Thursday, December 18, 2014

Story from Egypt

A typical suburb in downtown Cairo
(This is post 4 of 5 on my Egypt trip - sorry for the delay!)

I heard a story about an Egyptian Muslim in Cairo who had very recently converted to Christianity. This decision has alienated him from his family, and potentially even puts his life in danger. It’s not illegal to be a Christian here in Cairo, but it is illegal to convert from Islam to another religion. And, while murder is illegal here, ‘honor killings’ by families ‘shamed’ by their relative who has left Islam for another religion often results in relatively minimal punishment for the offenders.

This young man contacted a Christian friend here because he was struggling with depression and even thoughts of suicide because of the ramifications of his decision to follow Christ. For him, giving his life to follow Christ was very much a literal transaction. Fortunately, the Christian friend has been able to encourage and even mentor him such that he has at least one outlet for encouragement.

Such is the life of former Muslims here who make the choice to convert to Christianity. Oftentimes, they have to change their names and move to a different town, sometimes fleeing for their lives. By comparison, when you think of the challenges facing Americans who are pondering making a decision for Christ, it becomes a bit trite to say that they’ve ‘given up their lives’ for their faith. I think it’s probably pretty uncommon in America for that to actually be true.

A lot of big hotels along the Nile
River in Cairo
Sugar cane juice - this guy had a flair for the dramatic as he'd
almost dance while he made the juice and poured it fresh from
the machine into your glass.
Back to our trip, our second week here we went through a couple of security training courses. The first one was for Crisis Management and how to form and carryout a Crisis Management Team that could manage a crisis of any kind – kidnapping, hostage situation, death, or even moral failure in the organization.

The second class was a Field Security Training course intended for those of us who work in places where potential security concerns exist…yes, that pretty much includes the whole of planet Earth, but some of the places where such concerns are most present is where we often work. The training was intense at times, and gave us some real world exercises to have a chance to experience what a crisis event might feel like. Overall, the training itself was an emotionally exhausting 5 days, but I think we were all glad we have it under our belts now.

Me and a couple of John's, waiting for a quick sail through
downtown Cairo on the Nile River. It was one of the few
moments of sitting we had during our hectic schedule.
One of the two leaders of the training is a hostage negotiator who has worked on 104 hostage negotiations for mission or aid worker kidnappings. Out of those 104 incidents, only 3 have resulted in casualties – each time when the local government attempted a rescue on its own and things went wrong.

It was encouraging to hear that over 95% of the hostage situations he was involved with were resolved without the hostage losing their lives. And while virtually all Christian mission groups are against paying ransoms, the policy language suggested was that nothing would be done to encourage future hostage-taking. In the instructors view, giving some concessions during negotiations can be done in such a way that the captors would still be left feeling it wasn’t worth it to capture future hostages.
Downtown Cairo, from the Nile River
We’ve been joined in these courses by some outside guests who are working throughout the Middle East. It’s been very interesting to meet people who are living in the places we see on the nightly news each night. One young couple and their infant son flew here for the training from their post in a region currently being threatened by the Islamic militant group ‘Islamic State’. They’ve been evacuated now, and came for the training on their way home.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Egypt Trip - our tourism day

With friends in front of the Egyptian National Museum
Our first day in the country was spent touring the sites as we waited for the other office directors to arrive. We saw the Egyptian National Museum, the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. Even though we were jet-lagged, words can’t describe seeing and touching things that were created by people who lived 4500 years ago. I never thought I’d see the pyramids, but I’m sure glad I did. Our tour guide is an Egyptologist by degree, and he was very good and knowledgeable. He told us everything we were seeing in relation to a biblical timeline – “when this was made, the Exodus had just happened” or “this Pharoah was in power when Joseph worked in Egypt”.
The National Museum
People here talk about Bible history in relation to the history of their own country, regardless of whether they’re a Christian or not. No one doubts these things happened because it’s what’s in their own historical and archeological records. It was interesting to me to hear how the legitimacy of the biblical account of history isn’t questioned here like it is in other (Western) places. How odd that we who live 1000’s of miles away question the history of a people who themselves have no doubts. So comparing Muslims in Egypt with non-believing Americans, it’s odd to me that the Egyptian Muslims view the bible with more respect and legitimacy. It would be like a group of Egyptians becoming outspoken about the ‘myth’ of Lewis and Clark’s expedition on the Oregon Trail. It just seems weird.

