Of Safety, Serious Consideration, and Sober Thoughts
Jun 27, 2017
Professor Wanda Malcolm with students at the Alexandria School of Theology in Cairo, Egypt. From left to right are: Rev. Emad Basilios, Mario Nagy, Amir Samy, Wanda Malcolm, Peter Awad, and Rev. Osama Fathy. Together they studied The Place of Forgiveness at Home, in the Church, and in Our Communities.
Since returning home from Cairo Egypt, I’ve been asked again and again whether I was nervous before my trip or worried about my safety while I was there. The answer is “Yes!” to the first question and “No, not at all” to the second. I had never before travelled to a country where there were current, ongoing violence and open persecution of a religious minority, and I arrived in Egypt less than a month after the Palm Sunday bombings of two of that country’s Orthodox Coptic Churches. This reality certainly gave me pause for thought about the wisdom of travelling to Egypt to teach a course on forgiveness and reconciliation at a School of Theology! It was unnerving to see so many young men in military uniform with automatic rifles slung over their shoulders, strange to see handlers lead their bomb-sniffing dogs around cars entering the parking lots of upscale hotels, and quite remarkable that every public space, even restaurants and shopping malls, had a metal detector at its entrance and security personnel wearing holstered guns. Most unsettling, however, is how quickly I got used to it!
Thankfully, I didn’t once seriously consider not going, and in retrospect, I cannot think of a more fitting time or place to teach this course. Happily, because the students were so effusive in their praise, I know that they received new and useful knowledge and skills, which they are looking forward to putting to work in their ministry and personal lives. Such feedback is especially gratifying because it was a stretch for the students to be taught by a woman in a culture where few if any women teach in the MDiv program, and where psychology is a discipline assumed to be at odds with theology and biblical studies. I felt humbled by the privilege of teaching people who, with grace and joy, found the courage to be open to new experiences they had expected to find difficult. Their willingness to trust me and one another meant that we quickly went deep in our discussions of the realities they live with, and equally quickly, found things to laugh about when such was possible.
So here I am, back in Canada reflecting on my experience, full of cultural impressions and sober thoughts about religious persecution. I am aware that, unlike many of the Christians who live in Egypt, I did not ever personally feel unsafe or at risk. The people I met there – Christian and Muslim alike – were friendly and generous in their welcome, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time in their midst.
It is an experience I am deeply grateful for, and I give thanks that such opportunities are part of what it means to be a faculty member at Wycliffe College.