I awake this morning refreshed. I went to sleep before 10:30 pm and here it is, 5:30 am. The sun is rising and the roosters are crowing. I feel good in my body, ready for whatever the day will bring.
I have plenty of time for my “quiet time”, a precious time for me. At home, I drink a cup of coffee and ease myself into the new day by reading some inspirational literature, some of the Bible, praying and meditating. Here, I have a delicious instant coffee drink to enjoy as I read the same literature and dive into this special space. First of all, I begin with Melody Beattie’s The Language of Letting Go. Then I read today’s entry from the Open Doors prayer journal. Today we are asked to pray for Christians in Syria. Christians around the world have signed a petition demanding that Christian rights in Syria be recognized. The goal is to reach 500,000 signatures. Mine is one of them. Today I pray in general for Syrian Christians. Then I read today’s reading from Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling. These readings encourage me to simply live my day in the presence of God.
After finishing these readings, I sit on my bed and let my thoughts drift before God. If a thought comes, I pray about it. Today my thoughts are drifting around Egyptian women. In one of my emails to Sister Maria, as I prepared to come to Cairo, I suggested that I could talk to women about what it means to me to be a woman in God. I have no idea whether I will find any women, but no matter. These are my thoughts today. A question pops into my mind. What is the most important thing about who you are? I don’t even know the answer to that myself. What is the most important thing about who I am? Surely that I am being transformed by Jesus Christ. But this is the time to simply let my thoughts float, not to dwell on them. I let the thought float back to God. Another question floats into my mind. What is the worst thing that ever happened to you? That is hard to say, in my case. Having had Christian parents who were unable to bless me or to teach me the truth about how much I am loved? Perhaps. But that is also being changed. A bad story is becoming a beautiful one. Another thought drifts into my mind. Tell them your story. Which story? My story is long. Ask them to tell you their story. More questions appear like on a movie screen. What is God like for you? Is God good or cruel? Another question. How are you like your mother? How are you different?
I ask God what I can do today. I tell God that the thing I would especially like to do during my stay in Cairo is to talk to women about who we are really created to be. But anything would be great. Speaking English to the sisters, tutoring kids, helping in the kitchen, whatever. I am ready to be of use.
After a while, I get up, get dressed and walk over to the convent for breakfast. Sister Maria comes into the dining room. She has heard that I am looking for her. I want to know what I can do today. “Today you can talk to some women,” she says. I can’t believe my ears. Sister Maria has it all prepared. I will be speaking to about forty women, and she has organized a translator for me. I haven’t even prepared my talk! What will I say, now that I’ve told her I want to speak? God almighty, how am I going to do this? But there is no time to worry about it. I will be speaking in half an hour.
I am escorted into an auditorium, where several women are gathering. I see both Muslim and Christian women. Sometimes it is hard to tell. Some women are wearing galabayas, but their heads are uncovered, or their hair is partly visible. Others are wearing jeans and blouses. They are all beautiful, with perfect makeup. They look like queens, friendly and self-confident. Do they need to hear my message?
Sister Maria says I have a half hour to talk to them. A half hour, including translation. What shall I say? Thank God, I wrote down my questions earlier this morning. I decide to simply relay my questions back to the women. When I ask them who they are, I hear answers like, “I am what my goals are.” “I am the person whose life I am living.” I wonder if these women have any idea of what I am going to try and say. I ask them if they are Muslims and Copts, whether any other religion or denomination is represented here. A woman jokes, “Nowadays we have a third religion in Egypt – the Muslim Brotherhood. Nobody here belongs to that religion.” Everybody laughs. I ask if she likes the Muslim Brotherhood. She answers that as people, yes, as a religion, no.
I tell them some of my church story, raised as a Baptist, in a strict church, lots of rules about what I could and especially couldn’t do. I was told to obey at all times. My father was a leader in the church, a man in authority. At home, he beat us children, was cruel to us, spoke very harshly, and my mother tolerated it all. I tell these women I grew up to be fearful, afraid of men, afraid of authority, afraid of God, even though I was told in church that God loved me. I had no self-confidence. The church did not help me very much to find out who I was truly created to be. I am trying to tell these women that God, and by extension, I, am not what I learned in church, in school, from my parents, from the press, or from television. My job is to find out and to live in the person I was created to be.
Much of what I am trying to say seems not to be coming across. My translator understands most of what I’m saying, but sometimes her face looks blank. I tell the women about hindrances to finding out who we are. Hindrances like the church, school, parents, all the things I’ve been saying. I need a stronger example. Then, I am inspired! Today I am wearing both a tank top and a blouse with sleeves, covering it. I remove my blouse. I’m undressing in front of these women! I stand before them in my sleeveless tank top and say, “This is like the real me, the one God has created me to be.” I hold my blouse before them and point to it. “This is the person the church, my parents, the school, newspapers and television have told me to be.” I put the blouse on again, but cover my head with it. The blouse obviously doesn’t fit. The women get it, and start to laugh.