Me with our tour guide - his comprehensive knowledge of
Egyptian history was impressive!
Being a Christian is not illegal here in Egypt, but attempting to convert others to Christianity is. So while Christians are welcome to come here, most outright mission-based activity would be deemed illegal. For Westerners, the result of being caught is arrest and immediate deportation – as in they literally show up one day, put you in the car and drive you to the airport. Your family is picked up soon after and delivered to you, and then you’re all put on a plane to somewhere out of Egypt (often in Europe). This has happened to a number of ‘friends of friends’ we know of here in Egypt, so Westerners here are very much aware that this could happen to anyone, at any time. All it takes is for someone to become disgruntled and make a report about you, regardless of the facts, and you’ll likely be gone soon unless you can quickly prove your innocence.
Great Pyramid selfie

Learning about the pyramids in Giza
It was so warm and muggy down inside one of the smaller
pyramids I could hardly appreciate the fact of where I was.
Three of the minor pyramids for the King's wife and family.
You can also see some of the unused blocks discovered to
the left - insane how big they are and how they were able
to move and place them.
And actually, while we’ve been here, the law about Christians not evangelizing others has been reinforced, albeit more as a byproduct of another government target – radical forms of Islam. The new president signed a law that’s aimed at crippling past Muslim leadership groups, but will also certainly impact Christians.

The new law states that any foreigner coming to Egypt who tries to alter the culture or change or impact Egyptians in a manner that is contrary to current Egyptian customs can be sentenced to life in prison. So for instance, anyone coming here and working with battered women would need to be very careful that they weren’t viewed as trying to empower the women to attempt to change the status of women in the country. It just underscores the fact that foreign workers need to be careful about what they do and to understand the strict guidelines of their intended work as outlined in their work visa and/or organizational documentation. Most of the people we spoke with felt that deportation was still the most likely potential end game for them (as opposed to imprisonment). As I mentioned before, the Egyptian army is heavily financed and supported by the US, so throwing our citizens into prison wouldn’t be good for business.

The great Sphynx!
A pretty cool shot of the Sphynx, with the Great Pyramid in
the background. 4000 year old construction right there.
But the term ‘Christian’ can mean a few different things. The largest subset of Christians in Egypt are the ‘Coptic’ Christians, who are an orthodox church similar to the Catholic Church but who have their roots traced to the apostle Mark. In the middle of downtown Cairo, the Coptic Church’s Cathedral and version of Vatican City (more like a compound) is where the apostle Mark is now buried. (I say ‘now’ because he was originally buried in Rome, but the Italians returned his body to Cairo many years later out of respect and even support for the Coptic Church’s ability to survive and plants roots down in Egypt.

But as is sometimes a criticism of certain Catholics in America, many Coptics see their faith more from a heritage standpoint and not necessarily as something to give one’s life for. That’s not to say there aren’t devout and sincere Coptics (and certainly Catholics as well), but the long history of the faith lends itself to some identifying more with their family connection to the church rather than a personal commitment to their faith. Anyway, stepping out of this delicate subject now… Ha!

There are some ‘evangelical’ (their word, not mine) Christians in Egypt, though their numbers are relatively small. These people are generally committed to their faith and would most identify to the Christianity known in the West. However, sharing your faith for the purpose of ‘winning’ others to a similar belief is dangerous in Egypt, and often leads to imprisonment or worse for both convert and evangelist. So you can imagine how hard it would be to be a Christian in a place where sharing about your faith for the purpose of converting others is illegal. It’s a concept that is foreign to our American context and mindset. As you can see, Christians in Egypt could very much use your prayers as many have a resolve about them that is to follow God’s calling on all of us to share our faith.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Cairo Trip

