I have frequently shared stories and fun facts from the time that our family lived as Mission Co-Workers for the Presbyterian Church in Cairo, Egypt before we came to live and work among you here in Bryn Mawr. While we loved the experience, I don’t often share publicly how hard it was. As the pandemic has taken yet another turn in recent days, I am reminded of how difficult our first months in Egypt were, primarily because of the revolution/coup that took place just three days after we arrived.
I will never forget Josh and I speaking on the phone with our Egyptian-American boss in Louisville while sitting in my parents’ home in Pittsburgh, just a few days before our flights were scheduled to take us (and our 13 suitcases) to Cairo. He assured us that the protests scheduled for that weekend were pretty typical. We would need to stay in our new apartment for a couple of days, but then life would return to normal and we would be able to settle into our new life and work at the seminary.
He was wrong. But who could have imagined that protests would continue well after that weekend, and frequently go past our apartments, and that the Egyptian president would be forced to resign?
And so we waited. While Josh was allowed to go back and forth from our apartment to the seminary to work, Owen and I were restricted to our apartment. We could make quick runs to the grocery store around the corner, but that was it.
We would ask when it would be safe to visit some of the ancient tourist sites that Owen longed to experience. We were told not for months. In fact, we didn’t get to visit the Pyramids in Giza until five months after we arrived, even though it only was a 30-minute drive from where we lived.
We made plans late in the summer to simply take a taxi to the local mall to see a movie, and the outing was cancelled because of protests in that part of town. Every time we asked if something was safe, every time there seemed to be a glimmer of improvement, something else would happen and we would again be told no.
Now, to be perfectly clear, we were never in danger. We never felt in danger. But the desire on the part of our local partners to keep us safe outweighed our longing to explore, to have more freedom and autonomy and to really settle into our new life.
Early on in the pandemic I remember saying to friends that our life in Egypt had trained us well for COVID shutdowns. In fact Egypt seemed so much worse. There was no Door Dash or Instacart for us to use in Egypt back in 2013. There were no armored vehicles posted for months in the BMPC parking lot like there were at the school where we used to live. The differences could go on and on.
But this summer of the pandemic, and especially these past few weeks, have felt more like our first year in Egypt than anything else has since March of 2020. Because as we now revert back to social distancing, masking, zooming etc., it feels like the rug is being pulled out from under us. Plans have been made and community was being renewed. It seemed safe to look to the future and to be excited and hopeful for what church life would be like in this next season. But now many things are being rethought, scaled back or even postponed. The safety and health of our community are our highest priority, and so things need to once again shift for the sake of one another.
I think I can speak on behalf of my pastoral colleagues and the staff at the church to say that this particular moment in the pandemic feels like the hardest yet to navigate. I will speak entirely for myself and say that I am sad.
One comfort that I have returned to again and again, and that I return to now, is a personal mantra that I taught myself in Egypt: “That just because something is hard doesn’t mean we are doing it wrong.” While we can debate whether or not the current situation could have been avoided, we are not in this moment because we are doing church “wrong.”
We are once again facing a hard moment. The most important thing to remember, the thing that we have clung to since March 2020, is that we are not facing it alone. We will move through this next hard season together. We will continue to rely on and build upon the new skills we have learned during the past year. We will continue to rely on the grace of God and the grace we offer to one another to find our way to the other side.