Work hard and cheerfully at
whatever you do, as though you were working
During my first two months in Cairo, I have asked a lot of questions. Most of them have been part of my effort to learn about the city and the culture that will be my home this year. How much should a kilo of cucumbers cost? How do I tell the taxi driver where I live? How much do I have to tip the woman in the bathroom in order for her to give me toilet paper? Why install traffic lights if the cars aren’t going to stop anyhow? I could fill pages with all the questions I have asked in these two months.
However, there is one question that has been asked of me many times since I left my home on August 23. Why are you here? Friends at church, language school classmates, and coworkers have all asked me what I am doing here. Why would I want to leave my home and my job and my family to come here? Many of you have asked me the same question. I would like to tell you I have a clear and succinct answer, but in reality I ask myself the same question every time I encounter a challenging situation.
This month I have been thinking a lot about why I am here because of the continuing struggles with my job situation. While most of the volunteers have gotten settled in their jobs, I still do not have a schedule and when I am scheduled to work, there very often is little for me to do. I have started working at the seminary one day a week, translating scholarship applications from Egyptian English into native English and doing some other computer work. Three days a week, I work at the school. I teach science vocabulary and lead activities in second grade classes about four hours a week and the rest of my time at RCG is spent asking for jobs and waiting for teachers to give me things to do. The teachers, unused to having volunteers in their classes, are hesitant to ask me to help with anything they perceive might not be “fun” for me. This leaves me idle more often than I would like and I sometimes wonder if my presence here is really helping anyone.
As I struggle to find places to use my skills to benefit others, I am struck by how much I am already benefiting from this experience. Realizing that I am very likely going to benefit more from this year of service than the people I serve is hard for me. I started out with big visions in my head of all the things that I might accomplish in these eleven months in Cairo. Now, I have to remind myself that God may be working through me even when I cannot see the results directly. One of our orientation speakers, Dr. Winston Persaud, said, “we aren’t going to take God to the world, we go out to be surprised by God and what he is doing in the world.” Thinking about these words and other discussions I have had with people here and back in the US, I wonder if my personal interactions and relationships with people I meet in Egypt might be more important than the specific job that is assigned to me.
If I were not here, the seminary would still probably get their scholarship applications finished on time and the girls at RCG would certainly still learn science. However, since I am here, every girl I teach will know that half way across the world, there is at least one person who thinks she is important. Since I am here, people who share in the stories and pictures of my year will have the opportunity to view the Middle East through eyes other than those of the American media. Since I am here, some people will invite me to their homes, giving them an opportunity to share their culture with a foreigner. Since I am here, some of the stereotypes that Egyptians hold about Americans will begin to break down and hopefully back at home some of the stereotypes that Americans hold about Egyptians will begin to break down.
I could continue to speculate about the things, both small and large, that might be accomplished by my presence here, but instead I choose to continue struggling to find ways I can serve the people around me, while trusting that God is working through me to accomplish those things that are most important. So, this week, when I find myself sitting in the science teachers’ room at RCG wondering why I am here, why I got out of bed early to sit chatting with the teachers, I will not complain. Rather, I will try to look for unexpected ways in which God might use me to affect the lives of those around me.
This month has been a struggle for all the volunteers as we transitioned into our jobs, each with its own challenges. Four of the volunteers also spent this month adjusting to living outside of Cairo. Please keep all nine of us, as well as the young adult volunteers in other countries in your prayers. Also, in the aftermath of the hotel bombings in Taba, please continue to pray for the victims as well as for a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Thank you again for your support and prayers.
October newsletter from Lisa Burke, serving with the ELCA in Cairo