It was the Friday, rather appropriately between American Thanksgiving and St. Andrew’s Day, and St. Andrew’s Church in Cairo was full. People of different nationalities had gathered; from Canada and the United States, from Egypt and Ethiopia, from Sudan, South Sudan and the Philippines, and even a number of us from Scotland.
Together, we gave thanks to God for 109 years of worship in that place, and rededicated the building and indeed ourselves for the future. It was a joyous service with the organ playing and several African choirs singing, but it was also a time to feel the unity of believers from different backgrounds sharing their oneness in Christ.
St Andrew’s had been in bad shape. The windows had been blown out in a bomb blast a few years before and were covered with cardboard, the floor was seriously sinking, the paintwork peeling, and the roof leaking. The church itself seemed tired and dark. Now, thanks to help from the Church of Scotland among others, the windows have all been replaced, the floor and roof have been sorted, new lights and a new sound system put in and the furnishings all restored and polished, so that we can actually see some wonderful detail.
The church was looking good. Outside we have even laid grass, albeit of the artificial variety, which gives a welcome splash of colour in dusty Cairo. The US Marines have painted the ‘caravans’ (porta-cabins) we use for various classes as part of their community service.
Seven congregations use St Andrew’s, but since Holy Week we all had to meet in the Guild Hall or the German Church nearby until work on the building was more or less completed at the end of September. The congregations are mostly made up of refugees and are Presbyterian, Lutheran, Pentecostal and interdenominational in background. The first group to move back to the church was the Ethiopian Protestant congregation for their New Year service (Ethiopian New Year being in September), and that was appropriate as we had a new start.
Representatives from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and Church of Scotland joined members from the 7 congregations in attending the service, which was led by Pastor Kirsten Fryer who is from ELCA. In our first hymn we sang ‘Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live… And all are welcome in this place’. That sums up St Andrew’s. We always stress that we are a welcoming church providing a safe place for the many refugees from different countries and different faith communities who gather within our walls, and within the embrace of God.
This was again evident the following day when we held our bazaar. The church was full of people laughing and chatting, eating Yemeni samosas and drinking Ethiopian coffee, as they looked at a variety of stalls. There was a woodworker from Eritrea making miniature musical instruments; a South Sudanese women selling patchwork i-pad covers; a Yemeni who makes intricately carved boxes: artists, portrait painters, jewellery makers.
They were all there, plus the food stalls from all the different countries – including my favourite: Syrian food. A good day was had by all, and the funds raised go to the Emergency Fund to help refugees!
When I put up some photos of the service on Facebook, a former member wrote that St Andrew’s is a beacon of hope in the darkness. Long may it continue to be so.
Featured Image: StARS