A Letter from Noah Park and Esther Shin, serving in Egypt
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“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your God in heaven.” (Matthew 5: 14-16)
For 30 days of Ramadan, Muslims fast without food and water from dawn to sunset. On the first day of Ramadan when we went out to the street after sunset, we experienced a very different city. Typically a busy, noisy and wild city, Cairo was very calm and quiet. Only a few cars passed by us. All the shops were closed. Some street dogs were meandering. One family was having “Fatar,” their first meal of the day, on a sidewalk. A little later, a car stopped and a lady got out. She then opened her car trunk, took out some water and canned food, and brought them to the family. Around 8:00, the city became normal. Shops, restaurants and coffee shops opened again, and people came out to the streets and enjoyed their Ramadan festivals. Around 3 a.m., we woke to the sound of bells ringing and the calling of children’s names. They were being called to have a meal before another day of fasting.
Here in Egypt, we experience that Islam is more than a religion. It is an enormous cultural system that influences people’s ways of thinking and living. The first day of Ramadan in Cairo led us into a deep reflection on our Christian faith: “As Christians, how do we practice “Christianity” in everyday life? Do we live out what we believe? What does it mean to be a Christian in this majority Muslim country?”
During Ramadan, we visited Good Samaritan Church and Social Service Center, where one of our seminary students, Isaac, was doing his internship. The church is located in Mukatam, which is known as Garbage Village Mountain. Pastor Nadi began his ministry in Mukatam 10 years ago with five families. After the revolution of 2011, his ministry grew. Good Samaritan ministry now has an orphanage for Christian children, a nursery for Muslim and Christian children, and a retreat center. Its major ministries focus on connecting with the Muslim neighborhood outside the church.
Pastor Nadi’s ministry began with a “Love Breakfast.” Regardless of one’s religious background—whether Muslim or Christian—people meet together and have their breakfast together once a month. Pastor Nadi said that this “Love Breakfast” has evolved into a “Love Group.” For the past 10 years, the “Love Group” has grown dramatically. It now has 2,000 members who have a strong sense of belonging and group identity.
Pastor Nadi shared a story to illustrate their identity. One day, a policeman stopped a car and asked the driver to show his ID. The man in the car did not even show his ID, but said to the policeman, “I am just coming from LOVE GROUP.”
Then, the police asked him, “Is this your new ID?” The policeman was being a little sarcastic, but because he knew about the “Love Breakfast,” the man was not in trouble and was allowed to drive on.
The church has even extended a “Love Breakfast” to its community during Ramadan, Islam’s biggest festival. For the past five years, Pastor Nadi has invited the Muslim neighborhood to sing songs together and to share a meal. At around 10 p.m. on the day of the event, we took a taxi to the church on Mukatam. When we arrived at the church at around 11:00, there were soldiers standing at the entrance to check people’s bags. A field by the church was full of people. Muslims and Christians sat together, a Christian praise team and a Muslim religious singer were leading songs together and there was a welcoming message from Dr. Atef Gendy, president of Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo.
This was the first time we had observed Muslims and Christians singing together, sharing food and fellowshipping. There was no fear, no hatred, no violence at all. The church on the mountain of Mukatam reminded us of Jesus’ saying: “Your are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14) In Egypt, evangelism to Muslims is forbidden. There are dangers and fears of terrorism. However, throughout his ministries of the “Love Breakfast” and the Ramadan event, we saw new mustard seeds scattered in people’s hearts that have the potential to grow into peace, trust and hope. The church in Mukatam could not be hidden because of its light.
Our Christian practice of love surely begins when we overcome our fear and leave our comfort zones, when we accept our neighbors in our lives, in our communities and in our hearts. A minority Christian church in a majority Muslim country exemplifies how to dare to practice Christian love by inviting others who are different from us, coming to know them and being friends with them. Imagining a “Love Breakfast” in heaven where God will invite all people who come from North, South, East and West, we are grateful that we can proudly witness our Egyptian Christian brothers’ and sisters’ bold love for their neighbors.
During Christmas season, we Christians celebrate Christ’s coming into the world as our hope, our love, our joy and our peace. When you light your Christmas lights in your house and Advent candles in your church, we hope that you remember people who do not know the true meaning of Christ coming into the world and people who are still suffering with poverty, injustice or ignorance, and extend your love to others, hopefully inviting them to your “Love Breakfast.”
We thank you again for your spiritual and financial support for our ministry in Egypt. Your prayers and your support are like the oil in the lamp that keeps the light shining. We ask that you continually pray for our seminary, the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, so that our future church leaders can boldly put their light on its stand and let it shine before others, and that people may see their good deeds and praise God in heaven.
May God’s presence be with you always, giving you peace that the world can neither know not understand.
In Christ, our Lord who calls each one of us to be “the light of the world,”
Noah Park and Esther Shin
Associates for Global Ecumenical Partnership in Egypt (AGEPE)
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