Egyptian Church gives inspirational example of community leadership
Published on 2 February, 2016
Egypt is a country going through hard times. Recent political instability and religious tensions have cast a long shadow. The country's picturesque tourist sites lie quiet. Egypt is growing rapidly – the average age is just 21 – but its citizens face daunting challenges with education, healthcare and the economy.
The Moderator of the General Assembly, on his visit to Egypt, learned how church outreach projects are making a positive difference in tackling the most difficult challenges.
"We have problems," admitted Shaher Luka, Executive Director of the Council of Services and Development, the Synod of the Nile's community engagement programme, which receives support from the Kirk's HIV programme.
"Around 25% of the population are illiterate. Sexual violence is rife. We believe as many as 50% of Egyptians have Hepatitis C, and poor water quality means renal failure is common. Recently, a contaminated dialysis machine in one village infected more than 200 patients with HIV and Hepatitis."
During a presentation over coffee and cakes, Shaher Luka's small team of 9 people outlined the range of initiatives they are involved in to combat these seemingly insurmountable difficulties.
"We are a religious country. People look up to the pastors and church leaders. If we can influence them to challenge negative behaviours then we can achieve gradual change. This is especially true with Female Genital Mutilation (Egyptian women are the third most likely in the world to suffer FGM) and attitudes to HIV, which is still seen as a moral issue not a health problem. Some Pastors say they cannot stand up in opposition to longstanding cultural traditions, but through education we can change their minds."
Shaher's team recently commissioned a video illustrating the impact of sexual violence on women and girls which was broadcast to around 12 million people on prime time Egyptian television. The film, titled "In her place", is cleverly realised. By focussing on the reactions of women listening to audio recordings of victims recounting their experiences, the video confronts very challenging issues without breaking the cultural taboos which make it difficult for women and children to speak out, or be believed when they do. It had also had a wider impact. "As well as the video, we've been running an education programme.
Twenty five female Muslim teachers attended and at the end one told me how she had hated Christians before she came, but now she loved the Church for the respect it had shown to her and her faith. This isn't just about changing attitudes to women, it's about building bridges between faiths too."
After being briefed on a wide range of other initiatives including a microfinance scheme, HIV healthcare and children's projects, Rt Rev Dr Angus Morrison said: "You are living your faith through action. I am struck by the similarity in many of the challenges we are facing in our respective communities, though in different ways and on different scales. Sometimes I hear people say the Church should look inward to its own problems, but you are evidence that with God's love and a strong belief even a small team with limited resources can achieve so much."
The CSD has great ambitions for the future. It is seeking funding to provide clean water pumps to 100 villages in Upper Egypt over the next 3 years, develop its ability to offer healthcare and emergency response services to poor communities and complete a project to give all 400 Pastors in the Synod access to a computer tablet loaded with 10,000 religious and educational books in English and Arabic.
If you would like to find out more about the CSD and its work you can visit their website, and email them at email@example.com
This is the last in a series of articles about the Moderator's recent visit to Egypt.