Come, Holy Spirit

This is just a hint of what my afternoon was like:

I was invited to participate in an ordination today with our Sudanese sister congregations. The service was full of music–from groups from several congregations and sung in at least five different languages.  There was nearly an hour of special music, shared by groups from several congregations.  It was beautiful to watch as women from at least three different South Sudanese tribes were moved by the music and joined in the singing and dancing.  There is no question that the Holy Spirit was at work!

I was one of about ten pastors participating in the service.  As we laid hands on the ordinand, the retired moderator, himself nearing ninety, of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan prayed over him, “Father in heaven, for Jesus sake….”  It was emotional and beautiful and all of the things that I love about an ordination.  After the prayer and laying on of hands, the other pastors went to work, buttoning the top button of his shirt and inserting a tab into it, slipping his black pastoral robe over his head, placing a stole on his shoulders.  Once he was properly dressed, the moderator introduced him for the first time as pastor and the congregation erupted in applause and ululation.  It was a beautiful moment of community lifting up a brother and a leader and celebrating the work of the Holy Spirit among us.

Yesterday, my brothers and sisters in South Central Wisconsin elected a new bishop, the Rev. Mary Froiland.  In an article in one of the Madison papers this morning, she recalls how her father told her she could be the first female bishop someday.  During the service today, I watched as a young boy, no older than two, climbed into the elevated pulpit and shut the door.  I couldn’t see him once the door was shut, but I like to pretend that he was “preaching.”  As I watched this little boy and thought about Mary’s election and the story she shared and celebrated with this newly ordained brother pastor, I thought about the ways God calls us in so many different ways.  Perhaps this little boy will someday grace that pulpit as a pastor and perhaps he will feel called in another direction.  But no matter where he goes, where any of us go, we go with a promise that there is no where we go where our God has not already been.  As I listened to the praise of Jesus’ name in the singing today, it was readily apparent that these people know and believe and trust that there is truth to that promise that this God goes with us where ever we go.  That God meets us there and promises never to leave us.  That’s a powerful promise, and now more than ever, it carries me.

I give thanks for this opportunity to celebrate, to pray, to lay on hands.  I give thanks for the opportunity to be reminded of our partnerships within a wider church.  I give thanks for the promise that where ever we go, God is right there with us.

An ordination is always a special event and it was a particular honor to be present at this one today and to be reminded, once again, of the ways the Holy Spirit comes, how she surprises and nourishes and makes new.  How she blows in our midst, sometimes in whispers and sometimes in the sounds of clapping and dancing, singing and ululation.  And no matter how she makes herself known, we find ourselves refreshed, renewed, and reminded of the promises that carry us where ever we go.


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Nuer/Nuur and my sisters, Mary and Martha

Just in case you ever wonder, my little sister is amazing.  She kayaks over waterfalls and climbed Manchu Picchu over the summer.  We’re almost twelve years apart, but, as she grows up, it is more and more fun to hang out with her, talk with her, and dream with her.  I love her very much.

My sister-in-law, Justin’s sister, is also awesome.  She’s one of those people whom I can call just because…and calling her just because is one of the things I miss most while living in Cairo.  She’s one of my dearest friends, and also, mother to my #1 nephew.  I love her very much.

One of the neat things about being a woman is that, over time, if we’re lucky (and I have been) we amass a whole crew of sisters.  Women with whom we share hopes, dreams, secrets, frustrations.  Women with whom we laugh and cry.  Women with and for whom we pray.  Women of all ages who become like sisters to us.  I count myself blessed to have a rock-star biological sister, incredible sister-in-law, and many sister-friends who are much older and a few who are younger.  You know who you are and I am thankful that you are in my life.

