First Hand Report from Egypt

One of my longtime friends is president of the Bible Society of Egypt.  Ramez Atallah sent this email today, and it will give you an inside look into the turmoil in Egypt.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Dear friends,

Thank you so much for the quick responses and promises of prayers which you sent in response to my request for prayer yesterday.

I do believe that many of your prayers were answered.

Having never participated in a demonstration before and knowing that previous ones had been violent I was a bit apprehensive. I had seen on television that there were barricades around the Presidential Palace and that people were not allowed to get close.  But as I walked towards the Palace I suddenly found hundreds of people running towards me exclaiming that the Police was using tear gas from which they were escaping.  Shortly after that the crowds were able to penetrate the barriers and the Police mysteriously disappeared.  We were all grateful that there was no violence which was remarkable when so many angry people congregate in such a small place.

The crowds around me were friendly and though they may have been angry, they were certainly not hateful.  This was a peaceful demonstration and everyone was being courteous to their neighbors. It felt like a big party, people were excited, chatting with each other, getting to know others, commenting freely about what they believed and enjoying being able to walk on the streets which were usually jam-packed with cars!

Two veiled woman and a man standing beside me said to me, “this is Egypt, veiled and unveiled women, Christians and Muslims, we are all Egyptians and that is the way we want to be!”  I had tears in my eyes as I heard these words and as I saw the reality of their statements reflected in the camaraderie and closeness of people who obviously did not know each other but enjoyed being together and enjoyed being fellow Egyptians.  While I noticed a large number of unveiled women whom I presumed to be Christians, there were still a significant number of partially and completely veiled Muslim women indicating that the majority of people around me were Muslims and that they were certainly not happy with what their Islamist President and his party were doing.

Right in front of the Presidential Palace the crowds were so thick that I had to push my way through to move along. I wanted to see how far the crowds went and was able to find the perimeters of the crowds on both sides of the Presidential Palace.  There were definitely an incredibly large number of people certainly in the hundreds of thousands and maybe more.

These people represent the best of Egyptian Society.  Many of them courageously protested against the Mubarak regime during the January 25th, 2011 Revolution at great risk to themselves at that time.

Now again they came out in large numbers to make sure that the price they paid to gain democracy would not have been in vain.

Will the Government respond? Will the President make any concessions?  I doubt it.  The present rulers of Egypt are extremely stubborn and do not value a pluralistic society.  Some of the Government controlled Media indicated that the crowds around the Palace were only a few thousand and insignificant in terms of Egypt’s many millions.  We have just heard that the Muslim Brotherhood have said that they will demonstrate in the same place tonight and there is real fear of clashes between them and the opposition.

What the President cannot understand is that his claim to be the President of all Egyptians means that he needs to listen to all sides and cannot simply impose a particular view on people who reject it.  I believe we are in for a long period of struggle in Egypt, but last night I had a sense of hope, believing that these wonderful people who came out and demonstrated would not allow any Government to take away from them the new found freedom they had recently achieved.

The immediate future for Egypt is bleak.  On December 15th there will be a referendum on the new constitution.  If the constitution is passed it will give the President unprecedented and uncontested powers without Judiciary oversight.  If the referendum is not passed the President will continue using the unprecedented powers he has taken onto himself which precipitated the present protests.  So for many moderate Muslims and Christians we seemed to be faced with a lose lose situation.  Because of this some have called for the boycott of the referendum but this will certainly mean that it will pass.  There is a very slight chance that if the referendum is not rigged a majority may vote against the new constitution. But as I said if this happens we will still be left with a President who has taken unto himself unprecedented powers.  Please pray for God’s overruling in this politically complex situation.

Thanks for your prayers and support for us during this time. Please pray that as a Bible Society we may know how to help Christians with messages from the Scriptures which will encourage and challenge them during these turbulent days.

Sincerely,

Ramez Atallah
General Director
The Bible Society of Egypt

Dr. John Stott

Dr. John Stott, Honorary Chairman of The Lausanne Movement, went home to be with the Lord on 27 July 2011.  With the tributes that have been published in the past few days, we have a growing sense of appreciation for all that he contributed to the work of the gospel over the course of his lifetime.

