Tag Archives: Egypt

Middle East: Egypt

Has it really only been a week? That’s the question that comes to mind as I write these words in Anaphora, a compound about an hour’s drive from Cairo. It’s a beautifully serene place that offers us time and space to unwind and reflect.

Yes, only a week. Driving away from the farewell crowd at University Commons seems so long ago. After 20 hours of travel, half of which were spent in airports, we were greeted in the capital by our guide Samer (Sah-mair), who welcomed us with oranges, bananas, juice boxes, and flowers (for the ladies). Fortunately, it was nearly 9 PM Egypt time, so we were able to sleep soon after. Jet lag was hardly an issue.

Samer has since led us all over Cairo and Giza, holding his scepter topped with an ankh, the symbol for life, high in the air. In the morning, we saw the Great Pyramids, checking the only surviving Wonder of the Ancient World off of our list. These tombs held the global record for tallest man-made structure for nearly four thousand years, and the engineering plus sheer manpower it would have taken to achieve the stacking of rocks – each weighing multiple tons – is pretty flabbergasting. Our group took in their epochal presence, as well as that of the Sphinx, and moved on to visit a papyrus art gallery, a carpet making school, and a handful of other ruins that are rich in history, yet often overshadowed by the Pyramids.


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Middle East 2019 group at Giza

From Cairo to Luxor to Sinai

Hello from Jordan!
This is our first night in a country other than Egypt, and it is safe to say that we are all excited to see what adventures this new place holds. But first, here is a quick summary of our time in Egypt.
When we first arrived in Egypt, we drove through crowded, loud streets to the infamous Ambassador Hotel. Little did we know that the madness in the streets was only a fraction of the Cairo traffic we would experience over the next week.  We spent three nights in the Ambassador Hotel, touring ancient ruins and papyrus shops during the day, and getting to know each other and the night life of Cairo in the evening.
We left Cairo and drove for a few hours through the desert to Anafora, an Orthoox Christian Retreat Center. The compound was full of white buildings with colorful carpets and lots of cats. While at Anafora we explored their grounds, which featured an impressive replica of a Biblical-era tabernacle and mud brick village. We also participated in their Epiphany celebration service and candle lighting. Anafora was a stark contrast to the busyness of Cairo, and many of us found it a helpful place to unwind from the travel and chaos of the first few days.
After Anafora we flew to Luxor, another city located along the Nile River. Luxor was full of ancient ruins such as the Karnak and Luxor Temple. It also had a small market where many of the shopkeepers were open for conversation as well as business. A highlight of Luxor, and of the trip so far, was a hot air balloon ride featuring breathtaking views of the Nile and surrounding countryside just as the sun was burning the mist from the fields.
We finished our time in Egypt at Saint Catherine’s monastery, where we stayed for two nights. It took around six hours to drive through the Sinai desert, passing under the Suez Canal and through various military checkpoints. The monastery is at the base of a mountain range that includes Mount Sinai, one of the most likely options for the mountain that Moses climbed when he received the Ten Commandments. Saint Catherine’s is also the home of the burning bush, and several of the oldest relics and manuscripts connected to Christianity. On our second day at Saint Catherine’s, we climbed Mount Sinai. The mountain posed a serious challenge, but we reached the summit in plenty of time to enjoy the incredible sunset view and sing a few hymns that seemed to fill the thin air with praise.
We left Saint Catherine’s early Wednesday morning and spent most of the day traveling east through the Sinai and then along the Gulf of Acaba, heading towards the Israeli border.  At the border we said goodbye to Samer, an Egyptian who had been our guide through Egypt since day one. He had welcomed us into his country with oranges and guava juice, and had filled each day with knowledgeable lectures and an abundance of fun facts about the region. Leaving Samer at the border was definitely a loss, and it also revealed yet again our privilege as American citizens to travel basically freely between countries.
We crossed in to Israel, where the buildings and people immediately looked different than what we had seen in Egypt. About half an hour later we crossed into Jordan, where the buildings and people again looked different. Three countries in one day is a bit of a challenge for a group of thirty-three, but now we are settled into Jordan for the next few days.

Our time in the Middle East has already been a whirl wind of new places, faces, and food. As one member said, if we went home today we would think back on the week and a half in Egypt as a really great and transforming cross-cultural. It is incredible to realize we still have three more months of discoveries to make and friendships to build!

Peace to you all!
-Grace Burkhart for the group



Reflections on the Empire

It has been two full days of Egyptology! Pyramids, the Sphinx, Tahrir Square, street markets, Museum of Cairo, a carpet factory, and a scenic drive out of the city to the Coptic Christian retreat of Anaphora. We’ve seen artifacts from before 4500 BC, trekked inside (and then sang in!) one of the pyramids of Giza, battled jet lag, and tried to absorb as much information as possible.

I spent the day thinking about empires. The world has always been divided into two groups – citizens of the Empire and those left on the outside. The Empire changes over the years – Egypt, Persia, Rome, the Ottomans, the British, and now America. I find myself a citizen of the Empire trying desperately to understand what life is like on the outside. American citizens regularly fail to understand and appreciate the power and privilege and opportunity they have simply by belonging to the Empire.

I wonder if today’s Egyptian citizens dwell on the past a lot. I wonder if they long for the days when the world belonged to Egypt. It saddens me that everyone is so poor in a country with the richest history of them all. I couldn’t miss the irony of a street salesman stuck in a dead-end job pushing their wares onto tourists, the wares themselves depicting their very ancestors ruling the world in great glory. Egyptians today find themselves outside the Empire looking in, while Americans today usually miss the bigger picture of the human condition – the privilege of the Empire allows this impossibility. I wonder of the Egyptian citizens of the Old Kingdom at the height of its power were similarly absorbed in their own lives, while roaming bands in outlying provinces yearned only to be Egyptian and to belong to the Empire.

