Elizabeth and I first met Pastor Thabet Isaac Megaly in 1998. In January 2000 I visited his church in Kodia, where services are held every evening at 6.00 p.m. and twice on Sunday. On this occasion the church building was packed to the doors with all ages attending. No doubt a retired English-speaking pastor was something of a sensation! With Pastor Thabet, my diligent host, interpreting for me, I preached there and elsewhere sixteen times altogether.
The Egyptian people are most hospitable. They honour you by their care, always putting you first and providing much (indeed, too much) delicious food.
It is a Muslim country, and the mosques blare out the call to prayer five times a day in Arabic, starting at around 4.45 a.m. each morning. The rest-day is Friday, when the imam’s preaching is heard over loudspeakers in the streets, while the men kneel or sit on mats.
This was my third visit to Egypt in less than twenty years. My two earlier visits were in the 1980s, invited by people I had met through the Foreign Missions Club.
Pastor Thabet’s invitation this year was a great privilege for me. He and his cousin Ibrahim met me in Cairo and we stayed with him and his wife and three sons for two nights.
Mosquitoes and money
Looking back, I had problems with flies, mosquitoes and fleas, as I did with public transportation, micro-buses and taxis. Pastor Thabet has no car. My large case flew off the bus once, because it had not been tied on, and on another occasion I had to run and climb the stairs on to a moving train, while a young man ran with my heavy case to put on the train after me.
Being dressed as an Englishman, I was considered to be a tourist with plenty of money! This was not true, as I went to Egypt at my own expense to encourage a brother and to meet with different churches – all Evangelical Presbyterian. There are a few Baptists, I am told, but I never met them.
Nevertheless, if we visited a tourist site my host was charged two Egyptian pounds while I was charged ten times that amount or more. (If you do want to visit Egypt and enjoy a Nile cruise, then go through a good agency. It will be expensive but everything will be done for you. In my case I was pestered to ‘buy this’, ‘take a camel or donkey ride’, and so on. I was grateful for my host’s protection.)
I was delighted to meet so many of Pastor Thabet’s family – all his brothers and sisters and their children, parents and cousins. I also met with cows and donkeys downstairs, and chickens upstairs on the roof. The beautiful, spacious River Nile was a special delight for me, as we crossed from Maggaga to Sharona and watched women washing clothes and mats in its waters.
I saw Pastor Samir and family in Assiut twice, and had a wonderful dinner at his home. Also I met Dr Nabil in Giza. He had lost his wife and three sons in a tragic road accident years ago. He writes books and pastors a church, and now has a new wife and baby girl. I do look forward to meeting him again in 2001, as I do Rev. Dr Istafanous and his wife. Dr Istafanous is chairman of the Evangelical Church of Egypt. What excellent men there are serving the Lord in Egypt: young pastor Thabet and his family of Wafaa (wife), Mark and Marvel, Pastor Reda of Adayma, plus these older mature leaders.
I found the people very friendly and church attendance much higher than over here. Many Christians have the cross tattooed on their wrists. I pray they will all yet be truly ‘born of the Holy Spirit’.
In small towns I had to report my whereabouts to the police, and in Kodia I had 24-hour surveillance, with someone carrying a rifle sleeping in the chapel downstairs, as I slept in the flat upstairs. When I left, an armoured vehicle escorted me. This, I supposed, was to prevent any Muslim extremist attacking me!
I hope, if God wills, to go again next year. Everyone I met has urged me to return with my wife. However, Egypt is very much a man’s world, with women and girls sitting on one side, men and boys on the other. Men are served first and ladies afterwards. There is no sharing of domestic chores.
I pray for Pastor Thabet, particularly that God will guide him and his family. He lives in Kodia five days a week, and in Assiut with his family two days a week. This is because his children go to a Christian school in Assiut, 70 km from Kodia, and his wife Wafaa teaches English in a state school six days a week. The church in Kodia wants to build a Christian school, but it would be a big project. At present, all the children of professing Christians have to attend the Muslim school, which is a very unsatisfactory situation.
I went to Egypt not knowing what awaited me. I returned safely, after some amazing experiences, burdened for the people there. My prayer is that God’s truth may be sounded out loud and clear. Please share this prayer with me.