He was the principal architect of The Lausanne Covenant, the historic statement from 1974 that theologically defined evangelicalism.

If you’re not familiar with Dr. John, this 8 minute video from Lausanne will give you a wonderful overview of his life, and the importance of his message.

Freedom to Learn – “NORTH KOREA: Learning stops as students must work”

We take for granted our freedom, but as we are getting ready for the start of a new academic year, this story out of North Korea is a good reminder that we should be thankful for what we assume as common to all.

Here are excerpts of the story about what is happening with college students there – this is remarkable!

University World News

Close watchers of North Korean affairs were caught on the hop last week by reports that universities in the hermit kingdom would be closed from 27 June for up to 10 months while students are sent to work on farms, in factories and in construction.

The Pyongyang government had ordered universities to cancel classes until April next year, exempting only students graduating in the next few months and foreign students.

The reports said the students would be put to work on construction projects in major cities and on other works in a bid to rebuild the economy. This could indicate that the country’s food crisis and economic problems are worse than previously thought.

Experts on North Korea said full-scale university closures would be unprecedented. However, it was not unusual for students to be engaged in manual labour, with the academic year sometimes shortened in order to send students onto farms and construction sites.

“Some two years ago the DPRK announced that it would build 200,000 units of accommodation in the city to ease the chronic housing shortage. To date only some 10,000 units have been built, so the students have been taken out of universities in order to speed up the construction of the balance before major celebrations take place in April 2012 to commemorate the 100th birthday of the founder of the DPRK, Kim Il Sung.”

Charles Armstrong, Director of the Centre for Korea Research at Columbia University who returned from Pyongyang earlier last week, said he had visited two state-run universities, Kim Il Sung University and Kim Chaek University of Technology in Pyongyang, as well as the private Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) in the last few weeks.

At the two public universities the vast majority of students were not present, Armstrong told University World News. “It is also a very busy time for rice transplanting and you see a lot of young people in the fields.”

“My impression is that there is not a lot going on in terms of teaching and studying in public universities and student time is taken up with ‘extra curricular’ activities including political education. This is a regular part of university life but I have not heard of the universities being shut down completely except for a short while during the 1990s [famine],” he added.

Analysts in Japan and South Korea suggested there could be other reasons behind the decision to disperse the students across the country, including the possibility of demonstrations at campuses inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings, which began at universities.

They noted that North Korea had purchased anti-riot equipment from China in recent months, including tear gas and batons, while there has been an increased police presence at key points in Pyongyang in recent weeks.

According to North Korea analysts, party controls are in place to prevent student uprisings, including political indoctrination and strong surveillance. Some analysts said surveillance on campuses had relaxed in recent years because many party officials had not been paid.

However, experts agreed that the possibility of universities being shut would be an ominous sign of tension. “The most likely reason [to shut universities down completely] would be for military mobilisation if they thought they were going to be attacked,” Smith said.

You can read the full story from University World News HERE.

94 Years of Change

Some friends of the University just sent me a little brochure from 1917 that was promoting Jackson, Mississippi, and featured Belhaven College.

Here is the summary of Jackson — a bit of a change in 94 years – and interesting to see how some of the things  featured in a publicity brochure of a century ago are things we just take for granted now.

Jackson 1917

Makoto Fujimura Commencement Address

Saturday morning Makoto Fujimura shared one of the finest commencement addresses I’ve ever heard.

It was a joy to present to him an honorary doctorate.  The Weekly Standard said,” Makoto Fujimura is one of the best painters alive; there is no finer abstract painter at work today.”

Not many speakers could tackle such deep questions of life within the confines of a commencement address, and Mako did it with remarkable insight and eloquence.

You must read this message!  You can find it HERE.

Like great art, this message needs to be read slowly and absorbed.

Tornado Preparation Plan Worked Well

Severe storms hit Jackson today, with a tornado on the ground in Clinton, west of us about 15 miles.

Our security and residence life team have a strong plan in place to protect the campus when a tornado is near, and it worked very well today.

Thankfully this tornado, captured by storm chasers, didn’t come any closer to us and no one was injured in today’s storm in Jackson.