By Jon Roberts – We are blessed to be living in America; however, that blessing can also be our curse and downfall.
It took coming halfway around the world to a predominantly Muslim country for me to discover what true community is. I entered the trip with the normal anticipation every American has to see the famous sights of Egypt –the pyramids and the mummies, etc.
My curiosity rose when I saw a trip to the land of Goshen on the schedule. Goshen is where the Israelites settled and multiplied into the hundreds of thousands after escaping certain death in Canaan during the famine. When our tour guide mentioned that tourists rarely have the opportunity to go to the land of Goshen in Lower Egypt, it just added to my curiosity (Lower Egypt is to the north, and Upper Egypt is to the south because the Nile River runs South to North).
As we departed the very modern city of Cairo and started our journey to the North, the hustle and bustle of western civilization quickly faded and military and police vehicles joined the tour bus in caravan style. We were truly getting a VIP experience. After pulling off the interstate highway, the road immediately narrowed and turned into a mixture of gravel and pavement. The first village came into sight, and I was shocked to see a culture where nothing goes to waste, families take care of each other, and neighbor watches out for neighbor. While they had satellite dishes and cell phones, somehow, they still maintained the culture of a tight-knit community installed many centuries ago.
The tour guide mentioned that the shops are all family-run businesses, and the food comes from the surrounding farms. He also said that the shops have no set time to open since the family doesn’t rely on schedules to dictate their days.
In the stores, I saw multiple generations working together with the older teaching and training the younger generations while also communicating with people in the next store down to ensure everything is okay with that family. I also experienced a new phenomenon that Americans miss–nothing goes to waste. Old cars were salvaged for parts to keep newer ones running. Building materials removed from a remodeled home were available for those who needed them. Some could say it was dirty, but underneath what Americans saw as trash, was what the village saw as their future.
Driving along, we saw unfinished homes on the top floors of buildings. Those upper floors will eventually become the homes of the children since families stay together. The normal Egyptian family values togetherness, which is why I haven’t seen one retirement center or nursing homes in Egypt. They value and respect their elders. The elders also know that their future lies in the children and youth. This is perhaps why they spend time training and mentoring the youth and allowing them to run the family business. Many times, in the shops, it was the teenagers watching over the family livelihood.
I reflected on how we’ve allowed ourselves to become too busy and preoccupied with schedules and daily routines that we forget what true community is. Have we, as a church, forgotten that Egyptian family values are the same family values Jesus exemplified for us in His life. Instead of searching for a retirement center or nursing home for our parents, what if we invite them to become part of the family– brother taking care of brother, neighbor helping neighbor.
Have our lives become so occupied with a schedule that we have forgotten to slow down and get to know our neighbors. It’s okay to take time for yourself and your family. It’s okay to get to know your neighbors, to check up on them and make sure they are okay. Spend time outside of our daily Sabbath routine with our extended church family. Train and mentor our youth and “trust” them with running the “shop”.
It’s time, as Americans, that we claim the promise in Matthew 11:28 “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”
–Jon Roberts is RMC communication / media assistant; photos supplied