Update from Egypt

Greetings!

We wanted to write and update you on how things progressed during our recent intensive ministry season in Egypt.

Minya is no small city, with over 6 million residents, and, as mentioned in my previous post, boasts some historical significance. Yet, in the upper region of Egypt, it is not a tourist destination by any means. Our ministry schedule didn’t permit any tourism in any case; we alternated between the conference hall, hotel rooms, the church and two ministers’ homes the entire time. 

Our generous hosts graciously lodged us in a refurbished Nile riverboat, now serving as a hotel with about 15 rooms. While it might not meet Western standards, it was likely the most “luxurious” accommodation in the entire city. In its prime, the vessel was probably not very impressive, but it remains adequate after 50 years of retirement. However, the plumbing was leaky, and the shower stalls were so tiny that one was tempted to soap the walls and spin around to wash. The narrow space made it all the more challenging when the hot water system oscillated between arctic blasts and scorching heat. Despite these challenges, the “C-Boat Inn” was crucial in our ministry in Minya, having an upstairs conference hall large enough to hold all our teaching sessions from Friday through Saturday. One unique feature of our accommodation was the Nile River, which flowed just one foot outside our bedroom windows. The Nile was a magnificent sight, sometimes rippling with a choppy current and at other times as still as glass. Early in the morning, steam rose from the river, and sailboats and party barges often cruised its current, creating a serene view that we will all remember. Unfortunately, bottles, diapers and flotillas of trash of every kind regularly floated by as well. 

Our primary teaching sessions occurred on Friday and Saturday, starting first thing in the morning and stretching into the afternoon, with additional evening events. The people we met here are dear—notably vibrant and expressive. The social discussions and greetings before and after meetings hummed with the chatter of many voices, affectionate hugs, kisses and hearty greetings. It was like being amidst a mixed crowd of boisterous Italians or Jewish groups; the whole place vibrated with intensity.

For many of them, “Christianity” is more of an ethnic tradition than a decision to give their life to Jesus. They’re born into it. The government does not disapprove of those who are born into Christianity and continue in the faith. However, those who choose to convert from Islam to Christianity as adults are often viewed with disdain. The problem is that many who call themselves Christians have never actually had a conversion experience; they’ve simply been brought up in the culture and milieu of the centuries-old Egyptian Christian community. Coincidentally, the Christian sector—especially the youth—strikes one as more garish, liberal and worldly than their Muslim counterparts.

We taught repentance as the prerequisite for any realistic hope for unity within the church. We taught two ways of knowing God—from the head and human knowledge or the heart, relationally.

After a full day of teachings, on Friday night, the youth (18-30) convened for a special meeting. Brother Teb gave his testimony, describing how many times he went to the altar and sought help from God but never found the abiding change that would alter the course of his life. He described the desperation, the near hopelessness at Christianity’s inability to give him the needed power to find real transformation. He then described coming to Texas for the first time, invited by a former drug buddy, and how God miraculously filled him with the Spirit and then intervened in the legal system, freeing him from the jail time and criminal record hanging over his head.

All of the young people were intrigued. Some were stirred in their hearts, and others copped the same quasi-mocking posture they’re likely accustomed to showing their teachers in school. Yet many seeds were sown, and even after some were sharply rebuked for their shallowness and mockery, they softened their hearts, feeling and expressing even more interest and longing for something real, something more. At the close of the meeting, they inundated us—as eager and effervescent as a room full of guileless toddlers. They were childlike in their sweetness and desire to connect with us. We felt our hearts wrenched by these dear young people. They’re all baptized as babies, giving them no real opportunity to CHOOSE Jesus as adults. They’ve never been evangelized, converted or likely even encountered God in any meaningful way.

As Brother Kash said, “Put these youth with some of ours for just a short period, and they’d all be receiving the Holy Spirit one after another.”

To our pleasant surprise, many of the youth, who had not attended previous meetings, joined their parents and elders the following Saturday morning for the teaching sessions. A visual anointing from God was on the teaching Saturday as one truth rocket after another landed on the reinforced bunkers of intellectual Presbyterianism, proving that God is Spirit and desires a spiritual relationship with us through expressive, exponential encounters, true, demonstrative prayer and praise. There’s just no way to hear the word of God on how to sing, worship, pray—and retain your attachment to an utterly lifeless form of godliness that denies the power thereof.

There was palpable conviction throughout the teaching. The vast majority were coming alive, their faces and body language revealing their excitement and rekindled hope for an exponential relationship with Jesus. As one would expect, there were a handful of holdouts, disgusted at the thought of true humility or vulnerable worship, clinging to their traditions behind the “that’s your way and opinion” rubric. Notwithstanding that, no sooner had the teaching wrapped up than the lead elder, Izaat, leaped to his feet and began yielding to the Spirit and demonstrably leading worship with a song that refrained, “We bow down to our great God and King.”

Around the room, including the pastor’s wife, people began cautiously raising their hands. Even more, you could see on their faces—they were feeling the presence of God.

After an intense barrage of questions and answers, the pastor rose to dismiss the meeting. Through broken translation, we could sense that, out of some nervousness and fear of alienating the stubborn, he was attempting to soften the point of conviction, assuring folks that—in addition to the praise like mighty peals of thunder and the roar of a waterfall, Revelations also depicted 30 minutes of silence in heaven. Though this might’ve been intended to reassure the fearful hearts of the “frozen chosen,” it did little to dull the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Hearts were pierced, and invisible shockwaves of hope were vibrating through the whole congregation.

Over tea, Izaat, a Presbyterian elder with multiple master’s degrees in theology, later explained his worship leading after the teaching. “I wasn’t expecting it, but I felt an anointing of the Holy Spirit come all over me. I wasn’t forcing it or even trying for it; it just came on me, and I yielded to it!“

We retired briefly to our rooms, knowing that God had transcended the circumstances, surmounted the “impossibilities,” and brought life and power to light through the gospel! We felt significantly delivered of our burden.

