First insights from Egypt

The group in front of the Giza Pyramids I think I can speak for most of the group when I say this past week has been a whirl-wind of once in a lifetime experiences, delicious foods, and the start of some great friendships.

Since arriving in Egypt, my time here has been what I had hoped it would be and more. I have seen wonders of the world, eaten fresh fish while overlooking the Mediterranean, and have encountered some beautiful people both inside our group and outside it. When I reflect over this week I cannot help but feel blessed by this amazing opportunity to learn and grow in a culture very different from my own.

A highlight that I wish to share with you all, stems from a fear of mine, and is placed in a gorgeous Coptic Church retreat center called Anafora. Anafora was founded by Bishop Thomas, a famous outspoken bishop of Upper Egypt, whom we had the opportunity to talk with about his theories on the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian conflict and why they clash. A fear of mine going into this trip was that I would not be ready or prepared to encounter the hurt of the people or the land. However, Bishop Thomas shared that we all have the responsibility to love everyone. He said that “love can change the world.” The kind of love that is from God and is never-ending. After hearing from the bishop, it hit me that love needs to be my focus and from the love comes healing and peace. To me, Bishop Thomas’s words were a simple, yet beautiful preparation; not only for the rest of cross-cultural but for the rest of my life.

Another highlight has been experiencing the beauty of symbolism found everywhere in Egypt. Symbolism that ranges from hieroglyphics in the pyramids to pillars in the Coptic churches. Everything has a meaning and it’s always so interesting to learn about it. I’m thankful for our tour guides and awesome leaders who show us the meaning of basically everything we encounter.

To end, I want to share an example of this Linford and Joel Rittenhouse watch as a carpet maker works on a silk rug inside an Oriental Carpet School symbolism that has touched me personally. All throughout Anafora there are beautiful rugs of many colors, all made from recycled scraps. When Sarah, a former IVEPer (Mennonite Central Committee volunteer) and friend to the EMU community, told us about them, she said they are to symbolize all God’s people coming together. All of us different, but together forming something beautiful. To me, this is what cross-cultural is all about, meeting different people, learning from and loving them, all the while forming something beautiful.

- Hannah Tissue

 

Ahlan wa Sahlan from Egypt! Our group arrived in Cairo a week ago and is still settling into the fact that this much anticipated adventure in the Middle East has actually begun!

My first glimpse of Egypt centered in on the night life in Cairo: veiled women walking the sidewalks, groups of men drinking tea and smoking hookah in dimly lit coffee shops, children scampering between street vendors selling sunglasses, scarves, oranges, or roasted sweet corn. Through the dusty bus windows, I also witnessed the roads crowded with cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, and pedestrians; each navigator having a specific destination in mind yet no one knowing exactly how to achieve the desired end through the chaos of everyone trying to find their own way.

Chaos. Not only does this word apply to physical navigation in Egypt but to the “spiritual navigation” in this place as well. Egypt is spiritually alive. Both the historical and modern perspectives of Egypt point to a culture that is focused on the spiritual realm. During our time here we’ve seen this all around us: in the symbolism of rituals performed after the death of ancient pharaohs (whose tombs we’ve explored), in the man meditating inside one of the pyramids of Giza, in the miracle stories of faith that moved mountains here in Egypt, in the Anna Hershey and other students admire the architecture of a mosque devotion of Muslims who obey the call to prayer that is broadcast five times a day, in the reverence of the 7 PM to 12AM Coptic church service celebrating Jesus’ baptism, in the evening prayers and morning mass at our retreat center…

All of these practices and faith backgrounds here are a sort of Cairo-like street scene with each person or group trying to navigate the culture through the lens of their own spirituality, despite opposition from people of other faith backgrounds.  In many places here, this “street scene” has seemed pretty dark. However, glimmers of light do appear in the midst of this darkness in the form of the work of monks at the Bishoy Monastery or the ministry of the Anafora retreat center and Bishop Thomas.

And so, as the drama of the street scene unfolds and the vastness of the spiritual darkness can seem overwhelming here, there is a hope in me that stems from my knowledge that Jesus is here too, walking alongside each navigator trying to find his or her way through the chaos.  The same truth can be said for our group members as we navigate this new place with open eyes, minds and hearts. And may the same be said for all of you at home as well.

Salaam.

-Chaska Yoder