The Cairo Book Fair

The Cairo Book Fair

The metro trains on my Abbasiyya line have been crowded recently, because everyone has been going to the Book Fair! The Cairo Book Fair is the biggest and oldest in the Middle East (and apparently the second biggest in the world after Frankfurt!). It happens every year and lasts for two weeks, during which the Showground becomes a hive of activity.

Problems with the economy have had an effect on the Fair this year, as publishers have been hit hard.  Prices of paper and ink have doubled in price due to the Flotation of the Egyptian Pound in November, and this has led to a subsequent rise in the price of books. There were 100 fewer publishers at the Fair than in 2016.

BUT, despite it all, I was amazed at how many stalls and tents there actually were, and the size of the area they covered. I even managed to lose my bearings at one point, and had to be given directions back to the Metro! It was gratifying to see so many people at a Book Fair – it was crowded! (Admittedly there are 26 million people living in Greater Cairo, so perhaps I should not be surprised…)

Many people were there for a day out, and no doubt the refreshments stalls would make a lot of money. But there were some really good discounts on books, and I did see many people buying books. As usual in Book Fairs, there were various talks (almost exclusively in Arabic) and cultural events. Most of the books on sale were naturally in Arabic, but there were enough in English for me to spend a good few hours browsing – and buying!

Indeed I have visited the Fair three times already, and each time I returned with an empty wallet. We are very fortunate to have the American University in Cairo Press, which publishes excellent books, often with first-rate illustrations or photographs. They too were offering very good discounts, so inevitably I came out of their marquee laden with books.

There were quite a number of Christian publishers (though they tended to be all in the same big tent), including the Bible Society who had a couple of stands and who offered Bibles for the equivalent of 10p (to give them away free could be seen as proselytizing, which is against the law). There was also super material for children and teenagers, but again these were affected by the price rise in imported materials, so have had to raise their prices, though never by enough to cover costs.

I have always loved books, but when I left both Zambia and the Galilee, I left so many books behind. I thought that in Egypt I would have to use Kindle. However, the Cairo Book Fair has certainly helped to break that resolve.

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The Inspirational Story of John Samuel

The Inspirational Story of John Samuel

In Scottish terms, John is a ‘son of the manse’. His father is a pastor of a congregation in the ever-expanding suburbs in the north of Cairo.

Despite studying to be an engineer (he has a Masters in Civil Engineering), John found himself working for the Church in the Synod of the Nile’s 80/800 Programme, which aims to develop 80 congregations as the first phase of a plan to create 800 Presbyterian congregations. There are currently just over 300.

John targeted 21 congregations over the length of Egypt, from Alexandria in the North to Aswan in the South, organising training courses in capacity building for church workers, elders and members. He sought to develop discipleship among the members, especially the youth, but also challenged the congregations to look outwards in community service, in education, health and agriculture.

john1John spent two years on the project. However, along with 90,000 other young people (which seems an incredibly high number, but this is Egypt!), he applied for selection to a training programme for youths initiated by President Sisi. He was successful, being one of only 33 Christians out of the 500 chosen. He has now completed the training and is waiting to be assigned to a position, perhaps in one of the ministries or even in the company setting up Egypt’s new capital, which is being established in between Cairo and Suez.

John seemingly collects degrees, and he is also in his third year of the MAOL programme (Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership) at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo. As its title suggests, the degree focuses on specific needs and issues surrounding Christian Leadership. The students take 12 modules over a three year period, and subjects include modules such as Strategic Thinking, Integrity & Finance, Spiritual Formation, Mentoring &Coaching and Conflict Management & Resolution. The students come to the Seminary for a week of intensive classes twice a year. They then continue their studies through distance learning, reading and writing assignments at home.

He has been enormously impressed by the modules he has taken so far, and especially enjoys their practical nature. He values the strengthening of leadership in the church and only hopes that the course, which has been taught in English so far, can be translated into Arabic so that it reaches a wider audience. John hopes to be used by God through what he learns in the course, and to be able to bring about transformation in Egypt.img_0292

A Visit to Sadat City

A Visit to Sadat City

Sadat City is named after the former President of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, who started to build it 40 years ago and hoped that it would become the capital city of Egypt. It never did, but it is one of a ring of new towns situated around Cairo, whose aim was to decongest Cairo.

