Egypt | Imagine

The Poem

we walked thru metal detectors
before we were allowed to enter
church
who would’ve thought
our holy spaces would need defenses

like, isn’t God enough?
but how can a people forgo a response when the trigger
from their trauma comes?

why can’t we mortals be the animals in noah’s story arc of floods?
You who call us Loved- protect us!
You say no weapon

formed against us will will prosper but
they are being formed!
and we are being taught to fear for the lives you’ve asked us to offer up

as sacrifices

remind us that tho our body
and indeed this building
may be
defenseless
our spirits are being kept
like sheep by The Shepherd

The Story

Egypt; a land who’s treasure is hidden like the hair of the many women with Hijabs.
Getting to Egypt was an instant culture shock; the color of everything buildings, earth, and skin, different- all of it now a sandy tan. The 5x daily Call to Prayer blaring from loudspeakers in mosques nation wide, “Allahu Akbar”- vowels stretched beyond 1/4 notes making the Call almost songlike. When you heard the Call you could feel it in the air. It was like hypnosis-only, instead of our eyes being lulled to sleep it was the spirit of an entire nation. I’ve never felt anything like that before. None of my team had, either. How do you do ministry when legally, muslim converts to Christianity can and will be put to death- the very real tension of knowing that if we care about the life of the people we’re among it might be better for them if we don’t mention Jesus?
How do you do ministry when you have to operate in secret because if the government finds out what you’re doing you could get Blacklisted and kicked out of the country?
Or when Christians- and especially foreign Christians are not a welcomed sight? We were fortunate to spend most of our 2 Months in Egypt in a tourist hub called Hurghada on the eastern seaboard. Fortunate because it was far more tolerant of us than Cairo would have been. But still, we operated in secret. To the level that the Americans on our team were not permitted to tell people we were from the US because of a rising anti-american sentiment.
Our team felt repressed.
We had come to do ministry yet could not even speak the name of Jesus. This forced us to be more creative. We ran several week long kids camps and something I’ll never forget is that the 3rd camp we planned wasn’t able to happen. Why? Because the imam (head of a Mosque) of that area of the city didn’t permit the kids to come. We had run the camp in this area twice before and hadn’t run into this obstacle. The thing is, the community knew that our contact was Christian. At times parents would come to watch us. They would come not because they wanted to know more of Jesus- but because they wanted to be sure that we weren’t influencing their kids to convert. Under their watchful eye we never spoke the name of Jesus but we were able to teach Good things to the kids. Still, our camp was markedly, and unspokenly Christian. And as such, the community was forbid to come to it. That was hard for us! We had grown attached to these kids and thought that they as well had grown attached to us- groups would wait at the locked gate of the park we’d host the camp at and they would run to greet us when we arrived in our van.
We created a safe space for that group of kids. And safety was a key ingredient. Key, because many of these kids were being abused at home- many would come to the camp with bruises- marks of harsh home living. We came to see these camps as significant because at least we knew that when the kids were with us they were safe, and honored, and loved. So different was the culture that we created in the camps that it was like a dream to many of the kids. When you wake up from a dream you know it is not reality, no matter how beautiful and memorable the dream.
One day I was teaching on conflict resolution and I asked the kids, “when your friend makes you mad what do you do?”
Hands shot into the air, eager to answer my question.
I called on a boy named Mohammed, “I take a deep breath and count to 10”, he said, referring to a song that we had made and taught the kids. Surely, he had the right answer! And a good memory!
But, I looked at him and said, “I don’t want to hear the ‘right’ answer, or what you think I want to hear. I want to hear what you actually do”.
The kids laughed and whispered among themselves and Mohammed spoke again, “oh! Then we beat each other.”

Honestly, I don’t know what kind of lasting impact we had. All I know is that when the kids were with us we made them resolve conflict differently. We brought them into a different world. And sometimes different worlds are like languages- they seem inapplicable in places that aren’t fluent in that tongue. While we may have showed them the tongue of love, will they speak it outside of our Camp? I don’t know. But we showed them that there is more. And for kids, one of the greatest gifts you can give them is showing them that it is possible to imagine “more”. So, what did we accomplish in Egypt? We helped a group of kids learn to imagine. And that, is beautiful.

The Pictures