‘Toward the dream’

A guiding vision for Egypt; unity grows from tragedy

Even before Sameh Maurice was a pastor, he knew God had something huge in store for his country.

Pastor Sameh Maurice in his office at Kasr El Dobara Evangelical Church.

Pastor Sameh Maurice in his office at Kasr El Dobara Evangelical Church.

The former surgeon, who switched to full-time ministry four decades ago, is senior pastor at Cairo’s Kasr El Dobara Evangelical Church, the largest evangelical church in the Middle East. He traces his prayer burden for Egypt to a vision he had as a first-year medical student in 1971. Kneeling in prayer beside his couch, he saw a huge cross on a hilltop, with a river of bright light streaming down from it.

“I can see it right now in my mind,” he says. “And I said to (God), where is this river flowing to? And then I saw, with the same color and bright lights, ‘Egypt,’ written on the cross. It was very clear: (God saying) I will do that. I will cover my lands. This vision or dream – I don’t know what to call it – has directed my life.”

The prompting to prayer at KDEC steadily intensified, before any inkling of revolution.

“The Lord told us in April 2010 – I remember it well – that a very high wave will come and will spread all over the nation,” says Samy Ramzy, a businessman who’s part of KDEC’s prayer team. “We kept going – praying, praying, praying. We knew that the Lord would do something.”

Pastor Maurice adds: “We heard clearly from the Lord that ‘I will do something big. I will shake the nation. I will visit Egypt. I will change history.’ It was very clear. We had no idea about the scenario.”

“And we announced that in the New Year. We had a big flag with the theme that God said to Moses, ‘The things that I am going to do with you are awesome.’ So we said, awesome things will happen. God will do awesome things.”

About 20 minutes after that New Year’s Eve prayer meeting, a bomb tore through a similar meeting at the Saints Church in Alexandria, killing 23 people and wounding 97. Not exactly an obvious answer to fervent prayer, but today it’s viewed as a rallying point.

“What happened in Alexandria … helped the church in general to come together before the revolution,” Pastor Maurice says. “Everything that happened was, to me, a God scenario. God did it in a marvelous way. He orchestrated the political scene, the anger – everything that is not from him. But he used it in a way to fulfill many purposes: To bring the church together. To ignite the spirit of prayer. The spirit of repentance. To open the eyes and the ears of many people to seek the truth and to find it. All through the three years – not only the first revolution.”

Ramzy adds: “We are heading toward the dream more than ever. In three years we are much closer to this spiritual revival than ever before. Many came to Christ these last three years, from every background.”

 

Jesus in a cave

A few miles from downtown Cairo, a slum called Mokkatam is tucked into a mountainside. Piled impossibly high with trash collected from Cairo, trucks and donkey carts creep up and down the steep, narrow mountain roads. Kids play in piles of trash while their parents separate and package recyclable materials that they’ll sell.

egypt-webjk-6330Travel a little further up the mountain and you’ll reach an architectural marvel called St. Samaan the Tanner Monastery – more commonly called the Cave Church. Seven Coptic Orthodox sanctuaries, all carved into the rock, occupy the site. The largest, an outdoor amphitheater, holds 20,000 people.

On this Thursday night in March, the General Meeting is held at the 2,000-seat indoor sanctuary. Biblical scenes are carved into the rock walls; one column forms a huge cross. Contrasting that ancient feel, TV lights and cameras link to a satellite feed; Cave Church meetings are seen live on several networks across the Middle East.

About 75 Muslim women sit together to the right of the stage. Many come regularly to seek healing for physical, emotional or spiritual problems. The priest, Father Abuna Simaan, is preaching from Matthew 8 and Mark 7, about Jesus’ power to heal.

egypt-webjk-6315“All those wanting to be touched by him, he is willing to touch,” he says in Arabic. “Those who are heavy burdened – he is able to set them free.”

Already, during the worship music, some of the women have erupted into screams – particularly as words from various Psalms are sung. Now, as Father Simaan nears the end of his message, one of the Muslim women begins screaming and flailing uncontrollably. Church security people surround her, hold her down and pray with her. As she calms, the people sitting near her don’t seem fazed.

The Cave Church holds a special place in the hearts of Christians throughout Egypt, largely because of what happened there Nov. 11, 2011. Tens of thousands of Christians – Coptic Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Evangelical, Anglican, Greek Orthodox – converged to pray all night, in advance of the Nov. 28 national elections.

And then the Muslim Brotherhood was swept into power.

“We were shocked,” Ramzy says. “After all of this prayer, Morsi? We continued to pray more and more.”

Leaders trace Egypt’s unprecedented Christian unity to 11-11-11. A few of them have been meeting together weekly ever since, and have formed an Egyptian Council of Churches led by Theodoros II, pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria.

“Yesterday, we were in the cathedral of the Catholic Church in Shubra, together with Orthodox pastors having a prayer meeting in the Catholic church,” Pastor Maurice says. “I preached there. This is the most crowded area in Cairo. An Othodox priest, a Catholic and an evangelical went together inside the Catholic cathedral. Four hours praying for Egypt.”

 

Greater things

Political change isn’t the end-all. Christian leaders are praying that life will never go back to normal for the church here.

“From the middle of last year, we have always been saying that we shouldn’t relax,” Ramzy says. “There is no time to relax. We know that the Lord will come to Egypt. It is beyond imagination what the Lord will do in Egypt. We feel it in our hearts very strongly. We feel that in 2014, this year, God will do something very strong in Egypt. It will shake the world.”

Pastor Maurice says he’s never seen Egypt the way he sees it now – primed for something that will make a political revolution look small. He asks the Western church to engage, and to pray. Not for the Egyptian church – with it.

“God is doing something,” he says. “We have to stand with him together as the body of Christ. We are about to see the greatest revival in the history of mankind.”

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