'Marvellous and maddening, full of secrets and surprises, peopled with the whole spectrum of humanity... This is Cairo, my home. Please come in and enjoy it.'
And I certainly have!
Arriving late on Sunday night after delayed flights, I was very glad to be welcomed to the diocesan guest house, a place I had last visited in 1984 when the beautiful cathedral opposite was under construction. Shaped like a Bedouin tent it symbolises a place of hospitality, rest and refreshment for journeying people.
There is a sense of the prophetic in the architect’s vision for the building. Who could have imagined that 40 years later, sheltering under the skirts of the building, you discover so many little projects supporting refugee people, poor folk, the strugglers disenfranchised by war or circumstance, coming together to make and create new opportunities for themselves and their families. I chatted with folk hearing stories, finding connections and purchased crafts for CMSI’s Marketplace.
Looking up you see the Bedouin tent rising up into a dramatic royal crown. Curious, I crept inside the wonderful building to discover some lovely paintings, and hanging from the centre a chandelier shaped like a crown of thorns, a reminder of Jesus, the suffering servant. A reminder that we are called as a people of God to care for those on the margins as a tribute to Jesus, our redeemer king.
A wonderful example of this concern for those on the margins is Refuge Egypt, the diocesan programmes for Sudanese refugees. Practical and committed, they provide a range of services from food relief to literacy, schooling, life skills and peace initiatives. Dr Maged and Hayat spoke enthusiastically about a youth football tournament they held last Saturday made possible by gifts from CMSI link churches. Ten teams entered and much fun was had by all! Sharing God’s love through acceptance and care.
Church of Ireland parishioners have also been supporting the Nuba Bible Institute where folk from the Nuba Mountains in South Sudan come for theological training. It was wonderful to meet some of the tutors and students and to hear their stories and aspirations for ministry in some of the most challenging places, places of war and hardship, places where speaking the name of Jesus can be very dangerous. Places on the margins.
Perhaps a week is not long enough to see the maddening side of Cairo but I have been surprised, inspired and challenged and I sense that many secrets remain to be discovered.