Planting trees and biblical truth

Sami Yacoub stands next to a press at his Allux Printing business in east Cairo.

When other businesspeople were fleeing during Egypt’s 2011 revolution, Sami Yacoub did something revolutionary himself.

He planted trees.

Forty-five of them, to be exact. They’re still standing outside his Allux Printing building in the Nasr City free economic zone in east Cairo – a forest of concrete with scarce green space.

The trees themselves don’t bear fruit, but Yacoub meant them to bear witness to an idea. Yacoub could have taken his wife and sons to Mombasa, Kenya, and restarted their lives and ministry there. But he wasn’t going unless he was forced.

“There were no trees when I took this place, for years,” says Yacoub, 58. “The same week when the revolution took place, it was quite vacant. You didn’t know what was going to happen. I bought 45 trees, put them in the ground. People would ask me, ‘Why do you do this?’ Because I am staying. I am planting a tree because I’m not leaving. I don’t think for a second to leave. I belong here.”

The revolutions that swept Hosni Mubarak out of office after 30 years in power and Mohammed Morsi after one year gave people freedom to speak up about politics and religion like they have not done for decades. However, people shouldn’t put too much short-term hope in the revolutions, Yacoub thinks.

“I think the right track is more that the wall of fear was knocked down—fear of expressing what you think or what you believe, fear to share your opinion and thoughts,” Yacoub says. “There will be other revolutions. Think of history – France, or even the U.S. Change is not one time, two times. It takes time. And the more the culture is conservative and the more the culture is dogmatic, the more religious, the more time you need for change.”

That’s why instead of big, emotional prayer gatherings—which he does not oppose—Yacoub chooses to focus on the long-term commitment to God, prayer and the Bible that people are making in their homes. That’s why Yacoub has financed the translation of a children’s Bible into 25 languages (see main story). And it’s why verses like Hosea 4:6 (“My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge …”) can pop him out of bed on the coldest morning.

“We have passion for two things – we have a passion for family, but we have passion for the word of God,” Yacoub says. “The Holy Spirit is God, and He’s able to do whatever. You know what limits him? When people are not thinking. When people start to think, in my opinion, the Holy Spirit is leading them.”

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