“We never knew that you [Christians] were so kind. That’s not at all what we used to hear of you; but when we dealt with you first hand we found gentleness and love more than anything else,”
This is how the Muslims in the west Cairo satellite town of 6 October described the volunteer social workers they encountered in the local church of St Mark.
Watani met Fawzy Nassif who is in charge of community service at St Mark’s, who told us the full story of the service.
Light of the world
It all began during a Bible study session on “You are the light of the world” (Matt 5: 14) and “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify Your Father Who is in heaven” (Matt 5: 16).
“What is meant by ‘the world’? We asked,” Mr Nassif said. “Was it the community of believers in Christ? We decided that most certainly this was not at all what Jesus meant.” There was general agreement that Christ meant the whole of humanity regardless of faith, or even if in case of non-believers.
“Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, was calling upon us to reflect His light to the entire world. How could this be realised as long as our services were restricted to the Church and directed only at Christians?”
This thought, Mr Nassif said, inspired the launching of a new service that would go beyond the Copts. The idea was supported by Giza Bishop Anba Theodosius who was then responsible for the 6 October parish, and is today equally encouraged by Anba Dumadius, Bishop of 6 October and Oussim. The priests at St Mark’s, buoyed us with prayers and assistance, significantly contributing to the swift success of the service.”
“We chose to work to serve the needy among non-Christians, needy in the moral not necessarily the material sense. Then came the idea of looking after orphans.” It was early in 2011 when we visited a Muslim charity orphanage and learnt about the orphans there. We began by organising sports days between the church and the orphanage, in order to break the ice.”
Sharing the joy
In August 2011 a new idea was broached. This was for a carnival to be held on Eid al-Fitr, the feast that ends the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. We decided to hold it at the 6 October Town Club, to relieve any sensitivity of the event being held in church, and to make use of the facilities at the club. Several young volunteers of various ages in the church took part: from the younger children to those in their twenties and thirties, as well as Scouts and Guides of the church.
“We were keen to let our Christian children share the joy of the feast with the Muslims to encourage them to converge and unite as members of the same Egyptian community,” Mr Nassif said.
The carnival became a tradition, and was held during the Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha (the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice) in 2012 and in 2013. “The carnival was used to implant precious social values, focusing on one theme in every event; the most recent was that every one of us—whatever his or her abilities—is of no value to the community if he or she tries to isolate themselves. Human values are manifested through sharing with all members of society.”
The service is not limited to feasts, but extends all year round. “We share in the annual celebration of the Friday of the Orphan, the first Friday of April, and pay frequent visits to the orphanages to offer goodwill and any assistance needed. We also arrange for them to visit us at church, mingle with our children and have common activities. The service has also extended to other orphanages in the neighbourhood.
“For the older boys and girls,” Mr Nassif said, “We have held seminars to discuss vital issues such as health and adolescent problems, addiction for instance. There is also common work on small projects and handicrafts.”
“Perhaps the best thing achieved through this service,” Mr Nassif remarked, “is that the Muslims we dealt with changed the negative view they had long held of the Church and Christians. They learned to respect and love us in return for the unconditional love we offered.”
During the Eid al-Adha carnival some three weeks ago, the 13-year-old Shady Muhammad appeared to be fully enjoying the day. “I especially loved playing football with all my friends,” he said.
“Me too,” said Pierre Amir, 10, “I am happy because I played with my friends. I will surely come again every feast to say, ‘Happy feast’ to my Muslim friends.”
As the day came to an end the children were already looking forward to the next feast.
1 November 2013