That evening, we were invited to supper at Izaat’s house. Before leaving our lodging, he had informed us that “the vast majority of the congregation is 100% with y’all.” He also alluded to the fact that he was more committed than others in leadership. He explained the great tension the pastor was under, pressured by an evangelical board that could remove him, challenged by unhappy members who wanted to stick with Presbyterian traditions, and inspired by the word of God he could not deny.

As about 10 of us men sat down in the living room, we confronted the issue directly. The pastor explained his predicament, expressing his commitment to us to walk in this way, develop the relationship, and lead his people in the truth he is now receiving. Yet, he also expressed his fears of alienating people, of moving too fast, or causing an unnecessary or premature rift. In response, we assured him that we sympathize with the anguish of his situation. We drew a sharp contrast between the role of a politician and that of a shepherd. The former is inherently false as the master of compromise. The latter lays down his life for the sheep, cultivating the right ear and attitude toward the word of God. We explained that we had done our part; now, it was up to him and the congregation to determine how they would respond to the word that they knew was from God. We could not and would not apologize; we had merely opened the scriptures under the grace of the Spirit’s anointing, and everyone experienced that undeniable work of grace.

After a beautiful evening hosted by Magda, Izaat’s wife, we walked back to our lodgings, accompanied by the elder and pastor. Pastor Methad hung back with me as we walked, and together, we opened our hearts and discussed the course in the future. “What would you do if you were in my shoes?” he asked. By the time we reached our hotel, there was a profound sense of unity and resolve. He could not have been more adamant in his commitment to foster the right attitude toward the word of God and the changes God was proposing to his congregation. “We want to walk with you and get to know you better. We want to continue learning. We ask you to come and come again!”

I should mention that tensions are currently high in Egypt, especially toward Americans, largely due to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Many Egyptians have boycotted American-based restaurants like McDonald’s or KFC as a protest against what they perceive as America’s backing for an unjust war. The national government of Egypt assigned 15 full-time agents as a protection detail to shadow us everywhere we went. We could not step out of the hotel without men toting machine guns accompanying us. They took turns 24 hours a day, five on shift at a time, accompanying us to our taxis, following us to our destinations, waiting outside the church doors—everywhere we went, Egyptian national security was also there. We did our best to make friends; they were cordial enough, even exhibiting almost a childlike demeanor at times.

Sunday morning, we met in the Presbyterian Church, where our brothers were able to lead worship, and Danny gave an anointed telling of his testimony, ministering from the question, “what if “—relating this to all the beautiful opportunities, transformations and miracles that he might have missed, had he not trusted God and found the grace to submit to His promptings.

After church, we had a smaller meeting with adults who peppered us with questions about raising children, what it means to be a community, where and how to draw the lines regarding technology, what it means to become vulnerable, and so forth. It felt like one of the more meaningful moments of our stay, as God helped form a fuller picture of His vision in the minds of these people.

Sunday evening, Brother Dan taught on unity in the church—avoiding truth without love and love without truth, but instead engaging in the progressive pilgrimage of an unfolding walk of faith, exhibited in the life and response of the great Apollos, who was able to be shown the “more excellent way,” and thus prove the validity of all previous steps of faith. It felt like this final message left them with a vivid framework in which to consider all that they had learned and received over this packed season.

Our goodbyes were rich with gratitude, their pleas for us to return, testimonies of how God had changed them, and a kind of warmth and connection that would indicate a longer relationship than we’ve been able to form in such a relatively short period.

Despite our weariness, we broke bread and engaged in fellowship with church members until after midnight. Izaat’s face and voice are imprinted on my heart forever. We have formed a deep connection with this man, as has marked our relationships with men of God like Jared, Rowan, and so many others. This is a brother—a bona fide servant and child of God. He loves his people, is an honored patriarch of his family, and he sees the miracle of what God has given us and is determined to bring it to Egypt. Please pray for him and the pastor. God has sown much seed, watered by His Spirit. And a great harvest can already be seen not far in the future.

Brother Howard sent me the following scripture, my heart’s prayer for our dear brothers and sisters:

“In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the LORD at its border. And it will be for a sign and for a witness to the LORD of hosts in the land of Egypt; for they will cry to the LORD because of the oppressors, and He will send them a Savior and a Mighty One, and He will deliver them. Then the LORD will be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians will know the LORD in that day, and will make sacrifice and offering; yes, they will make a vow to the LORD and perform it. And the LORD will strike Egypt, He will strike and heal it; they will return to the LORD, and He will be entreated by them and heal them.” (Isa. 19:19-22)

Pray for Izaat and Methad—their spouses, families and all the brothers and sisters in Egypt. Pray that God will move on many hearts to seek His Spirit until He rains righteousness upon them. Pray for protection from the religious principalities arrayed against God and His work.

This feels like a solid, fruitful labor in Egypt. We will see fruit.

After over 30 hours of travel, we reached South Africa yesterday afternoon. It’s refreshing—not only to be in this lush, picturesque land after the moonscape deserts of Egypt, but especially to see the body of Christ budding, blooming and flourishing like a tree planted by the water! I cannot restrain my emotions when I think of where we started nine years ago and what God has done to bring us to this point today. This congregation is getting ready to be a bright beacon and witness to all of Africa. The body of Christ is glorious!

We love and miss you all, and we thank you for standing in your places of service all over the world. We are one body with one heart, one purpose, one kingdom and one great King. We all feel so grateful to be extensions of your faithfulness and witness wherever we go. We would be nothing as individuals; as part of you, we are the fragrance of life to those who are being saved!

With much love,

Brother Asi

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