I look forward to developing this theme on the trip. In Christianity, God intentionally chose the world over the Empire. Jesus went to the conflicted and dangerous place, not the place of power and stability. Jesus chose the outside, not the center. If Jesus returned to Earth today, there’s no doubt he’d go to Syria or Congo or Honduras or a hundred other places before America – we are the Empire.

Christianity was never intended for the Empire. Constantine adopted it after a war and it became the official religion of the Roman Empire – the greatest one of them all at that point. The religion was changed beyond recognition and groups wouldn’t be able to attempt to reclaim the original message of Christianity for over a thousand years. This project is clearly ongoing. As citizens of the Empire, we are particularly ill-equipped to try and access Christianity in its original form. Our idols are security and materialism, our sins are fear, racism, sexism, and xenophobia. I wonder if the citizens of Egypt and Rome were equally prone to the same missteps in the face of the message of a God who proclaimed peace and goodwill toward all men – not just within the Empire.

Empire is a thread that runs start to finish on our trip. Like the Bible, we start in Egypt and end in Rome, with a lot of the real world in between. I hope we find human moments of peace and goodwill in the middle, hindered though we are by our citizenship in the Empire.

-Eli Wenger



Coptic traditions at Anafora

We had the opportunity to spend a few days at a Coptic Orthodox
retreat center an hour out of Cairo called Anafora. The Coptic church traces their roots back to the apostle Mark and a visit he made to Egypt. So this experience was a chance to worship with one of the earliest church traditions.

The leadership at Anafora are working to create a place where people can come to seek retreat and new life. They have started to build biblical structures, the Amanmesia, which means remembering, to help explain some of their beliefs. So far they
have built a replica of the tabernacle, the Sea of Galilee, the Mount
of Olives, a small version of the ark of Noah, and a model of
Jerusalem. They are currently working on painting the walls of a
church building showing different Bible stories and of the 12
apostles. Overall, Anafora is doing well at creating a relaxing
environment where all feel welcome despite the differences in color,
culture, and religious practices.

We got to take part in the Epiphany service which was in a mix of
Coptic and Arabic. The Coptic and Greek Orthodox churches celebrate the baptism of Jesus as part of Epiphany. The service starts with two hours of prayers, then an hour and a half mass, and finishing with a ceremony of placing a cross into water. The mass was a new experience for many of us who come from the Mennonite tradition, which doesn’t feature as much liturgy and sacraments. The mass had us using all of our senses. When entering the chapel, we were overwhelmed by the smoke and smell of incense. We listened to the sound of songs, spoken liturgies, and cymbals. We saw the different icons of crosses and apostles, took part in passing the peace by touching hands, and observed the taking of communion.

IMG_0509After the mass we received candles and processed to an
amphitheater which included an island surrounded by a pool of water. Following some singing and liturgy, Bishop Thomas placed three baskets on fire, an anc (an Egyptian cymbal used to represent the cross), and a cross into the pool. Upon the completion of the service, everyone enjoyed a meal together as the Coptic Christians had been fasting for Epiphany.

It’s fascinating to witness how Christians in all different traditions
and cultures used different practices and traditions to listen to God.
In the Mennonite tradition we use four part hymns and in the Coptic
tradition they use incense and liturgy. After processing this, it made
me realize that the way Christians pull in parts of their culture to
encounter God is an example of how God can not be bound by
traditions. He moves and speaks in all places and through many ways.

A section of the liturgy used in the Epiphany service:
O King of peace, grand us Your peace, establish for us Your peace, and forgive us our sins.
Disperse the enemies of the church, and strengthen her so it will never shake.
Emmanuel, our God, in His Father’s Glory with the Holy Spirit, is now in our midst.
That He blesses us all, purifies our hearts, and heals the sickness of
our souls and bodies.
We worship You, O Christ, with Your good Father and the Holy Spirit for You were baptized and saved us.

-Janaya Sachs and Rachel Holderman




18 January 2016

So, we are finally in Cairo and I am jet lagged, but am so excited to
see the Pyramids and the Sphinx. Cairo has a distinct smell to it, a
mixture of smoke and incense. The streets are chaotic and bustling
with life and everyone is trying to get you to buy something. The
streets get busier in the evening when the shops open up and there’s
traffic and cars everywhere. The people don’t follow typical traffic
laws and walk in between cars when and where they like. The drivers themselves aren’t law abiding citizens either. The constant honking is something that you learn to ignore.

When we came to the pyramids, we were all excited to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Was I really here? I felt adrenaline rush through me as we walked around and listened to the tour guide tell us the history of these amazing architectures. I honestly was expecting the pyramids to be further out into the desert, but they weren’t. They were right outside the city, and you could actually see part of the pyramid while driving up. When we came up to the third biggest pyramid, we all got tickets to get to go inside. It was a great
experience. It wasn’t anything out of this world, but just being able
to say “I was inside the pyramid”, is just the best feeling. Kind of
like bragging 😉 After we saw the pyramids, we went down to see the
Sphinx. There were so many tourists there and like everywhere else, the locals tried to sell us souvenirs. Later we went to a papyrus shop and saw how papyrus was made. We could also purchase some papyrus paintings there, and mostly everyone decided to get at least one. I am looking forward to seeing and experiencing new things.

-Jessica Longenecker