In 1870, my great-grandfather was obliged to leave the Coptic Orthodox church (along with his family) for hosting a Scottish, Presbyterian missionary in his home for a weekly Bible Study. He and the missionary reluctantly established the first Evangelical Church in the city of Assiut in Upper Egypt.
He had never wanted to leave the Mother Church, nor did the missionary intend for him to do so. Till his dying day he loved that Church and yearned for the Bible to be read, taught and lived by its people.
On December 3rd, at the Coptic Cathedral, under the leadership of Pope Tawadros II, the Christians of Cairo celebrated the 150th Anniversary of the Arabic Van Dyke Bible – the most commonly used Bible by Arabic speaking Christians worldwide. The great commitment and sacrifice of foreign missionaries and Arab nationals working together in Beirut provided a remarkable translation which has influenced the lives, thinking and culture of millions of people in the region. It literally shaped Middle Eastern Christianity into what it is today. Also in attendance were many Bible Society leaders from the region and elsewhere. Here is how one young Christian leader described the event:
“Uncle Ramez, this is the greatest celebration I’ve seen in my life. I believe this is re-writing history more than any recent event. We have seen a glimpse of a great, upcoming revival. I can’t thank the Lord enough…”
It was a truly festive event, as representatives of all Churches in Egypt were present. Their leaders shared in affirming words about the importance, centrality and impact of the Bible in the life of the Egyptian Church. They also graciously affirmed the efforts of the Bible Society in making God’s Word affordable and accessible in appropriate formats to all segments of society.
Many years ago we at the Bible Society realised that the Bible was one of the most unifying factors for churches in Egypt. The celebration that night was an incredibly encouraging affirmation of that fact. A large part of the joyous atmosphere was to see Church leaders genuinely united together through their commitment to God’s Word.
While more than 4,000 people were in attendance at the Cathedral, countless others watched the event broadcast live on most of the Arabic Christian satellite stations, which reach millions of viewers.
My great-grandfather was not there (maybe he watched the event from Heaven!?) but the elderly and frail pastor of the church he helped to establish made the long trip from the city of Assiut. As I hugged him after the service, I was deeply moved to realise that we were celebrating the very Bible which had impacted my great-grandfather 145 years ago, and which had been the basis for establishing the church which this pastor now serves!
We live in a time and age where everything is expected to be “instant” and where quick results are impatiently expected. It’s good to remember that God is at work for the long haul and that it may take 150 years to fully appreciate the impact of one’s efforts.
I don’t really expect my great-grandchildren to remember me 145 years from now but I’m grateful that I can honour my great-grandfather by having a small part in fulfilling the dream he longed for.
(This post originally appeared in the Bible Society of Egypt’s newsletter.)