Today, my circle of sisters grew by six Nuer women.  All named either Mary or Martha.  Their English is limited.  My Arabic is bad; my Nuer is worse.  The sanctuary was double booked, my time was double booked, and the Bible with all of my notes for Bible study was sitting on the kitchen table.  With limited time, John, one of my brother pastors and a very patient interpreter, introduced me to Mary, Mary, Mary, Martha, Martha, and Mary.  I don’t know much about their stories yet, but let me say these women are beautiful, courageous, and brave.  Women of valor, if you will.  I noticed the drum sitting next to one of the Marys when I walked in and I asked them if they could teach me a song.  They proceeded to sing a song about Jesus, the light of the world, that was absolutely gorgeous.  I watched their faces and fought to hold back tears.  Their voices strong and proud, their faces full of emotion and passion.  This was not just another song, but a proclamation of Gospel that carries them, and me, in this place.  Jesus, the light of the world indeed.

I’m learning about this and other South Sudanese tribes, but, as these six Nuer women sang in thanks and praise to Jesus the light of the world, it was not lost on me that, in Arabic, the word for light is “noor.”  They’re pronounced almost exactly the same.  They may or may not be etymologically related, but in the double-booked, dusty sanctuary with the creaking floors this afternoon they were practically one-in-the-same.  These six Nuer women proclaimed with their voices, their emotions, their beautiful faces that Jesus is the light of the world.  The noor of the world.

God gave me six new sisters today.  As we said good-bye, I was embraced by six beautiful women.  Six amazing sisters whose stories are now intertwined with mine.  Six new sisters, and already,  I love them very much.



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There’s always room for one more…

I haven’t managed to capture any photos yet, but one of the thing that absolutely blows my mind/amazes/terrifies me is the way that people will pile on motor scooters here.  The other day, I saw four young men all lined up in a row cruising down the street.  Today, I saw a whole family–the little girl in the front, dad driving, mom holding on behind.  I’ve even seen women with tiny babies.  One evening earlier this week, I giggled to myself while walking down the street while two young men who were on the pudgier side flew down the street, going the wrong way on a one way.  These scooters are everywhere and, often, are a faster way to travel than by taxi.  Even if it means squeezing together to make room for one more.

It will be a long time, like probably never, before I ride one of these scooters.  But what I have and continue to experience is a “there’s always room for one more” mentality when it comes to hospitality.  There’s always room for one more at the table.  There’s always room for one more for tea.  There’s always time to talk.  As my friend Peter told us when we were considering the move to Cairo, Cairenes can talk.

Sometimes, it’s funny.  Like when the taxi driver on the way to Mar Gargis (Coptic Cairo) today really tried to convince us that he could wait and take us back home when we were done.  “No, no,” we said.  “I can wait,” he said.  “No, no,” we said.  “I can wait,” he said.  My strategy is to say “shukran” (thank you) and walk away.  Justin hasn’t quite mastered that.  After paying the driver, I started walking away and Justin caught up, saying “the la finally convinced him.”  (La is a very firm no in Arabic).

Sometimes, it makes you realize that you really have stepped out of “normal” and into a whole new life.  After visiting the old churches of Coptic Cairo, we sat on a bench sharing a bottle of water and a bag of chips.  One of the vendors started chatting with us and pretty soon we were in his shop being offered tea.  We declined the tea, and though we didn’t buy anything today, if you’re ever in the market for some beautiful handicrafts in Cairo, I’ve got his card.  This total stranger invited us for tea and was totally ready to serve it had we not insisted that we really did need to get going.  It is an experience to be on the receiving end of such hospitality.

Our visit to Coptic Cairo was incredible.  The oldest synagogue in Cairo is part of the compound.  A spring on the site is supposedly where Moses’ basket was found.  There are several churches, some of them with columns or other bits of architecture that date back well over one thousand years.  Relics line the aisles and the iconography is stunning.  Only the Hanging Church allowed photos, a few of which are shared on my Shutterfly site.  The compound is so old that you walk down a flight of stairs to reach the street level.  Several churches claim to be sites along which the Holy Family stopped in their journey through Egypt.  One has a window in the floor to show the spring from which the Holy Family drank.  We watched as a young woman walked along a wall of relics, kissing her fingers before carefully touching each one.  In the Hanging Church, a grandmother showed her two young grandchildren around.  The little girl, probably about 4, prayed in front of an icon, mirroring what Grandma did, down to crossing herself at the end.  A few minutes later, we watched as Grandma pointed out the saints in an icon, teaching her grandchildren the story of a family in Christ that is larger than they can even imagine.  In a place with so much history, hearing those little voices and witnessing that moment was a reminder of the ways our stories continue to unfold and play out and intersect.  As we marveled at architecture that dates back centuries, its hard not to think about all of the faithful who have gathered to worship in these churches for more than a millennium.

