How are you settling in? This is the question that we are hearing again and again these days as we meet so many folks from the congregation. It is hard to really express how much more smoothly this transition to this new call, this new city, and this new life has been for our family compared to what it meant for us to move to Egypt just a little over two years ago in the midst of the 2013 revolution.
The truth is, we are settling in just fine. We have been graciously welcomed and cared for over the past few weeks. We feel blessed by the generosity of spirit that members of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church have shown to us, and how warmly we have been embraced by our new church community.
One of the things that sustained us during our time in Egypt was our participation as a family in an ecumenical and international congregation in downtown Cairo. St. Andrews United Church of Cairo was founded by American missionaries in Egypt in 1899 and eventually merged together with one of the first Scottish congregations there as well. The walls of the sanctuary are lined with plaques remembering those who gave their lives in service to the church and the people of Egypt.
Today the congregation is made up of Americans, Brits, Egyptians, Filipinos, Sudanese, and a myriad of other international members who come together on Friday mornings to worship and fellowship with one another. One of the great legacies of that congregation is a thriving and essential organization that serves the rapidly growing refugee population in Cairo - St. Andrews Refugee Services. The majority of the over 3,000 refugees that they work with each year come from Ethiopia, Iraq, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, and a growing number of Syrians who are flooding into Egypt because of the continued unrest there. StARS provides educational programs for children and adult (including a newly inaugurated Montessori preschool) legal aid services, programs for unaccompanied minors as well as psycho-social therapeutic programs for refugees who struggle with not just the circumstances that caused them to leave their homes, but with the anxiety and stress that come from living as refugees in the world.
As a family we were so grateful to have been able to be a part of such a diverse and vital community in Cairo. When folks ask us what we miss the most about Egypt, it is of course our friends and the relationships that we were able to form while we lived there. We continue to be in prayer for them and that community in an increasingly volatile Egypt.
In fact just two weeks ago we receive difficult news related to a bomb that exploded outside of the Italian consulate in Cairo. The proximity of the explosion to St. Andrews meant that several of the offices and classrooms where refugees come to find hospitality and normalcy were blown out because of the intensity of the explosion. Some of the stained glass windows in the sanctuary were damaged as well.
We give thanks that the church and all programs were closed at the time so that no one was on site to be injured. Yes the buildings will need repairs and this will mean quite of bit of work on the part of the congregation, but they are certainly up to the task. What is more challenging is knowing how distressing this kind of event can be for refugees who consider St. Andrews Refugee Services to be a safe place of hope and refuge for them and their children. For them now that place no longer seems safe.
So yes, we are settling in well here in Bryn Mawr, but our hearts and our prayers continue to be focused on those who have no place to settle. May they find through the work of that congregation the same kind of gracious hospitality that you all have so generously extended to us here.