five days in egypt

While the start of the first day wasn’t great (with my suitcase not arriving with me!), the next few days in Cairo were filled with things to enjoy and to remember—as always seems to be the case.

[NB: in my ‘Featured’ posts on this blog’s home page are memories of earlier visits to Egypt].

a language

It could well be the biggest regret of my life. I have never learned another language well enough to listen and converse in it. I have begun saying to younger people, “Just do it—learn another language”. Language is just so important. And I find the poetic qualities in languages like Arabic (and Urdu), together with their flowing script, going from right to left, a delight to the eye and the ear.

Arabic, in worship
Arabic, in advertising

a movement

My primary purpose in visiting Egypt was to reconnect with our people and work in the country. It must have been my 6th, or 7th, visit—and six years since I participated in any way. There were so many hiccups along the way in those early years, but during the pandemic a local team decided, “Let’s do it”—and they did. Incredible. “It is the Lord’s doing—through them—and it is marvelous in our eyes.” And a bit like Indonesia and Pakistan, two other countries with something similar about their context (think about it!), women comprise close to 50% of the participants.

It is the first time that I’ve seen both books and Dunkin’ Donuts distributed at the close of a training week. Both were received with great joy, with the benefits of one lasting longer than the other.
It’s always been a feature of the work here—warm and vibrant, eager and able young adults.
One of the various interactive exercises I enjoy facilitating. Putting laminated cards (from a book) into the order of the biblical story, but then realising that the pictures leave this massive gap in the chronology—and then giving them a blank card to draw an image that fills in the gap.

a church

I’ve been to this same church for Friday, or Sunday, worship a number of times. On this occasion, as with the previous one, I was called up to participate in serving communion because I was an ordained minister. In the serving I felt one with them, even though there were so many differences between us. It reminded me again how it is the ‘in-Christness’ that is our primary identity, even prior to language, ethnicity and nation. It is such a critical part of our testimony in this troubled world.

On the night we were present, they welcomed 50+ people into membership. Each person had gone through some lengthy and serious catechesis in the weeks leading into the service and then, on the night, they were asked to affirm their commitment to a whole series of doctrinal (and other) statements.

Do you see this image at the front of the church in the first photo, off to the right? It is Arabic for “He is Our Peace”. In these troubled times through which this region is living, what a beautiful truth to be affirming in this way.

a destination

a team

In the leadership of the ministry of which I am a part there have been a number of recent changes. So we decided to have three days together, to help get to know each other better…

Riad (International Director, starting in the role three months ago), Hani (Literature Director, starting eight months ago), Lina (Scholars Director, starting in three months)—and me (Preaching Director).
Hani gave his dog the same name as Riad had given his dog. A Arab tradition says that Hani must then give Riad a chicken—and so he did.
It seems the three programmes have some difficulties with accuracy and alignment :).
Lina and me at the conclusion of the journey to the centre of a pyramid, coming through that little space behind me. I am glad I did not know what was ahead of me when I started out…

a museum

At the end of last year I read Maya Jasanoff’s Edge of Empire: Conquest and Collecting on the Eastern Frontiers of the British Empire, 1750-1850. It tells the story of how Egypt and India were plundered and pillaged by “collectors” making their fortunes by gathering cultural artefacts and taking them home. [As one example, check out Powis Castle, in Wales].

I wasn’t going to blog on the book because I didn’t think too many people would be that interested. After visiting this museum, I may just change my mind…

The Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) is still being built. It is located within sight of the pyramids in Giza, outside Cairo. It is extraordinary. When asked about their precious artefacts being spread around the museums of the Western world, some Egyptians have been known to respond, “It is better that they stay where they are because they’ll be looked after better there.” Well, as the story goes, this museum is being built to subvert that logic—and all I can say is, “They’ve made a great start”. I suspect that voices calling for things to be returned are only going to get louder.

Ramses II was brought in first—and then they started building the museum around him!

One of the leading attractions at the moment is Tutankhamun—The Immersive Exhibition: A Mesmerizing Journey through Ancient Egypt. No one seemed to worry about me taking some video—and so I did. It is not very professional, but you’ll get the idea…

The ‘immersion’ even managed to create bugs crawling all over the place, including me.

a school (and a hero)

Almost forty years ago, as a young pastor, I was captivated by the writing of Kenneth Bailey. His Poet and Peasant & Through Peasant Eyes guided me through my first sermon series, on the parables of Luke. This led on to the parables becoming the focus of my DMin thesis—and later this year four of us (two Kiwis and two Latinos) have collaborated on a book to be published on preaching the parables.