Several kilometers north, our own little church is over one hundred years old.  And over the course of a week, several different congregations worship there, in five different languages (English, Arabic, Nuer, Dinka, and Amharic).  And though we worship in our own languages and traditions, there is a bond that we share as God’s people in this place.  People who gather in Jesus’ name, people who place our trust in the promises of the cross and the empty tomb.  Every time I meet with one of the members of our sister congregations, I am filled with the gospel message that they preach to me.  I am filled with gratitude for the ways that they teach me about faith.  I hear Scripture in a new way, and yet am reminded of promises that have been repeated over and over again.  Do not be afraid; you are loved; God goes with us where ever we go.  It’s good work that I am called to do and I am so blessed to do it along side deeply faithful people who come from so many different places.

Earlier this week, I met with some of the women from the Nuer congregation.  We talked about blessings.  They told me about the blessings they give to their peers and to their children.  They embraced me.  They welcomed me as a sister and as a daughter.  They are amazing women and eventually I’ll share some of their stories.

From seemingly reckless scooter drivers to Egyptian grandmas to Nuer women gathering in a quiet sanctuary to vendors who invite you for tea, I’m reminded every day that there’s always room for one more.  And that’s a pretty good thing to remember.

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Finding hope amidst honking horns and dirty feet

On most days, by the end of the day, I have sweat running down both my forehead and my back.  My feet are black from the dust and dirt.  I am so tired I want to go to bed at about 7:30.  On most days, I’ve learned a few Arabic words, only to forget them by the time I get home.  I hear that something will take 10 minutes, but that really means at least 30.  The sink in the kitchen breaks, leaving the meal program scrambling to provide lunch for the 100+ children who eat there everyday.  I hail what feels like a bajillion cabs before getting one that will actually take me where I need to go. I get the feeling that I’m just supposed to know this, that, and the other thing, but I don’t and I’m not entirely sure who I should ask in order to find out.  When I think I’ve got all the t’s crossed and i’s dotted, I find out that the baas and taas (two letters of the Arabic alphabet) also need to be dotted.  I wait in line only to find out I didn’t have to.  This city is loud and dirty, and seemingly inefficient.  Traffic is horrible.  Getting a straight answer may or may not happen.  And Arabic is really, really hard.

And yet, I love it here.

I love to sit and watch as hundreds of people go by–walking, or riding in mini-buses or taxis, or zooming around traffic on motor scooters.  I love watching men balance on their heads huge boards stacked high with fresh baked bread, while they ride bicycles.  I love to observe the fashion–the gorgeous scarves wrapped and tied in all kinds of ways to cover heads; the totally impractical, but fabulous shoes the same women wear.  I love to listen to Arabic and try to decipher words or patterns.  I love it when I see totally random things on the street, like a flock of sheep in the middle of downtown.  I love it when the young men guarding the embassies in our neighborhood are caught laughing with one another.  I love walking around the neighborhood, people watching, cat watching, finding shade in the afternoon sun.  I haven’t managed to get myself terribly lost in the neighborhood yet, and that’s something.

And it seems like just about the time I find myself frustrated by cultural differences and language barriers, someone walks in my office just to check in.  The guards invite me for an afternoon Pepsi.  One of the teacher’s kids skips by my office, sees I’m there, and stops to give me a hug, dragging her little friend along.  The kid walking down the sidewalk stops to pose for a picture, presumably with the graffiti behind him advertising his favorite soccer team.  (By the way, the word for ball and/or soccer/football is one of the few Arabic words that have stuck in my brain.  Important when you work with kids!)

