By: Brandon Dirks
Day 11: (Thursday) St Catherine’s Monastery and Sharm el Sheikh
When we crossed the border into Egypt yesterday afternoon, we also left behind wifi. If you are reading this, at 8:30 pm (1:30pm EST) was the first wifi opportunity, and I paid for only 30 minutes (so not time to upload many photos)! But, I must tell you, the last 24 hours was absolutely amazing!
We drove in the Sinai Peninsula by the Red Sea for several hours – THE Red Sea – toward the mountain Jebel Musa. Sound familiar? It should. It means “Mountain of Moses,” the mountain most scholars think is the Biblical Mt. Sinai. THE Mt. Sinai. Where Moses received the 10 Commandments! And climbing it, I was pretty convinced!
St. Catherine’s is located most of the way up, and it is the world’s oldest continuous monastery, has the 2nd largest Christian library in the world (the first being the Vatican), and has the 2nd oldest Bible on the planet. The temperature on the mountain was about 30 degrees and I had packed my jacket!
Even though St. Catherine’s is a private monastery, we were allowed brief access to its grounds. Inside the walls is the Well of Jethro (that’s right, the one where Moses met his wife) and…get this…the burning bush. THE burning bush. The monastery was built in the 2nd century by Queen Helen to protect the Christians who were hiding there from the Romans. According to the monks, the bush that we saw, is the VERY SAME BUSH that was there when those Christians arrived!
If that was not miraculous enough, I turn around, and standing at Jethro’s Well is Adam Hamilton. THE Adam Hamilton. From the Church of the Resurrection in Lawrence, Kansas. He was filming some snippets about the Well and the Burning Bush. I said hello, and he was extremely gracious to snap a picture with me. I invited him to join us for a small Ash Wednesday service after dinner, and he joined us. He told me to tell my Senior Pastor, George Strunk, “hello.” THE George Strunk!
Morningtown Hotel was about three miles back down the mountain, and it is run by a Bedouin tribe. 90% of Egypt is Muslim, and their hospitality was amazing! St. Catherine’s even built a small mosque on their grounds for the Bedouins to come and pray as they needed. It is quite a partnership.
“Cold” was the word spoken more than any other during our stay in this Bedouin hotel, and we joined them in their tent for singing, dancing and Bedouin tea. Lots of fun…but COLD!
I got up at 5 am, put on two sets of clothes, and wandered outside in the dark looking for a place to do my daily personal worship…on Mt. Sinai! I started to hike into the hills. (Don’t worry, Katie, there is NOTHING out there…I now know why the Bible says that the Hebrews were wandering in the ‘wilderness.’)
Not far, I notice a man walking toward me. We greeted each other briefly, and clearly language was going to be a barrier. I made what I thought was the universal sign of prayer, my hands together in front me. He said, “prayer” and “okay” and said…”come.” Maybe I shouldn’t have, but I followed him. He took me to a tiny shack, about four square feet, and invited me in.
There were two chairs and he offered me one. He pointed to a little table with a small, silver container, and said, “tea?” I accepted, and after he started the water heating on the tiny stove, he sat in the chair next to me. He looked at me and said, “pray.” I opened my backpack, took out my candle, and asked if it was okay. He took out a match, and lit it for me.
I opened my journal and Bible and read the scripture of the day, Luke 4:16-31…aloud….Jesus’ first sermon in the synagogue. I looked at my companion, and pointed to my chest and said, “Brandon.” He pointed to himself, “Ayman.” I brought up pictures on my phone of my wife and children, named them, and pointed to him. He told me the names of his 5 children (4 boys and one girl). I can’t remember the names because I had a hard time understanding his Arabic accent. I immediately wrote in my prayer journal, “Lord thank you for my meeting Ayman.” And prayed for him and his family, “Bless this man and his graciousness. Hear HIS prayer. Hear OUR prayer. Bless his five children. Bless my family. Bring together and heal all the divides between Muslims and Christians. Let all people bow and worship at your name! Lord, what can I do to honor You in this moment?”
Ayman then opened his prayer book, and began to read prayers as I said my prayers. He got my attention when he took out HIS CELL PHONE, and asked me to listen…he played a recording of one of those beautiful Muslim chanting/singing prayers. He sang along, and I continued to pray aloud…prayers I was thinking and one’s I memorized: the Shema, the Wesley Covenant Prayer, St. Francis prayer, the Lord’s Prayer. We were praying TOGETHER. Muslim. Christian. One.
Being on Mt. Sinai, I had to read Exodus 20. THE Ten Commandments. They had renewed power reading them on the Mountain. Ayman then turned off the prayer, and pointed to himself…it was a recording of HIM singing! I wish I could sing my prayers! All I could think of was, “Create in me a clean heart, O God. And, renew a right spirit within me!”
We finished our tea, and I did something that I’ve never done. I showed him my prayer journal and tried to ask him to write down what I could I pray about once I leave this mountain. He wrote his name. Ayman Fooda.
Feeling the fullness of the moment, the place, and this experience, I wrote these words under his name, “There are NO PRAYERS I could utter that are worthy of my presence in this place.” Praise be to the one God…Allah…Yahweh…El Shaddai…Jesus.