Colin’s Egyptian mission to strengthen faith links

Rev Colin Johnston is the Church of Scotland’s mission partner in Cairo

The past year has seen a worrying number of atrocities including the bombing at the Egyptian capital’s Coptic cathedral earlier this month. In the autumn, our mission partner Rev Colin Johnston moved to Cairo to help establish stronger connections with the Christian community. It followed a successful visit at the start of 2016 by the then Moderator of the General Assembly, Very Rev Dr Angus Morrison with a group from our World Mission Council to the Presbyterian Synod of the Nile.

Here, Colin shares the impact the bombing has had on the Christian community and explains what work he is carrying out in his partnership role. You can also follow Colin’s progress through his ‘Colin in Cairo’ blog.

The conductor requested everyone to stand for a minute’s silence ‘to remember the martyrs’. It was a concert last week at the Opera House, and he was referring to those who had died in the senseless bombing at the Coptic Cathedral compound, when 25 were killed and many more injured, most of them women and children. There has been an immense sense of grief over this tragedy, and in its aftermath and as Christmas approaches, Dr Atef Gendy, President of ETSC, noted the tension in the Christmas story between the joy of the incarnation and the cries of grief over the massacre of the innocents. Rachel weeps for her children indeed!

The Egyptian Church knows a lot about martyrdom. It has had a long history, stretching right back to the beginnings of Christianity. This is the country where monasticism began, and where, in Alexandria, the Early Church had one of its major centers with many of its sharpest minds. But it is also a country which has suffered its fair share of persecution in the Roman era and beyond. Even today, churches have been burnt down and Christians humiliated and discriminated against. They feel excluded from top posts, and their 2000 year history is barely mentioned in the school curriculum, even though Christians number over 10% of the population.

Christians can feel vulnerable, but their faith is strong. Churches of all denominations are busy places during the week, and courses in subjects like Apologetics and Biblical Studies seem particularly popular, as members seek to learn more about their faith. I am based at ETSC (Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo), and numbers there are ever-increasing, and new courses introduced in order to empower all the church members. I also work with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, which is the second biggest church in Egypt. It is a church which is very mission-oriented, ready to invest in planting congregations in the ever expanding suburbs of the cities. But it is also a church willing to address social problems prevalent in society such as female circumcision (FGM) and gender-based violence.

I am also involved at St Andrew’s, the former Church of Scotland congregation, which still has its Guild Hall with thistles and a Lion Rampant on its stonework! Nine congregations use the premises, many of them connected with the refugee community. Part of the reason for that is that St Andrew’s is also home to StARS, the St Andrew’s refugee Service. Set up in 1979 when members saw the need to teach English to Ethiopian refugees, it has now grown to a highly regarded organization with almost 180 members of staff.St Andrews’s provides a safe space for all who gather there, seeking legal, educational, psycho-social and indeed spiritual help.

In a Middle East where the Church is often beleaguered, the Church in Egypt is still strong and forward-looking. It is an exciting place to be, and I look forward to strengthening relations in the future.