Part of my job is to work with the pastors of our sister congregations, refugee congregations that worship in the space throughout the week.  The pastors will often stop in to chat, and I ask them how their people find things these days.  Things are a little better now that the curfew doesn’t start until 11, but it is hard.  It’s hard to find work when your status is uncertain and the economy is informal.  It’s hard to live in an area where violence breaks out in unpredictable patterns.  It’s hard to live in a time that is uncertain and even harder when your refugee status card is the wrong color.  (There’s a whole system of colored cards that grant different statuses to refugees.  I don’t entirely understand it yet, but blue card v. yellow card comes up in conversation fairly often.)  I hear these stories of struggle and uncertainty, and it would seem like it could just suck the wind right out of you.

But that’s not all they tell me.  They speak of hope.  They speak of being grounded in Christ. They speak of faith and of community.  And that’s what keeps us all going–the refugees and those of us who work with them.  They speak of a faith that is deeply, deeply rooted in Christ’s promise of life.  They speak of the community giving hope to people who could not find it elsewhere.  They speak of caring for one another and for the children, the weak, the vulnerable.  These people are amazing.  Their faith inspires me.  Really, it breathes life into my tired soul.  Their faith kindles in me new sparks that ignite my own faith.  Their priorities help me reexamine my own, and remind me what’s really important.  They give me the strength to keep going, in spite of frustrations and inefficiencies and language barriers and misunderstandings.

The courtyard was filled the past few days with people waiting to register for English classes.  By 10:30 today, there was a sign on the door that they are full for the term.  I’m not exactly sure how many slots there are, but I know the Adult Education Program director has been very busy the past few days, registering people for classes, organizing space for registration and placement tests.  People are eager to learn and it is beautiful to sit and watch and see all of the faces come and go.  I haven’t had a chance yet to sit and listen to stories, but I will soon.  And those stories will surely be filled with sorrow and grief, and love and hope.

And then there are the kids.  I showed a friend some pictures the other night and her first comment was, “The kids are so happy.  That must be a good school.”  I hear from their pastors some of the challenges their families face, yet when they come to school, they’re kids.  They play soccer and jump rope.  Teenage girls giggle in tight circles as teenage boys lean cooly against the wall, both groups no doubt trying to impress the other.  When I bring out the camera, they gather around and pose.  They tap on my shoulder and pull me to a place where they have the background they want.  They make bunny ears on one another.  I find myself stopping just to watch.  I can’t help but smile.  You can see a smattering of pictures on my Shutterfly site.

So at the end of the day, when my feet are dirty and I find myself ridiculously envious of those who post on Facebook of their 70 degree weather, I think back on my day and say a little prayer of thanks for the taxi driver who, despite my broken Arabic and his broken English, got me home safely.  For the Arabic speaker who doesn’t laugh too much as I mess up words and quickly forget them.  For the kids whose smiles light up their faces.  For the people who fill the courtyard and patiently wait their turn.  To the God who created us all and loves us all very much.  And then, at least for a minute, it’s hard to be frustrated and I don’t feel so tired.  And I remember why it is I love this place.

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Welcome to Egypt: At Banquet Tables and Under Tattered Umbrellas

“Welcome to Egypt!”  We hear it a lot these days.  Many people, who don’t speak much English, know this phrase.  And seeing as I am obviously not from anywhere near Cairo, I get it a lot.  From people at church, from taxi drivers, even the maintenance men on the elevator in our building yesterday.  “Welcome to Egypt!”

We’ve officially been here a week now.  And in the past week, I have felt welcomed.  I’ve been so grateful for the patience, graciousness, and hospitality shown to me by people in the grocery stores, the guards in our building, the bawwabs down the street, people at church, taxi drivers, the people who helped us set up our bank accounts, and get our phones.  It has made being a stranger in this new place relatively easy.

I am a pastor in an international congregation.  And as I mused on the text for this weekend, I was struck by the themes of hospitality, both in the Hebrews text and the Luke.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2).  In his commentary on the Hebrews text for Sunday, Erik Heen points out that the word for hospitality is philoxenia–the love of the strange.  As a stranger in a strange place who has felt a significant measure of grace these past few days, that stuck with me.  The love of the strange, I like that.