For me it all started with Bailey.

[Which reminds me of the time, some years ago, on a rare upgraded Emirates flight, I was offered a ‘Baileys’. I am a teetotaller by choice. I didn’t know the names of the various alcoholic options. I accepted—and it was rather nice, I must say].

A photo of Kenneth Bailey with students from ETSC.

But back to Kenneth Bailey… As you can see, he became a bit of a hero of mine! When I last visited Cairo, 18 months ago, Hani gave me a tour of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (ETSC), the school of which Hani was president at the time. We ascended to the Center for Middle Eastern Christianity (CMEC) on the top floor, only to discover a room housing Kenneth Bailey’s library—and I descended into wide-eyed ‘kid-in-the-lolly-store’ excitement…and (probably) totally embarassed myself.

Needless to say, on this recent visit, I was delighted to receive another tour.

I hope I took a photo of the right door! I think the Arabic says something about this being the Kenneth Bailey Library…!

And then, on the tour, I was delighted to be reaquainted with these two photos again (see below). They helped spark my all-time favourite blog on Cairo and the Kohinoor. It is about how this seminary was started on a boat given by an Indian Maharajah, the last one to own the Kohinoor diamond before it was ‘collected’ for Queen Victoria and now sits in Camilla’s crown. Shall we start a competition to guess the year in which it will go home (although ‘home’ is difficult in this case because it had owners in 3-4 countries)?

Going back to Bailey. You know what is very cool? Just eleven days before this second visit to ETSC, the biography of Kenneth Bailey became available. Watch this space :).

a story

So I am sitting in a comfy chair outside the administrative offices for the church. It is busy. People are coming and going, while I am eating my lunch and enjoying the WiFi in order to catch up on messages from home. When Maggy, one of our team, comes into the space she introduces John, one of those coming and going, to me. He is the church accountant. He does not speak English and so through Maggy’s translation he tells me how he has been right through the preaching training and just loved it. There are lots of ‘no-need-to-translate’ smiles and joy that are exchanged…

Maggy leaves. John returns to his office. But a few seconds later he kinda sneaks out again. He is holding this little stack of papers in his hand. I quickly see that they are photocopies of a series of slides, with images on them from a children’s Bible story book. With such excitement John flicks through each page, doing his best to tell me in English what is on each slide. Between the images and his courageous efforts to express himself in English, we make our way through the sheaf of pages. It is the story of Jonah.

… and they are the slides for his sermon. He is preaching the next morning. And he desperately wanted to show them to me. And then we had a hug, a prayer and a photo.

nice chatting

Paul

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About Me

paul06.16

the art of unpacking

After a childhood in India, a theological training in the USA and a pastoral ministry in Southland (New Zealand), I spent twenty years in theological education in New Zealand — first at Laidlaw College and then at Carey Baptist College, where I served as principal. In 2009 I began working with Langham Partnership and since 2013 I have been the Programme Director (Langham Preaching). Through it all I've cherished the experience of the 'gracious hand of God upon me' and I've relished the opportunity to 'unpack', or exegete, all that I encounter in my walk through life with Jesus.

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4 Comments

  1. Riad Kassis on March 17, 2024 at 11:21 pm

    Paul, this is really a fascinating recall! Thank you very much. It was a joy to spend time with you.
    PS your wrote: “I hope I took a photo of the right door! I think the Arabic says something about this being the Kenneth Bailey Library…!” Yes! It is the right door. Your Arabic is improving!

    • Paul Windsor on March 18, 2024 at 8:53 am

      Hi Riad — Thanks for your (misplaced) confidence in my developing Arabic 🙂

      I will never tire of visiting Cairo 🙂 … and, of course, the Bekaa, as well.

      And one day — Damascus!

      Paul

  2. Heather on March 21, 2024 at 7:03 pm

    Marvellous! I loved your final story – so beautiful 🙂 Thank you for sharing.

    • Paul Windsor on March 22, 2024 at 6:00 am

      Yes, Heather — it was a little interchange that I’ll always remember.

      I have a friend in NZ called John who is an accountant. Immediately after this encounter in Cairo, I sent him a voice message in which I told him this story. Now I am looking forward to him showing me the slides for his next sermon :).

      Hope you are both keeping well.

      Paul

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