I decide to go further in my explanation. I tell them more about my father’s beatings. Surely these women will understand that. This respected leader in the church who beat his children and his wife, in her belief in submission, helped him to abuse the children.
Women are responding to what I’m saying. One says, “It is not like that here.” I am not convinced. I say, “Really?” Then a Muslim woman, beautifully dressed, with a gorgeous scarf and perfect make-up, asks to speak.
“In our community, it is okay. We Muslim women are taught that we are to obey our husbands in everything. This is our job to do that. But if some man goes too far with his wife or children and beats them, a strong woman in the community will go to him and say, ‘That’s enough. Stop it.’ And then he stops.” At least, this is what I think she has said. I ask her if she is the strong woman in her community. She looks it. “Sometimes I am strong, sometimes I am weak,” she answers. From her comment, I see that my message has not come across. I’m trying to say that we ourselves can grow strong in ourselves, in the power of Christ, not necessarily needing a strong woman to intervene for us. I tell the women about Jesus, how the Jesus I have come to know is different from the one I learned about in church, where I was taught simply to obey. I tell the women that Jesus is strong, and through his death and resurrection he has power to help us become who we were meant to be. I tell them we need to learn to be honest and tell God exactly how we feel, to give God our fears, our anger, our feelings of weakness, and that an exchange takes place. We can give God our shyness and God will gradually make us strong. We can give up our anger and become loving and compassionate. And so on. I tell them we need to ask God to show us how to forgive. I tell them this is a daily practice, and that we are to live continually in trust that God is doing this. I hope this is coming across.
Someone asks if I was able to receive an education. Oh, dear. Do they think my father was so cruel that he forbade me from being educated? It was more subtle than that. He wasn’t really that bad, even though I bear scars. I tell them I have a master’s degree in social work, that was not the problem, that my father paid for my education. My problem was that I grew up to doubt myself. This seems to come across. Then I realize that these women need to hear something positive about my dad. I tell them that when he was old, my husband gave him a book about God’s grace and mercy. As he read the book, tears streamed down his face. He finally started to understand that God loved and accepted him.
My time is done. How much of what I have said has really sunk in? It doesn’t matter. I’m learning to let go. I let go of my talk, and pray that God will speak to those who need to hear, and that my words will be understood.
Later in the day, I bring my computer into the convent dining room, where there is wifi, so that I can receive and write emails. I tell one of the sisters that I have Coptic worship music in my external drive, and I play the music. She says she has the very same music. Sister Mariem starts to interpret the songs for me. This is beautiful! Sister Marina brings me tea and we listen to the music together. I feel so completely at home with these sisters. Then Sister Marina’s phone rings. It’s Sister Mariem, who has left for her room, telling her to tell me to go to a website called CTV. I try it but only get Canadian TV. Sister Marina seems to be urgent abot finding this website. At four o’clock there is a sermon at this church, and we should watch it! Finally, after much trial and error, we find the website Mariem means. Coptic TV. I wonder what the urgency is. I won’t understand anything, anyway. Soon people are crowded around my monitor. I soon learn why Sr. Maria was talking to someone in hushed tones last evening. Sr. Ologaya tells me that yesterday in a church called St. Mary in Warraq, in Giza, there was a wedding. http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2013/10/21/investigations-into-church-shooting-begin/
After the wedding, as people were leaving the church, some Islamists rode up on bicycles, shot into the crowd, killing four people and gravely injuring eight others. What we are watching is the funeral! From my computer monitor, we can see that the church is packed full. People are chanting, “Why, God, why?” Marsa, the cook, who is sitting next to me, is also asking God why.
Eventually, Marsa brings us a huge pile of molokhia stems to remove the leaves from as we watch the service. Sr. Ologaya jokes, “Please God, don’t take me before I can eat the molokhia this evening!
I am concerned. We are all concerned. For ourselves, yes. I’m concerned for my husband Peter and all my loved ones who will have heard the news before I did, and will be worried about my safety. All I can tell myself and others is, “Our time will come when it comes.” I wonder if Peter’s and everybody else’s, who said I shouldn’t come to Egypt, are justified. Will I get out of here safely? I don’t understand this Islamic craziness. But in the Bible, Jesus said things like this would happen to his followers. I sit back and join the sisters, letting whatever may come, to come. After all, I have no other choice, do I?