As I write this, I’m supposed to be leading worship.  But, due to news of big protests today, we cancelled worship.  Usually, we can worship in the morning without any problems.  But we have several sister congregations who worship in the afternoon.  And for their safety, we cancelled all services today.  It’s not the way I imagined my second week to go, and, inshallah, today will be like last week and end up being relatively quiet.  But, we’re all vulnerable in this place, being strangers in a strange land.  Whether we’re new to the country and blonde or have been here many years and have dark skin.  Even Egyptians sometimes feel like strangers in their own country, unsure of what the future holds.  We’re all strangers in a strange land.  And, unfortunately, not all of my brothers and sisters experience that “love of the strange” in the same way I have over the past week.

In the Luke text for this weekend, Jesus, as he so often does, challenges me.  As someone who has felt relatively comfortable as a stranger in a place where I don’t speak the language or look the part, I have experienced a measure of that “love of the strange.”  And I am grateful for that.  But I am not just a foreigner.  I’m a foreigner who works with refugees.  Who listens to stories and seeks to empower them.  Who hears their stories of being frightened and uncertain.  Who listens as they speak of the ways the curfew has made things very difficult.  My experience is not theirs.  And I struggle with that.

When I interviewed for this call, the executive director of the refugee service told me that, in spite of the sad, hard stuff, I would hear stories of hope.  And those are the stories that keep you going.  And it’s true.  In spite of the heightened sense of uncertainty and fear that lingers around us these days, I sat yesterday and watched as children played in the courtyard.  I listened to their laughter and watched as smiles lit up their faces.  I stand firmly in the belief that that sound–the sound of children’s laughter–is the best sound in the whole world.  That sound fills me with hope that the uncertainty and fear does not get to win.  That sound renews my sense that there is hope for a world where grace and mercy and peace and “love of the strange” will prevail.  I wish we could capture that spirit and inject it into ourselves when fear and prejudice invade our bodies.

In Luke 14, Jesus says, “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you….”  In a city that, under normal circumstances, never sleeps, it’s hard to have a banquet when you have to be home by 9:00 PM (and 7:00 on Friday).  But, yesterday, I was invited to the one of the finest banquets I have ever attended.  One of the guards has been practicing his English, and he came to my office to invite me to come for lunch.  About an hour later, I went down to sit with him, in a dusty plastic chair by the gate.  A battered umbrella gave us a little shade in the 100 degree heat, the banquet table was a tiny table that had been carefully wiped off, and the fine cuisine came from a carry out place down the street.  Over beef shawarma and rice, we talked.  We laughed a lot.  He taught me a few words in Arabic.  He welcomed me, this stranger, and called me his sister.

It is an important bond we share, as brothers and sisters in Christ.  It is the bond that unites us across time and space.  It is the bond that brings us together, though we might be strangers in every other sense.  It is a bond that calls us and challenges us to love the strange.  The foreigner.  The unfamiliar.  The one who doesn’t look like you, or speak your language.  The poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

As I anxiously watch the news, not just for what is happening in Egypt, but also for what will happen in Syria, I pray, today, that we can find it within ourselves, where ever we are, to practice philoxenia, the love of the strange.  And to experience it, too.  And by doing so, be it at banquet tables or under tattered umbrellas, that we see glimpses of God’s promised kingdom–where peace reigns and love is unending–revealed.

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31 signs of light

On the day Justin and I were scheduled to leave, things were not good in Cairo.  There was a massive amount of violence; many people were killed, and many more injured in bloody exchanges.  We wondered if we would even be able to come.  Justin’s parents, with whom we were staying at the time, declared it a Justin & Kirsten benefit day–code for “you tell us what you need today and we’ll do our best to make it happen.”  We went out to lunch at our favorite local restaurant, they listened patiently to us as we cried, and my darling mother-in-law and I went to see “The Butler.”  If you haven’t seen it, I do recommend it.  It begins with a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote that I love so much:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

It struck me as I sat in the dark theatre in the middle of Indiana, with my mind so distracted by the events in a far off place.  My prayer that day was that light and love would radiate not just in Cairo, but in all of those places in the world yearning for peace, justice, and mercy.

