Sevcik's Blog

A year in Cairo Egypt

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Bait El Salam and Synod of the Nile 150th Anniversary

Last weekend our group met up for the first time since we split up for our volunteer over a month ago---and it's about time! :-) We were invited to a 50th anniversary celebration for the Beit El Salam (House of Peace) center near Alexandria. A number of original volunteers (mostly American) who helped build the center back in 1955 were there. We are the 2005 'generation' of these volunteers, so we were there to bring the new with the old. We really didn't have a part in the celebration, other than to sing HAPPY BIRTHDAY BAIT EL SALAM about 10 times, eat some good meals and a piece of the most gigantic cake I have ever seen (it took 10 men to walk this cake to the front of the room), and listen to how the center has helped so many people over the years. Our sleeping arrangements were awesome--18 women in one 'dorm room' of 9 bunks. I could barely get around my bunk to get into bed. The woman sleeping below me was about 65 years old and had a bad cough. Across the room was a woman with an infant, crying. Some people snored. We went to bed with the lights on and people coming in at all hours of the night talking in normal voices. Still, I slept really well and it was quite an experience, esp. with communication barriers!

We had an extra day to tour around Alexandria, but with the combination of our bus coming 3 hours late and the fact that all tourist sites were closed for Eid, we ended up going out to eat at a fish restaurant and shopping at Carrefour. The best part of the weekend was being together again and enjoying the fresh air on the beach.

November 8th was the big day for the Synod of the Nile 150th anniversary at Kasr Al Doubara Evangelical Church. Here's some history for you: (Thanks to Jason Clay--he gets credit for this!) In the 1850’s, the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America sent missionaries to Egypt and evangelized up and down the Nile on a houseboat. An Indian prince had come to Egypt to select a bride, and when he married an Egyptian woman, they had their honeymoon on a houseboat. After the honeymoon, the prince donated the boat to the Presbyterian Church. It was christened “The Ibis,” and the church used it for years, up and down the Nile. Eventually they set up permanent missions in cities such as Alexandria, Assuit, and Minya, and built a seminary in Cairo. Their main focus was on education, so they built schools for children all over Egypt. That tradition is still alive today. In fact, we live at one of the schools: The Ramses College for Girls. Currently there are around 30 schools in Egypt run by The Synod of the Nile. In 1891 the first batch of Egyptian ministers graduated from the seminary. Evangelical Theological Seminary (Evangelical means Presbyterian in Egypt) still exists today, and is only a 20-minute walk from where we live. Last year they graduated 35 students and the enrollment is on the rise.

In the 1920’s Egyptians gained independence from the Americans and have been running the Egyptian Evangelical Presbyterian Church since then. The actual name of the church varies depending on who you are talking to or what time period you are reading about, but for all intents and purposes, it is the same as the PC(USA), it’s just in Egypt, run by Egyptians.For those of you not in the Presbyterian Church, a synod is simply a governmental body. In the U.S., the structure of the Presbyterian government goes like this: Local Church Session à Presbytery à Synod à General Assembly. Each level encompasses a larger geographical area than the last, with the General Assembly covering the entire country. The church in Egypt has the same structure but the Synod is the largest level. There are eight presbyteries and 312 churches in the Synod of the Nile.So when we talk about the History of the Synod of the Nile, we are really talking about the history of the Presbyterian Church in Egypt, beginning with the first missionaries from the U.S.

Now back to the 150th Anniversary celebration. The large church was packed with Egyptians from all over the country, forty some odd foreigners including Americans, Scots, Dutch, Germans, and Canadians, and representatives from each major religion/denomination in Egypt, including Islam. In fact the most prominent Muslim from Al Azhar Mosque, the center of Islamic thinking, attended and gave a very inclusive speech. His name in the program is Grand Imam Dr. Mohamed Said Tantawy. In his speech he said, "We can love each other...we should live together united. We need to suport each other. Only God can wage religion...We can be different and argue, but in the end the argument should fade away by opening our hearts to each other. We are privileged with peace and forgiveness... We salute and congratulate the evangelical church. May God continue our peace and unity and scatter love ot each other, not war." WOW.

Marian McClure, Director of the Worldwide Ministries Division of the Presbyterian Church gave the keynote address. There were representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and The Coptic Catholic Church, and the Mayor of Cairo delivered a speech. This whole celebration was a BIG DEAL, attracting all kinds of “powerful people.” Martha Roy, the 92 year-old musicologist who plays the organ at St. Andrews was given special recognition. Victor Makari (a native Egyptian who now lives in the U.S. and works for the PC(USA)) spoke about Martha said she had known five generations of his family starting with his grandfather, down to his grandson. (Thanks Jason!)

By the way, the only major religion/denomination not present was the Coptic Orthodox Christians. The Coptic Catholics are a separate church from the Roman Catholic church, but they recognize the Roman Catholic pope. The Coptic Orthodox, on the other hand, have their own pope, Pope Shenouda II.


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