August 22, 2014
We are well on our way through August and, Insh’allah through the worst of the summer months. Temps of 40C are common these days, and without a bit of A/C helping us along, I wonder how we would survive.
So, here’s a bit of an update on things as they are….as of today. Jane and I have now completed 10 months of a 14 month assignment as interim Country Representatives for MCC in Egypt and while thoughts of our return home begin to occupy more of our time, the work between now and the time we leave includes:
- Welcoming 10 incoming people, including 4 SALTers, 4 Service Workers, and our replacements. This welcome includes setting up language training and doing an orientation and then getting them placed into their assignments. After that, we cross our fingers and hope that everything goes reasonably well. It seldom happens….
- A financial review of the full Egypt program that will happen shortly after that;
- A visit from the MCC head office of staff from two departments. This usually means itinerating them through projects in which they are directly involved;
- Regional meetings in Sarajevo, Bosnia, at which we brag about all the great things happening in Egypt;
- A possible learning tour of church-related people coming through the Middle East…another week gone;
- A full-on program review of the MCC Egypt program;
- Orientation for the new Country Representatives who, as of very recently, were identified (hemdililah!)
- Inserted in there somewhere are various deadlines for reports, proposals and other administrative work.
If we are still alive by early December, we then start our journey home via Indonesia, to re-acquaint ourselves with our dear ones there, before we arrive home, Insh’allah, on December 22nd, in time to share family celebrations and light a Christmas Eve candle in our home church.
We are not unhappy that our final months in Egypt will be busy. Time will certainly not drag. It will be a departure from recent months, where our workload was much lighter. We will also get some satisfaction in seeing the results of a lot of planning work to re-build a stronger service worker (SW) presence in the country once again. For those of you who are interested, MCC’s program in Egypt consists of two significant program “streams”: (i) a service worker presence where we place SALTers (one year placements) and SWers (three year placements) into seconded placements, and (ii) a funding component, where we provide funds for work being done by our local agency partners. Our partners in Egypt are all church-based: Orthodox, Evangelical and Anglican. Before the revolutions of the past three years, the two streams occupied a good balance of both. Since July, 2013, that balance was disrupted and many service workers and SALTers ended their terms early (mostly no fault of their own), and so our time here has been spent on (i) monitoring funded projects, and (ii) working to restore the personnel part of the program. All of this takes time, but as of the end of August, the absence of service workers in Egypt comes to a dramatic end.
Egypt has provided us with many profound and unique blessings. I will name only a couple.
We have learned much about a Christian church that, sadly, our insular, even colonialist, Western Christian world knows little about. The Christian churches here, particularly the Coptic Orthodox Church, is a church that has learned to endure….for millennia. Whether it was the persecutions of Romans, or one regime or another, this church has been a religious “fixture” of the Middle East since the time of Mark, the gospel writer. For those who know their church history, Egypt, along with the rest of North Africa, also formed a very integral part of theological development of the early church….Origen and Augustine being but two of the early Christian theologians. Alexandria was known to be one of the great centres of Christian thought until about 650 CE, and Egypt was also the founder of monasticism that gained much currency in Europe later on. We have also learned how much of Old Testament/Torah writings and theology were influenced by Pharaonic religious thought. We have been humbled, and even saddened, by our lack of knowledge and appreciation of the Coptic Orthodox story. The story of the Christian church, since the time of Christ, has many sad stories—this is one of them. Nevertheless, we have opportunities in this age to make amends, and, thanks be to God, that is happening.
The other great blessing that bears mentioning is the relationship that we, as foreign MCCers, have with our Egyptian staff. The last time we were with MCC, it did not hire local staff at all (it was seen as a service arm of the North American churches and its job was to put North American volunteers into service). Praise God that has changed. While the original mandate (of placing service workers) remains, we now also hire local people to work within MCC programs, particularly MCC offices. All “national staff”, as we call them, are located in our office doing administrative and support work. They are all dedicated, honest and committed workers, fully engaged in the mission of MCC here. They are true colleagues; they are the institutional memory of MCC in Egypt; they are a “window” into Egyptian culture for us. They do strategically important work for our programs. Without them, we would be “toast”. Jane and I often reflect on how lucky we have been to be able to work along-side them.
We have been a bit remiss in our communications the past few months…we admire others who are faithful in posting stories and pictures on Facebook…and we probably won’t be writing much more in the coming, much busier, months but we appreciate knowing that our church family and friends are keeping us in their prayers. Sometimes we are very homesick and other times we are just plain worn out by the heat but overall we are very grateful for this experience and have no regrets. We read the weekly and mid-weekly bulletins and blogs and Facebook posts and manage to keep in touch that way. Blessings to you all as you head back to school and other fall routines, and as you move towards Advent and Christmas when we hope to be with you again.
Peter and Jane