Fast forward ten days, to my 31st birthday.  Ten days ago, I didn’t think I would be able to be here.  And yet, here we are, gaining confidence and comfort daily.  Already growing to love a city that is crazy, loud, dusty, crowded, and beautiful.  There’s still uncertainty.  There’s  still a curfew, though it doesn’t start until 9:00 now.  We still watch the news anxiously and pay very close attention to what is happening around the city.  BUT…there are so many ways I see light shining, love radiating.  There are so many ways that give me hope and so many things that make me smile.    So, on my 31st birthday, a smattering of things that made me smile today, some from Cairo, some from around the whole world.  And yes, some are ridiculously silly, but it’s my birthday and I’ll smile at what I want to, thank you very much.

In no particular order:

1.  Walking down the street this afternoon and seeing a young couple, she carrying a tiny baby, he carrying what looked to be a hospital bag.  I assume they were coming home from the hospital, cradling this new life in their hands.  Perhaps new parents, uncertain about what exactly to do, full of hope for this precious life.  I said a prayer for them as I walked.  And I smiled.

2.  The little boy who bounced behind me, begging his mom to let him pet Tenney.  “She’s friendly,” I said, and the mother granted permission.  Curls bouncing and smile beaming, he patted her, and then continued to bounce down the street ahead of us, Toy Story shoes joyfully hitting the paving stones.

3.  Laughing heartily at lunch at witty comments made by Justin’s new colleagues.

4.  Seeing the life and movement at St. Andrew’s as I passed on the bus this morning on the way out to campus with Justin.

5.  A working mobile phone.

6.  A bank account.

7.  A whole bunch of young men squished together, riding in the back of a pick up truck.  It looks terrifying (and don’t worry, Mom, I won’t try this), and yet there’s something about it that makes me smile.

8.  Looking up and seeing stars and feeling the evening breeze.

9.  Orange trees and gorgeous flowers.

10.  Walking with Justin & Tenney as the neighborhood shuts down before curfew.  And laughing at the way she gets so excited when she sees a cat.  And she sees a lot of cats.

11.  Stimulating conversations with brilliant people.

12.  Kofta.

13.  Red wine that’s actually not too bad.

14.  Looking across the table at the man who I share this wild and crazy life with and feeling an immense, amazing amount of love.

15.  FaceTiming with my dad to wish him happy birthday, too.

16.  A very sweet e-mail from my father-in-law.

17.  A birthday e-mail from my favorite sister-in-law in the whole world.

18.  A virtual hug from my mother-in-law.

19.  My mom e-mailing me scanned cards because we haven’t quite figured out the best way to get mail here.

20.  Knowing that my sister is home safely from her trip to Peru.  And that she had an amazing time.

21.  Facebook messages and text messages from friends and family around the world.

22.  Seeing my dear friend Molly’s IMDB listing for the movie she was in.  The movie was pretty ridiculous (sorry, Molly, but it’s true), but it’s pretty cool to see her name on IMDB.

23.  My friend, Jason’s, awesome list, 7 Ways to Connect with a Christianity that Doesn’t Suck, that starts with “1] Don’t Read Posts With Lists In Them.”  It’s okay, J, I did it, too.

24.  The bawwab (doorman) down the street who loves Tenney, and now waves every time we walk by, even if she’s not with us.

25.  Sharing an afternoon soda with a new friend with a fascinating story to share.

26.  Colleagues, near and far.

27.  The incredible religious architecture in this city.  I am amazed at the beauty and, then even more so, when I think about how old some of it is.  Churches and mosques, both, absolutely beautiful.

28.  Turning down a street and knowing exactly where I am.

29.  The students in the lobby playing “Risk.”

30.  “Welcome to Egypt,” heard again and again by incredibly hospitable Egyptians from all walks of life.

