Last weekend, we meant to go to church; we really did. But we’re accustomed to church on Sunday, and we assumed that church here would be on Saturday, in the same time slot relative to the weekend as it is at home. So on Thursday night we went to the Maadi House for dinner with friends—on the way we passed a church where service obviously was in session, as it was meeting outside under a large tent and we heard familiar English praise choruses being sung—and on Friday we went shopping at the Khan with friends. Friday evening, we started going through all our magazines and orientation handouts looking for information about churches so we could decide where we were going to church on Saturday. We found information about a few English-language Catholic churches, some Episcopalian churches, and some churches with services in German or French. We also found out about Maadi Community Church (MCC), a non-denominational English-speaking international church. MCC was the only church whose description actually referenced God and the Bible. We immediately felt led to go there. They even had three service times, so we could pick the one that worked best for us. The problem was that they all were Thursday night or Friday morning. So we realized that we had inadvertently decided to wait until this week to go.
We went to the earliest service this morning. We had found out when we walked by last Thursday night that the service is held outdoors, so we wore the coolest semi-dressy clothes we had with us. (We quickly realized that there’s no real need to dress up, and there is a real need to bring bottled water with us, especially since it’s more practical to walk to church than to drive.) As we walked in, I checked out the physical structure and the people who were there. It was inside a walled courtyard, as so many things here seem to be. The church is actually St. John the Baptist Church, one of the Episcopal churches, but they allow MCC to use the facility as well. The pavilion where MCC meets is an area covered by a tarp extending from the side of the building itself. The support structure is metal, and it’s open on the sides, with the roof for protection from the sun. At the front is a stage; behind the stage is what looks like a wood wall, with black tarp extending a short way out on either side. I assume this is to prevent glare on the screen onto which lyrics and sermon notes are projected. Extending from the front of the stage were rows of plastic chairs, and of course there was a sound booth in the back. The physical environment was a little unusual just because it was outside, but it was set up much like any church you’d see in the States. The really unusual thing was the people.
MCC is a truly international church. There were many people who looked to be American—one of them I recognized from a newcomers’ meet-and-greet at the embassy. There were many people of Asian descent. There were many Africans, and at least a few who appeared to be Arab. They asked everyone who was there for the first time today to stand and say their country of origin. Including Jeff and myself, there were four Americans and one man from Sudan. The worship leader, judging from his accent, is from the UK. Three of the men playing instruments in the praise band appeared to be African; one of them didn’t sing much as he played the drums, but he frequently let out a joyful “ai-ai-ai-ai-ai” between stanzas. Almost everyone clapped; many people raised their hands. One Asian woman near me was singing, raising her hands, and jumping up and down. Others swayed. It sounds chaotic from my description, but it wasn’t. Everyone was worshipping God in the way that felt most natural to them. We were all singing the same words to the same tune at the same time, but the physical expression of worship was different for different people. This was the part that was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. I kept thinking of the Bible passages that talk about people of every tribe, every tongue, every nation praising God together in heaven. I think I got a partial glimpse this morning of what that will look and sound like.
Everyone sat and listened attentively during the sermon, which was delivered by a visiting pastor who used to be the youth minister at MCC. He’s currently the pastor of a church in Guatemala; he’s brought some of his congregants on a Middle East tour. The pastor of MCC is new; he’s only been there for a month, and he’s away right now to finish up the last details of the move—someone mentioned selling his house. Apparently his wife hasn’t been here yet because she’s a schoolteacher, and she was finishing out the year. I’m not sure when they will be back, but I’m looking forward to meeting them.
After the service, Jeff and I signed up for cell groups. MCC doesn’t have Sunday school; they have the three worship services where large groups of people get together for praise and preaching, they have something called “Africa Live” (don’t know yet what that is), and they have small cell groups that meet throughout the week for Bible study and fellowship. The man we talked to said that they have . . . I forget the exact numbers, but over forty English-speaking cell groups and around four hundred cell groups total. The total number of people involved with the cell groups is somewhere between 4000 and 5000. Jeff and I are going to join a couples’ group that meets during the evening; we don’t know details yet, but we should hear in a week or two. I also would like to join a women’s group that will meet sometime during the day when Jeff is at work, but that probably won’t happen immediately. Things seem to be a little crazy right now, with the pastor not here and new anyway. Apparently several other staff members have either been led to other countries recently or are away on vacation, so they’re short-staffed. And everything with the expat community in Cairo seems to slow down or stop altogether during the summer, when people go home for visits.
I can’t exactly explain it, but I knew when I read the description of MCC that we would find our church home in Egypt there. I felt it again as we walked in and throughout the service—I even felt it last Thursday night as we walked by the worship service that we should have been attending. Everything about MCC has said that it’s the church for us.
The motto of the church, printed right there on the bulletin this morning, said it all: “Maadi Community Church: Your Church Home Away From Home.”