PYM General Secretary Christie Duncan-Tessmer is currently traveling as a member of a delegation of the National Council of Churches to the Middle East. This ten-day trip includes visits with diplomats, politicians, church leaders, and activists in Lebanon, Egypt, Israel, and Palestine. PYM will be posting periodic updates from Christie this week during her trip, to share what the NCC delegation is seeing and witnessing through our General Secretary’s eyes.
Today was another very full day. Our first stop was a meeting with the leaders of Evangelical churches in Egypt. In the Middle East “evangelical” typically means what we might call protestant. There were about 30 people in the room including ten of us from the NCC delegation. Their ministries varied widely, from social services to pastoring churches, including a university professor and the first protestant in the Egyptian parliament.
The participants mostly spoke about the current state of Egypt and Christianity. While often they would nod their heads as one another spoke, there was also clearly a diversity of thought in the room.
At one point, the convener of the group interrupted a speaker to make sure it was clear that each person should absolutely speak his or her truth but not to assume that everyone else around the table agreed. Then he encouraged the speaker to go on. This moderator is also the person who facilitated our meeting with President Sisi. He shared with us that we were front-page news in many newspapers that day. Later we also learned that we had been on the local TV news as well.
The next stop was the Holy See of the Pope of the Coptic Church. We were met by Bishop Thomas, as the Pope is currently in Australia.
Bishop Thomas radiated joy as he received us and as he spoke. His first statements were about how Christians’ role in the world is not to be comfortable, but to carry the cross (a burden that Bishop Thomas considers an honor). He said all people know about terror and killings, and all people see tragedy. But, he said, we also spread love. And when we spread love, we receive love.
He said we are called to carry the cross with joy because heaven is joy, and that his Holiness the Pope gives a constant message of hope, even when bad things happen — and bad things have happened very close to home for this community. Last December, 29 people (almost all women and girls) were killed at St Stephen’s Church by a suicide bomber.
Bishop Thomas told us they deliberately didn’t repair the evidence of the bombing, leaving it as a reminder of the lives of the victims. Throughout our meeting, I was struck by his inner strength to radiate joy despite the adversity he faces every day.
PYM General Secretary