31.  This silly dog, obviously starting to feel at home, too.


As Justin and I waited for our dinner, we laughed thinking about what a difference a year makes.  When I turned 30, I had no inkling that by the time I was 31, I would be living in another country, learning a new language, figuring out what it means to be a pastor in an international congregation.  It’s surprising and new, yes.  And it’s good.

My hope for this year is that, in spite of all of the ups and downs that will surely come, I can continue to see light shining through darkness and love driving out hate.  And if I can keep seeing those things, it will be a pretty good year.

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Those dog people…and other small steps

Well, we made it.  Overall, the trip was easy.  Before we left, I was super nervous about bringing Tenney.  Though I had read and re-read regulations, talked to the airline several times, and Justin had talked to the Consulate I don’t know how many times, I was so scared that there would be something missing or that her crate wouldn’t be right or the airline would say they had lost her confirmation or that, or that, or that.  In actuality, though, it couldn’t have been smoother and easier.  We checked in at the Lufthansa counter and they were amazing and patient.  They got her all checked in, checked our baggage, and then gave us time to walk her one last time before wheeling her back to a special TSA agent, who swiped her crate and then waved her along.  In Frankfurt, we actually saw her go onto the plane, and when we arrived in Cairo, she was waiting for us with a porter at the baggage claim when we got there.  Her very excited yips echoed through the corridor.  Needless to say, we made quite an entrance, as people stared (or tried not to make it obvious they were) .  Crazy Americans, we are.  But we also love our dog and its really nice to have her here.  It makes it feel a little more like home in the middle of this unfamiliar place.

It also makes us get out and walk.  And even though we get some strange looks, it gives us an opportunity to walk around the neighborhood a bit and start to get our bearings.  We walked for a few blocks along the river yesterday and around the neighborhood a bit more today.  It was a good sign when we came to a street and recognized that this was the way we had walked with our host when we came to look at the apartment earlier in the summer.  Small steps, but good ones.

Other small steps of this weekend included buying our first groceries, finding the big grocery store, and ordering water in Arabic.  I know, I know, huge steps.  But we have to start somewhere right?  And, strangely, ordering water was a big one for me.  I asked in English and the server didn’t understand so I asked in Arabic and he knew what I was saying.  It’s kind of funny, really, because one of the things I wonder about is how my images of water will change here in the desert.  As one who grew up loving the water, in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, those images of flowing, clean, and abundant water are plentiful.  But in a place where the water that flows isn’t all that clean and where the water sometimes makes people sick, and when the Nile and the water rights that come with it can even cause problems, how do images change?  And yet, the water of life flows here, too.

It flowed yesterday, when I led worship for the first time, sharing communion with brothers and sisters from around the world.  It really is a beautiful place because it brings together people who would not otherwise ever have reason to interact.  It brings together members of the body of Christ to be filled once again by the bread of life and reunited in the bonds of baptism.  The water of life flows through the fellowship time that follows, and in the ways brother pastors look after each other’s congregations in a time of uncertainty.  And, yes, sometimes it flows in a neighborhood restaurant when maya is spoken and water appears.


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Inshallah, Be Not Afraid, and Always Being Made New

There’s a word in Arabic that is used a lot.  Inshallah.  Insha’Allah.  God willing.  Sometimes it’s almost funny how it’s used.  In some cases, it’s used when someone doesn’t want to say no.  In others, it’s used as a genuine statement of faith that we are, indeed, in God’s hands.  Sometimes, it’s almost superstitious.  Inshallah.

When we were in Cairo in May, I heard, “Pastor Kirsten will arrive in August, inshallah.” In May, things were quiet.  June 30 was on the calendar and people figured there would be a few protests and not much would come of it.  But that all changed in the month leading up to the first anniversary of President Morsi’s inauguration.  By June 30, millions of people were in the streets around the country, protesting against him and his party, and supporting it.  We watched with bated breath, checking in when we had enough 3G coverage in Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota, not knowing what this would mean for the people of Egypt, for the people of St. Andrews, or the refugees served by StARS.  But a lot can happen in six weeks, so we waited.  We will leave the middle of August, inshallah, we started to say.