About 80,000 people live in Sadat, and it is situated 95km north of Cairo on the Desert Road to Alexandria. The government offered ground to the Presbyterians to build a church, and they are in the process of doing so. However, at present they use a villa which was donated by a church member in Cairo, which has a flat for the pastor as well as meeting space downstairs.

There has, however, been no resident Pastor there for some time. The current Pastor is Medhat Fawzy, who graduated from the Seminary in May 2016, but he is resident in Giza, as his wife works near Cairo. Medhat is also my Arabic teacher, and I was delighted when he asked me to preach one Sunday evening in Sadat.

The Congregation in Sadat

Although I have preached several times at St Andrew’s, both at the English-speaking congregation and two of the Sudanese, this was my first invitation to preach in a Synod of the Nile congregation. I had to make my way to Giza (near the pyramids) by metro, and then use a tuktuk and a bus before catching the minibus for Sadat City.

The service started at 7.30 pm, as Sunday is a working day, and most members work. As the church is not central, a minibus picks up most of the people. That particular Sunday there were 15 adults and several children at the church, which I think was more than usual. The space reminded me of St Andrew’s Galilee, where I spent my previous 6 years, and it was very informal and relaxed worship. It was a very enjoyable experience, though when we returned to the bus stop at 9.45pm we had just missed a bus and so had to sit in an empty minibus, waiting patiently for it to fill up before it left.

By 11pm, there were still only three of us, and we decided to pay more just to get back to Cairo. It was 1am when we got back to the Seminary, but fortunately the guard at the gate was awake. Working as a Mission Partner in Cairo certainly provides opportunity for adventure

I Was in Prison, You Visited Me

I Was in Prison, You Visited Me

Qanater is a town on the Nile, north of Cairo, at the point where the river starts to divide, forming the Delta.  A barrage was constructed there in the 1850s (later improved by a Scottish engineer in the 1880s!) to control the flow of the Nile and improve irrigation. It was a popular place for people to travel from Cairo to enjoy the river, and there were a number of parks and gardens. By now they are sadly overgrown.

qanater-3Qanater is now the site of a complex of prisons, one for women and two for men. One of the male prisons is specifically for international people – men from different countries who for one reason or another find themselves in prison.

I had travelled there with a group from All Saints Anglican Cathedral, which has had a prison ministry for a number of years. There were 12 of us in the minibus, including Father Samuel, who had worked for many years in churches in Libya, but who had to leave because of the worsening situation there. They go every week and visit the women one week and the men the next. Mostly it is the international prisoners who are visited, as they don’t have family in Egypt and so have fewer visitors.

The group brings groceries for the prisoners – rice, pasta, cooking oil and some hygiene items, which the prisoners are able to use. There would be about 60 international prisoners on the visiting schedule, but the group would only see about 10 each week. Some of the prisoners are jailed for crimes, but others are refugees or migrants who were found without the proper papers and have been imprisoned.

I spoke with someone from Ethiopia, who was in the latter category and who just wants to return home to Addis, where he worked as a ‘wedding decorator’. Like most of the prisoners we visit, he was Christian and was able to wear a big cross round his neck. His English wasn’t very good, but was better than his Arabic. We chatted for perhaps 20 minutes in a visiting room, after which we all stood in a circle and said a prayer. It was good to have the chance to visit, and I look forward to going back again.

StARS Part 2: Now I can Dream

StARS Part 2: Now I can Dream

Whenever I go through the gates at St Andrew’s, there are always people there. Many are waiting – waiting to see a counselor or a lawyer, eager to get some advice.  Children are inevitably playing football, and it is always good to see the mixture of ages and nationalities. Football seems to unite.

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One little Syrian girl was content to swing on a tyre hanging by a rope from a tree, while her parents looked on, glad to find a moment’s peace, compared with the horrors they have doubtless experienced. All the people gathered at St Andrew’s have their own stories to tell, many of them heartbreaking. But at St Andrew’s Refugee Services (StARS) we offer them a safe space and assistance.

 

Education
StARS has several main areas in which it works. The first is education, and that is where it all began. The refugee communities have difficulty gaining access to the Egyptian school system, and the few who do often encounter discrimination, and so there are a number of private schools for refugee children. At StARS there is now:

  • A recently established Montessori Pre-School with 20 pupils between the ages of 2 and 6, mostly vulnerable children from the different refugee communities, and this is taught in English and Arabic.
  • A school (primary/ secondary) with 253 pupils, which follows the Sudanese curriculum, with lessons taught in English. The school is very well regarded, and indeed there are 30 applications for each place. Breakfast and a hot lunch are provided, and pupils are also helped with transport. Most importantly, children from different countries are able to sit together and play together at the break.

