First things first in Egypt
My wife and I were on a short holiday recently in Egypt — a cruise down the Nile (before you ask, it was a special offer price for January!) As soon as we discovered where we would be on Sunday, we asked our tour guide — a friendly, helpful and well-educated young man — if he could find out if there was an evangelical church in Aswan, as we would like to attend.
He looked rather bemused and said that he had never been asked such a question before. He asked, ‘What is an evangelical church?’ So we took the opportunity to explain to him what a real Christian church is.
The following day he returned. He’d been busy on the phone and had found out where the church was. He would get a taxi driver friend to take us there. He would also arrange for him to wait until the service ended and bring us back to the boat.
Saturday evening we arrived in Aswan and confirmed the arrangements. Sunday morning about 9.30am, we were waiting in the boat’s main lounge, when the tour guide rushed up, mobile in hand: ‘The service has already begun, do you still want to go?’
‘Oh yes please’, we replied, and after a few sentences on the phone he said ‘The taxi will be here in 2 minutes’. Sure enough, the taxi driver arrived.
About 5 minutes later we pulled up outside a building. He signalled that this was it. He spoke no English — and our Arabic is non-existent!
As we got out, I read on the notice board ‘Roman Catholic Church’. So as best we could, we explained that this was not the place we wanted to be.
Is there a Protestant Evangelical church? He discussed this with a few people standing by, and with much pointing and head-nodding from our driver we got back into the taxi cab and away we went.
After a short while we stopped outside an even more imposing building. With a smile he pointed to its noticeboard — ‘Coptic Orthodox Church’! Again, as best we could, we tried to explain that this wasn’t what we were looking for either!
After another period of discussion involving bystanders and many different explanations, off we went again. We left the main road, went down a couple of rough side streets and eventually arrived at a dead end.
Our driver signalled us to follow him on foot through an alley, round a corner. Then he led us to the corner of a building and a door covered with a curtain. He motioned us to go in with a wide grin.
We entered rather sheepishly, but felt at first sight this must be an Evangelical church — almost everybody was sitting in the back couple of rows!
A friendly lady beckoned us to go and sit by her. They were singing a hymn and the communion service was about to start. After the Lord’s Supper another hymn was sung (we didn’t know the words, but the tune was familiar from an Iranian meeting we attend in Swansea).
During the singing of this hymn, one of the elders came and in very good English introduced himself to us. He asked if we would like him to translate for us.
From the pulpit the pastor asked the congregation to turn to Galatians chapter 6. Yes, this was where we wanted to be! The pastor preached a challenging message from the passage.
One thing we couldn’t understand was that occasionally during the message someone would get up and leave. We wondered why.
When the service ended, the elder — a doctor at a German mission hospital — explained that those leaving were people whose employers had granted them an hour or so off work to attend church. Egypt, being mainly Muslim, has Friday as its day off.
After the service ended, everybody came and gave us the warmest of greetings. Only a few spoke English, but the language barrier was no real hindrance as Christian embraced Christian.
‘In Christ there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free’ (and we could add, English nor Egyptian) ‘but Christ is all and in all’.
As we made our way back to our patiently waiting driver, we were so thankful that we had persevered, and had met and worshipped with God’s people. It certainly was one of the highlights of our holiday.
Make sure that you don’t miss out on the privilege of meeting together with your brothers and sisters in Christ wherever you go on holiday!