This seems like a good time to say that since Justin first received the offer at American University in Cairo, right after Christmas, I have been moved and touched by the many, many “Be not afraids,” of Scripture.  The ones in the Christmas story particularly moved me that first Sunday after Christmas.  But again and again in the months that have followed the initial discernment about what to do, I have heard these loud and clear, again and again.  Be not afraid, I am with you.  Be not afraid, I am about to do something new.  Be not afraid rolls around in my head and my heart, and in the midst of uncertainty and questions and sometimes not knowing which end is up, this is what keeps me going.  I place my trust in a God who again and again comes to God’s people and promises that we need not be afraid.

And then there’s that always being made new piece.  As I write this, I am still taking in the news that the Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA has elected a new presiding bishop, Elizabeth Eaton.  Voting members from across the church gather in Pittsburgh to ponder and pray over just how it is that God is calling us, as the Evangelical Church in America, to be made new.  Again and again.  Every day.

Always being made new.  It’s the promise of resurrection that we hold so near and dear to our hearts.  It’s not always predictable or easy or expected.  But, somehow, it is good.  It is necessary.  It is in that promise of resurrection that we find hope and promise and life.  Life that is everlasting and true and abundant.  That’s what I cling to.  It’s what keeps me going in times of uncertainty.  It’s what keeps me coming back to the font and to the table.  To the words of Scripture.  To the community of brothers and sisters, near and far.  God is calling us, always, to be made new.  And promising that, even in the midst of the uncertainty of what exactly that means, we need not be afraid because that same God who has made that promise across the generations continues to do so.  Every single day.

So it’s with those promises in mind, “do not be afraid” and “always being made new,” that I can say inshallah today.  Today and every day, Justin and I, and all of us, are in God’s hands.  We are in the process of postponing our departure for a few days.  We are still planning to go, but we’re just not quite sure when that will be.  It’s almost a new day in Cairo.  And just what that means, we are not yet sure.   So for now, we wait, we pray, we hope.  Inshallah.  Be not afraid.  Always being made new.

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When we returned from our visit to Cairo at the beginning of June, people asked what it was like.  “It’s loud, and dirty, and crowded, and amazing” was my reply.  It is.  Loud, and dirty, and there are people everywhere, and what those people will do is, admittedly, a little unpredictable.  And yet, it is amazing.  And, already, I have grown to love it and can’t wait to begin our adventure living there, inshallah (Arabic for God willing), very soon.

There are moments when I feel like I catch glimpses of the kingdom of God revealed.  They never last long, but there is no question that, in those moments, I am standing on holy ground.  I am a pastor.  I think theologically.  I am a Lutheran pastor.  I think sacramentally.  And for these reasons, it is no surprise that these moments often happen around water and around tables.  In moments that are connected–by those simple means of water, bread, and wine–to baptism and to Eucharist.  Those moments happen at the font and at the Table.  But they also happen along the lakeshore, and around the dinner table, and when sitting with beloved ones and drinking good wine.  These are kairos moments–moments when God’s time is revealed and, if only fleetingly, all is well with the world and I know down to the depths of my bones that it is moments like these that capture God’s promise to God’s beloved people.  When, as Isaiah writes in chapter 55, all who thirst will be called to the water, and all who are hungry can buy wine and milk without money and without price.

In that brief visit in Cairo, I experienced these kairos moments.  Listening to my Sudanese brothers and sisters sing.  Sitting around the table with my brother pastors from South Sudan and Ethiopia.  Sharing a meal with my ELCA colleagues.  Sitting under the guards umbrella on a Sunday afternoon.  Meeting members of the congregation I have been called to serve.  There is no doubt in my mind that there will be many kairos moments in Cairo.  And so, I call this blog “Cairos.”  I hope that I can share some of the stories that reveal to me God’s work in the world.  Because I believe that God is at work in this world.  God is at work through a whole lot of amazing people.  Some known to us and many unknown.  Some who we will soon meet and many others that we will only meet when that promise is fully revealed.  But for now, I watch for Cairos.


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