StARS also has a big Adult Education programme, with about 2,500 people involved. The courses are primarily English language courses, but there are also vocational courses such as hairdressing and IT. Other courses taught include interview skills and C.V. writing – very practical! Since last year there has also been an emphasis on Educational Access and Capacity Building. This is especially aimed at training teachers from the Syrian community, who often come from a non-teaching background. They are highly educated, but are unable to find jobs in their own areas and so become teachers – StARS steps in to help provide them with basic classroom skills.

Psycho-Social
Another area which is expanding is Psycho-Social, which works to improve the situation a client might find themselves in, encouraging within them a resilience to cope. In 2013 there were 8 people in this department, but now there are 60, mostly from the refugee community. It is within this department that you find one-to-one counselling over a whole range of issues, though housing features high, as it is often problematic to find decent housing, and refugees are often exploited by landlords and charged higher rents. Sexual violence is another big area that Psycho -Social deals with. It also organises various groups such as sport, music and self-defence, and peer-support groups. There is also a medical officer and a network of doctors and pharmacists offering low cost treatment to refugees.

Unaccompanied Children and Youth
Psycho-Social also deals with Unaccompanied Children and Youth (UYC). These are young people under the age of 18 who arrive in Egypt without parents and who are at great risk of exploitation. StARS have been able to support 580, though there are another 400 on the waiting list. Many of the unaccompanied youth come from countries like Ethiopia and Eritrea, and because they are not Arabic speakers, the risk of exploitation is even higher. However, StARS runs a super Bridging Programme for UYC, which runs for two semesters of 5 months and which teaches  subjects like English, Arabic, maths and IT, and life skills. 179 are enrolled in this programme, and in it they are allowed to be normal teenagers.

One of them said; ‘Before I didn’t have hope, but now I can dream’. This programme has recently been shortlisted for a big international prize, so watch this space…!

StARS Part 1: Hope for Refugees

StARS Part 1: Hope for Refugees

I am so proud of the work that this little congregation does”, says Kirsten Fryer, the pastor of St Andrew’s. “Because we are here, thousands of refugees recognize St Andrew’s as a safe space, and hundreds worship within our walls. I truly believe that the work we do matters and is a reflection of our call to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God”.

Kirsten is referring to StARS, the St Andrew’s Refugee Service, which has been in operation since 1979, when a group of members of the congregation saw a need to form a class to teach English to some refugees from Ethiopia. Since then the number of refugees in Egypt has rocketed, and StARS has grown from a handful of volunteers to an organization with 177 paid staff. Of the paid staff, 80% are from the refugee community. All staff, both international and refugee, are paid on the same scale, which is unusual.

It is estimated that there are 65.3 million refugees worldwide (November 2016), 40 million of which are internally displaced people. Over 50% of refugees come from three countries: Somalia, Syria and Afghanistan. Whilst Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran and Jordan host large numbers of refugees, the number of refugees in Egypt has also increased as it is surrounded by countries facing war or internal tension –such as Libya, Sudan and South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Yemen.

Many refugees make their way towards the coast around Alexandria to attempt to cross the Mediterranean, and numbers registered in Egypt are around 190,000. At St Andrew’s over 10,300 displaced people were assisted in 2015, but this year it has already risen to 16,500. There are a growing number of unaccompanied minors to help, and an ever increasing number of refugees from Syria.

Most of the refugees coming to Egypt are looking to be resettled elsewhere and so have to register with the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees), who then interview families and, if approved, refer them to a country like Canada or the United States for resettlement. The United Kingdom is shamefully way behind other countries in the number of places it offers for resettlement.

In 2016 approximately 6,000 refugees in Egypt were resettled, but that is, of course, out of 190,000. In other countries, refugees can eventually become citizens of the country in which they settle. This is not the case in Egypt (except if they were to marry an Egyptian!), and so many refugees who have lived in Cairo for years are still deemed refugees and as such have to apply for a renewal of their permit to stay in the country every few months. Egypt does not allow refugees the right to work, and so refugees have to work illegally. They do not have any redress if anything goes wrong. Refugees do not have a feeling of security in Egypt and so are anxious to move on. The vast majority would prefer to go back to their home countries, but sadly that is not a feasible option in most cases.

