|In Hagia Sophia, Istanbul|
We covered a lot of ground. Ninety-five percent of the Egyptian population lives in about 4% of the country's territory--the fertile land on either side of the Nile--so, we saw nearly the entire nation, from Cairo in the north to the Sudanese border on the south, from Hurghada on the Red Sea coast to Alexandria on the Mediterranean. As soon as I landed at O'Hare, people wanted to know what I had seen.
- The Sphinx. Check.
- King Tut's gold funeral mask. Check.
- Luxor and Karnak. Check.
- Abu Simbel. Check.
- Hagia Sophia. Check.
Everyone wants to know if I felt safe. After all, this is Egypt, where Mubarak was ousted a mere five years ago during the Arab Spring that saw the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood, a failed, short-lived experiment in Islamist government. I admit that, prior to the trip, I was nervous; but the Egypt I found wasn't the Egypt I expected. There wasn't one moment when I felt endangered because I was an American or a Christian in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. No, I didn't fear being abducted by ISIS. In fact, I found both the Egyptians and the Turks warm, hospitable people who were thrilled to see American tourists. In Hurghada, we stayed at a vast, high-end resort with the largest swimming pool I have ever seen, and it was empty, I mean EMPTY. Virtually no one in the lobby, by the pool, or on the beach. And this was usually the high season. But since 2011, people are too frightened to travel to Egypt, except apparently the Russians. Tourism, once Egypt's largest industry, has sadly been gutted.
|Sherif explaining hieroglyphics to our tour group.|
|With local children near Karnak|
|In Little Hagia Sophia, Istanbul.|
This trip became a sort of pilgrimage, not only to architectural sites that I had longed to witness with my own eyes, but to people striving to live faithfully with God and each other in an era that emphasizes estrangement and mistrust. There were moments when I felt the Egyptians and the Turks were realizing the peace and unity of the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, so much better than we have been doing here. I perceived that God was present in Greek, and Arabic, and Latin, and Turkish. In the current political climate, we need to challenge the deeply divisive and dehumanizing speech we hear in the daily news cycle and in the public square. Hear what the Spirit is saying to God's people.
May the peace and joy of the Resurrection be with you all.