Posted by: Titus Presler | February 5, 2011

In “difficult decision,” Chandlers leave Egyptian turmoil temporarily

In a moving letter just received, Paul-Gordon and Lynne Chandler, missioners serving in Cairo under the auspices of the Episcopal Church USA in partnership with the Anglican Diocese of Egypt, indicate that the situation in Cairo and in Egypt has made it advisable for them to leave the country temporarily “until the situation calms down.”  They plan to support their colleagues in Egypt through prayer, conversation and written communication while they are away.  Their letter is awash with faith in God and commitment to the community with whom they have been working:

Dear friends, we are finally able to send you an update.  It has been an exhausting last few days, and especially so since we wrote last.  Thanks to so many of you who have written asking about us.

I’m sure you are all following the news and are aware of the continuing protests and tensions in Egypt. It would in many ways be futile to try to analyze the current situation, as it seems to change by the hour. What we might say today may be outdated tomorrow!  But we treasure your concern and ongoing prayers for us, and also for the wonderful country of Egypt.

We are all safe, and our flat/apartment and church are intact and unharmed…even though we had mobs of armed looters come toward our apartment building nine times one night….and each time scared away by the other flat owners in our building who shot their guns (even a shotgun) over the head of the looters.  We thank God for all our Egyptian neighbors (all Muslims) who literally protected us all!  Despite the general turmoil, uncertainty, fear and many other emotions and realities of our situation, Christians are in no way being targeted or threatened.  In fact, there are beautiful stories of how Muslims have been protecting churches from being looted.

After the absence of the police from the streets, the burning of many police stations and escape of thousands of prisoners, many took advantage of the chaos to loot. Residential areas were particularly hit. Neighbors have come together, both Christians and Muslims, as together they protect their neighborhoods and property on overnight shifts (due to the lack of police security).  Each evening as curfew nears, cars, barrels and downed streetlight lampposts are positioned into barricades and all cars are stopped and people questioned by men armed with sticks, clubs, guns and knives… This has provided most people with a real feeling of security.  However, the increasing concern is that this could possibly make a turn for the worse as civilians take the law into their own hands.

Most expatriates have been evacuated. Banks and the stock market are closed. Prices have begun to rise. Food, medical and other supplies are dwindling since most factories and businesses are closed after last week’s wave of vandalism and the daily curfew from 3PM to 8 AM daily (it was just shifted to 7 PM to 6 AM).  “Unpredictability” is the only known it seems!  An example of this unpredictability was the fighting last Wednesday night on Tahrir Square….with pro-government thugs on horses and camels trying to drive out the protesters, before reverting to throwing Molotov cocktails into the crowds.

As you know from our last update we planned to stay in Cairo through the unrest, unless the situation deteriorated.  This last Thursday, the state TV & media began to shift attention against the West, who they see as “interfering in their affairs” as many Western countries have vocalized their support of the protesters.  And quite quickly we sensed a change in the streets around us, as we began to have to show our ID to spear and machete wielding young men at each road block, while our car was searched whenever we went out.  It became increasingly uncomfortable driving around, to say the least!  On Thursday, we just missed a close call with a car racing through our neighborhood with men in it shooting as they drove by.   The roads can seem quite anarchic at times now.  As you are aware, many Western journalists at that same time were harassed, and some seriously injured.  Our church service yesterday, Friday, had to be cancelled as we do not have our normal police protection and there was concern about the day…with large demonstrations planned and also potential for conflict.

In this tense context, the US Episcopal Church, which we serve in Egypt under, asked us to leave for a short time until the situation calms down.  They have been most helpful, encouraging and supportive during this whole trauma.  There is considerable concern that the situation is increasingly unstable. We resisted their urging to do this for the first 11 days of the conflict, and it finally seemed wise to pay attention to what they are saying and honor their request for the safety of the family.  Therefore, we evacuated yesterday after a journey to the airport past numerous roadblocks manned by military tanks, and we hope to return in two weeks.  Lynne’s brother and his wife and their two girls warmly welcomed us in Zurich (their home) last night. Having to leave for a short time has been one of the most difficult decisions we have found ourselves having to make in years…having tremendous difficulty doing it. Egypt has been our home for almost 8 years now and our hearts are there with the people.

While out of the country I will be on constant email and skype phone with those foreigners in our church still there, as well as with the Egyptian staff at our church and in the diocese as well as our neighbors.  Treston’s school which has been closed for 10 days will soon begin teaching online until the unrest passes.  The school experienced this last year during the swine flu scare in Egypt when all schools were closed. We are all praying for each other during this time and for this situation to resolve itself peacefully.  Our hearts break as we write this.

It has been a tumultuous time for us and all our church community over the last two weeks. One finds it difficult to express, or even to try to explain, let alone really understand. In this sense, we are experiencing the “peace beyond understanding” that St. Paul writes so movingly about….a peace that can only come from our Creator.

Everyone’s life in Egypt, in one way or another, has been quickly changed, both in our church family and our Egyptian hosts who live around us.  It is a time where each of us finds ourselves digging deep….for hope, encouragement, and peace.  In the midst of all the wonderful beauty and courage that has surfaced among our Egyptian hosts, it goes without saying that it has been a time of loss as well for many…including within our own church community.

There are some words of the 17th century English poet William Blake that I love very much.

Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know,
Thro’ the World we safely go.
Joy & Woe are woven fine,
A Clothing for the soul divine.
Under every grief & pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.

It is in times like these that we realize that the mystery of life is that it is intertwined with deep joy–and sorrow.  And it is a mystery we do not understand—and often the only thing we really do understand is the pain, loss or confusion we are experiencing.  At the same time Blake says hope is in the “divine”– in “God”–that in the midst of any hurt, God is present, to walk with us and lead us through.

In thinking about the last two weeks, I am reminded of St. Paul’s powerful words; “We grieve, but we do not grieve like those without hope.” For it is to the God of Mercy and Compassion that we turn.

We cherish your continued prayers for Egypt, and our Egyptian friends, colleagues and hosts, who have given us so much, and who have shined their light to us with such radiance in the midst of the darkness they have faced and are facing at this time.

I close with the Collect for Peace from the Book of Common Prayer and the appointed Psalm for yesterday’s church service that we could not hold, as it seems very apropos to the context we find ourselves in.

Collect For Peace
Eternal god, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and forever.  Amen.

Psalm 71:1-6
1 In you, O LORD, have I taken refuge;
let me never be ashamed.
2 In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free;
incline your ear to me and save me.
3 Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe;
you are my crag and my stronghold.
4 Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.
5 For you are my hope, O Lord GOD,
my confidence since I was young.
6 I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother’s womb you have been my strength;
my praise shall be always of you.

Warmly in Christ,
Paul-Gordon and Lynne Chandler

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