Needless to say, this keeps the Legal Aid team at StARS very busy. It is made up of over 20 lawyers, often young lawyers from overseas who take a year out. They work closely with the UNHCR over resettlement, and review the cases of refugees whose applications for resettlement have been rejected by the UNHCR. Some cases are eligible to appeal, and in September alone there were 36 such appeals. The lawyers also work with those applying to be registered as refugees. Without refugee status, you are quite unprotected.  A number of Oromo from Ethiopia find themselves in this category; although they feel discriminated against within Ethiopia, their application to be considered as refugees is rejected.

StARS is an amazing organization, providing hope for so many people. The proceeds of the recent St Andrew’s Christmas Bazaar went to the Emergency Fund, which is used to help refugees in extreme need. As a member of St Andrew’s and one of the volunteers, I am honoured to be associated with it. To read more about it, visit the website.

Cracking the Glass Ceiling

Cracking the Glass Ceiling
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Anne Emile Zaki

At the side of Anne’s desk there is a wooden shield, presented to her this year by her old university as ‘Young Alumni of the Year’. It is quite an honour, but then Anne is a remarkable person. She is the kind of person who is constantly trying to break the glass ceiling which restricts the advancement of women in Egypt, especially within the Church. Anne was born in Egypt. Both her father and her grandfather were ministers, so the Church was very central to her life. She grew up in Cairo, but at the age of 16 was selected to study at an international school in Canada, which shows something of her calibre.

It was quite something for a 16 year old girl to leave home and family, but she did so. She returned to Egypt two years later, only to be offered a scholarship at Calvin College in the States. Here she read Psychology and Sociology, and met her husband-to-be, Naji, a Canadian of Syrian/ German Dutch extraction studying to be a pastor. After finishing her degree, she returned to Cairo to take her masters in Psychology at the American University in Cairo (AUC), with Naji who followed her to Cairo.

They married and settled in North America where Naji was a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church.  Anne was happy being a pastor’s wife and began to study for her PhD. in Christian Education. Growing up in the Presbyterian Church in Egypt which did not ordain women, she had never considered ordination, but this was to change. She became more and more immersed in church work and was even leading worship and preaching, and it was Naji who eventually challenged her, asking whether she felt herself called to be a pastor. Anne began a period of discernment and came to the conclusion that biblically there was nothing to hinder her from seeking ordination.

She switched from her Doctorate to the M.Div. programme at Calvin Theological Seminary, a four year course for those seeking ordination. Anne had however still not decided what to do at the end of the course, whether to seek ordination or not. The years at Calvin were wonderful years, but also challenging, as she was now also a mother of four boys, and so had more questions about how motherhood fitted in with being either an academic or a pastor. It was only at the end of her 4th year that Anne eventually submitted her application forms to be ordained. However, she felt no peace, and two weeks later withdrew them.

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Anne with four of her students

Despite this, she still felt the call and, ironically, had a strong sense that the call would be fulfilled in Egypt (ironic because the church in Egypt did not ordain women as pastors at the time). It was, she says, like taking lessons to fly, when no-one had yet invented the plane! She wrote to the church in Egypt and received a pleasant letter back, appreciating the work of Anne’s father and grandfather, but stating the obvious – women were not ordained in Egypt! She wrote the following year and received a similar reply.

But… then came the Revolution, and while many other Christian Egyptians left the country, Anne, Naji and the family moved to Egypt. Suddenly the Church could not ignore her anymore. The issue of women’s ordination had to be addressed. It is a very contentious issue, and many remain opposed to it, more for cultural reasons than biblical or theological ones. At the last Synod meeting (the equivalent of the General Assembly) the argument became very heated and it was proposed, and accepted, that it depart from the issue (and not even discuss it) for ten years! This has been contested, and it may be that the issue will be re-opened. “As long as the discussion is on the table, I am fine” Anne says.

Anne has joined the staff at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (ETSC) as a part-time worker teaching international relations. By now she is full-time, and teaches courses in preaching, communication, psychology, spiritual formation and worship. She laughs that she is trusted to teach future pastors, but not to be a pastor herself! Anne combines her role as a mother in her own family with the wider role of being right in the centre of the ETSC family, supporting and affirming all the students; male and female. She has also been invited to preach in many congregations across Egypt, and while she inevitably faces criticism, she also has many women approaching her to say that they too feel called to be pastors. Only time will tell whether Anne will be ordained or not, but she is certainly preparing the way.