Posted by: Titus Presler | February 15, 2011

Chandlers returning to ministry in Egypt

The letter received today from Paul-Gordon and Lynne Chandler, Episcopal missioners in Egypt, provides a perspective on the situation in Egypt today that can only be developed by people who have a longterm engagement and who are people of faith.  I am struck in today’s letter especially by how they highlight the arts as a medium for Muslim-Christian understanding and by their view of the role of the Muslim Brotherhood, currently under much discussion in the USA.  As the Chandlers return to Egypt this week, we as a church are grateful to them for their faithfulness and their commitment to interpreting current affairs prayerfully through the lens of the gospel.  The letter follows:

Dear friends,

We have lived through one of the most amazing events in modern Middle Eastern history, and of course the story continues to be written. And we believe we are in an exciting new phase of the Egypt’s destiny.

“Shokran awi”
“Shokran awi” (thanks so much!—in Arabic) for all your prayers, encouraging emails, supportive telephone calls…and genuine interest in our well-being. It has meant the world to us and we are immeasurably grateful.

These truly are amazing days and it is such a privilege to be associated with Egypt at this time. There is now much to do and so we are eager to get back. Paul-Gordon plans to head back to Cairo tomorrow, Wednesday, so he can take the church service at our church this coming Friday morning.  Lynne and Treston are scheduled to return a day later.

We are so thankful for the ten days outside of the conflict that we were given by The Episcopal Church. It has allowed us time to be renewed and refreshed, as we left exhausted. It was also a special treat to be able to see our daughter Britelle for a few days as well.

The present state of things
Some of you have asked us how things are in Egypt at this time. As you may know, the Supreme Military Council has
already dissolved both lower and upper houses of parliament, suspended the constitution and is now working towards the rebuilding of both in time for presidential elections, which were already scheduled for September.

Speaking with our friends on the telephone in Cairo, it is clear that they feel empowered, and that the culture of fear that they have lived under within an authoritarian government has disappeared. There is a sense of profound hope in the streets and a common feeling of good will towards each other.  Of course the journey to true representative democracy is a long journey. Additionally, there is much that needs to be rebuilt and restored, such as the destruction of many government properties, the re-establishment of security, the escape of many prisoners, etc.

This week there have been many strikes and labor demonstrations by various groups that were unfairly treated by the former system. This can well be understood as they have never before had the chance to stand up for their own rights. At the same time, for many people this creates a feeling of ongoing insecurity. Obviously it will take tremendous effort and a significant amount of time in order to return to Egypt the economic stability she experienced prior to the revolution, let alone to enhance it.

One of the most moving and symbolic images has been the spontaneous immense “clean up” operation taking place in which Christians and Muslims of every segment of society are participating, all working together to clean up and rebuild the cities of Egypt.

Some have asked about security now in our own neighborhood.  While the police are not yet back in full force, most say things now feel “normal” again. I just saw a recent State department security report that said that Maadi is still being protected by the Army (Egyptian Rangers).

Religious Freedom in the future
There are also concerns being expressed by some (most often they are Westerners) regarding the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and its possible increasing influence in shaping the “new Egypt”.  From my experience, I must say that I am not personally concerned about this, due the interactions I have had with friends of ours who are affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. It is important to remember that the Muslim Brotherhood is not militant as some have tried to portray them, but rather a group that not only renounced violence many years ago (hence it has been denounced by Al Qaeda), but that has advocated publicly for the rights of Egypt’s Christian minority.  At the same time, as Egypt is considered one of the most religious countries in the world, of which the dominant religion is Islam, everyone’s prayer at this time is that as the country is reshaped there will hopefully end up being much more freedom of religious expression through a more democratic governing structure.

Work to be done
As the majority of Egyptian Muslims and Christians begin to walk the long hard road ahead of working peacefully toward a balanced democracy which respects human rights for all, there has never been a time when each of our roles has been more important. This is beautifully reflected in the present motto of the country, “Let’s Build Egypt Together”.

Just as these demonstrators led the way through non-violence, we all also need to proactively work toward finding ways to wage peace on each other.  In this sense, in everyway we can I believe we need more than ever to be involved in an all-out effort to help our Egyptian brothers and sisters, regardless of their religion, by showering upon them our good will, trust, appreciation, love, solidarity and practical assistance.  And this includes doing everything we can to break down the walls that create further alienation between Christians and Muslims.

Some of you have asked about our scheduled interfaith Caravan Festival of the Arts.  As you are aware, our church in Cairo, St. John’s, proactively focuses on the Arts, as our experience in Egypt has shown that the Arts can serve as one of the most effective mediums to build bridges of friendship and sharing between Christians and Muslims. And our 2011 interfaith Caravan Festival of the Arts (www.oncaravan.org <http://www.oncaravan.org/> ) was scheduled for the first week of February, bringing together 45 premier Muslim and Christian artists..  Its goal is to build bridges between Muslims and Christians through visual art, as well with literature, film and music. While the arts festival obviously had to be postponed due to the uprising, many of the participating artists joined the protests in Tahrir Square, including the actor Khalid Abdalla, the star of the film The Kite Runner, who courageously remained on the square for all 18 days.  We will be re-scheduling the 2011 Caravan Festival of the Arts for this coming fall/autumn. As The New York Times best-selling Iranian-American writer, Reza Aslan, a scheduled speaker at the arts festival recently wrote, “Just think of how important the festival will be now!”  The theme of the festival is “My Neighbor,” something that speaks with greater force than ever before.

Additionally, I would like to ask for your prayers for the Egyptian Christians, that they will courageously participate in the coalitions that are being formed between the faith communities that are seeking new ways to re-shape the nation.  The heroes from in this whole uprising were those who stood out there with their fellow Egyptians, Muslims and Christians, side by side, and literally risked their lives for their rights and freedom.

As we return….
As we now head back to Egypt, the words of the early 20th century Arab Christian revolutionary writer and artist, Kahlil Gibran come to mind.  They were words that the late president John F. Kennedy quoted in his inaugural address…but words first penned by Kahlil Gibran in an article he wrote titled The New Frontier: “Are you asking what your country can do for you or what you can do for your country?  If you are the second, then you are an oasis in a desert.”

May God helps us all be an oasis in whatever deserts we find ourselves serving in. Thank you for all your prayers, support and love over these last three weeks.  We will write again from Cairo once we are back and settled.  We thank God for each of you.

Warmly,

Paul-Gordon and Lynne Chandler


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