us with goodness we don’t expect!

One of the things that impressed me right from the start was that everywhere you go in Egypt there is a deeply-rooted sense of history that pervades the landscape. We saw it in the Pharonic ruins more than four thousand years old. In the left over Roman fortresses. In monasteries dating back to the third century A.D. In Christian churches dating back to the 6th century. In Muslim mosques that came to outnumber Christian churches in the 7th century A.D.

But this sense of history was also evident in the mindset of the people. Everyone depends on the Nile River for survival as did their ancestors for thousands of years. Egyptians carry with them an intense pride in being Egyptians – not Arabs, as the rest of the world tries to define them. Their roots connect with those of the Pharaohs and – for the Christians - the first few centuries of Christianity. The most frequent kind of church outing planned by Christians is visits to ancient monasteries. It seems they want to remind themselves that they are part of a much larger and longer story than their day-to-day experience might suggest.

Another thing that moved me was seeing how Christians attempt to survive as an oppressed minority in a mostly Muslim country. Coming, as I do, from an historically Christian context, it was somewhat disconcerting to find myself surrounded by constant reminders of the minority status of Christians in Egypt. The cacophony of the Muslim calls to prayer coming from dozens of minarets surrounding me produced an almost claustrophobic sense within me - especially the call that kept waking me at four in the morning. These calls are constant reminders to Christians that their rights are limited.

For example, I was reminded repeatedly by Christians that they do not have permission to build new churches or even repair old ones without written permission from senior government officials – permission that is frequently just not granted. And of course it is illegal to convert to Christianity in Egypt. Attempts at evangelism can exact a heavy price. Yet Christians reach out to their Muslim neighbors, showing them the love of Christ in a variety of ways - especially by providing social services so desperately needed by so many. So, while attempting to maintain good relations with their Muslim neighbors, they feel their inferior social status quite keenly.

Small wonder that when they gather at the retreat center where Nelson lives for special occasions such as Palm Sunday celebrations, which we also attended, that their enthusiasm is hard to contain. Surrounded only by their Christian brothers and sisters for a day they seek comfort in worship and express their exuberance in more robust ways than I am accustomed to.

Perhaps the high-light of my stay in Egypt was finding myself, on that Palm Sunday morning, pressed into the throng tilting forward and waving the palm weaving I had purchased from a young boy. And longing to be doused by the buckets of water the priest was hurling from the balcony above – a sign of God’s abundant grace for all. When the water showered me from above it absorbed my involuntary tears of desire to know God more fully.

Thanks, Nelson, for leading me to Egypt. In a sense we are now both called out of Eyypt!