With Scott and Matt from the EMI office in Colorado. You
can see the typical smokey/dusty African air.
Arriving into Cairo and stepping off the plane onto steps leading down to the tarmac, the warm and musty air and smell of sweet smoke made me feel like I was in Uganda. Looking over to the side beyond the airport fence though, I could see a very fancy hotel with two black luxury cars out front – it was clear there were going to be differences from Uganda! Once inside the airport, it was a strange mix of a very nice building with subtle signs of a lack of proper care and cleaning. The white structure of the ceiling was shadowed with dirt – like I’ve seen in virtually every African country.
Downtown Cairo, split by the Nile River
And overall, I think my first impression was an accurate picture of my first, overall impression of Egypt – a mix of sights, sounds and culture that show both signs of extreme wealth (Middle East oil) and lack of development or proper management of resources that keep you well reminded that you’re in Africa. You see fancy buildings and homes, nice cars, and most all the Western stores that are noticeably absent from other African countries like Uganda – McDonald’s, KFC, IKEA, Starbucks and more. But you also have roadways that are arguably less orderly than Uganda – 4 lanes of traffic, except the lane markings are absolutely meaningless. I mean that literally - they are completely ignored, even when there’s no traffic a car is just as likely to straddle the line as it is to be in a particular lane. It boggles the mind - even in a place like Uganda cars generally spend at least a fair amount of time in one particular lane or another. But that was not what I saw in Egypt.
My favorite coffee chain from the UK - I was quite
pleasantly surprised to find they had stores in Egypt!

I thought this was funny once I learned it wasn't what I thought
it was. 'Isis' is an Egyptian goddess from the polytheistic
pantheon of ancient Egypt.
You also see some trash and overall dirtiness of things that give it an African look. Most of the buildings in the city are 6-15 stories tall or more, smashed side by side with a network of very narrow and crowded streets – almost like England in that regard. On the outside, the buildings look like they’re poorly cared for, but architecturally they are elaborate and no doubt were very fancy looking when they were new. Inside, most every building has air conditioning, and it’s striking to the first timer how generally nice the insides are. So yes, a weird mix – almost like a halfway point between sub-Saharan Africa and the modern, European world to the north. I’m told that this is a pretty accurate picture of the Middle East as a whole.

Surprisingly – though I’m not sure why it was surprising to me – the people here are very nice and friendly. The animosity I was expecting to sense for being a Christian and an American visiting a predominantly Muslim country in the Middle East hasn’t appeared. I feel respected and very much welcome to be here. We’ve been told that though most people aren’t always fond of the US government nor of the immoral images that Hollywood projects of our culture, people generally like Americans here.

A 'Coptic' cathedral in Cairo. The Coptic church has it's roots in the
apostle Mark, whose tomb is in downtown Cairo.
One thing I’ve been told about Muslims here in Egypt is that the majority are very moral and kind people whose main objection to America, and by proxy Christians, is the immorality that TV and the movies project of us. That’s seems to be the case here in Egypt, where my impression of the general public is that they seem very 'normal' and even fairly modern. They have large, Western shopping malls, and the culture definitely seems to be impacted by aspects of Western culture. But there are differences too – alcohol is largely unavailable in Egypt, except for in ‘Christian’ parts of town. You can begin to see why so many Muslims have the view that Christianity is a perversion of religion and an abomination to God. It’s sad, because this misperception drives them further away from exploring who Jesus claimed to be.
The roots of Christianity here in Egypt are an important
part of the history of this country.

As a 'non-John', I'm a bit of a photo-bomber in this
picture with John D. and John B. (Not pictured from
our group - John S. from the EA office).
But, getting to recent events and the state of Egypt today… and in case you didn’t follow along in the last few years as to what happened in Egypt, here’s a brief synopsis of the two revolutions that have occurred here since 2011 (which is remarkable by the way - two complete and successful revolutions in the past 3+ years. It's amazing the country is as stable and peaceful as it is right now.). I’m by no means an expert on the subject, but this is what I’ve pieced together from talking with a few people here:

Tahrir Square off in the distance. This was 'ground zero' for
the first revolution.
The headquarters for former President Mubarek's political
party was torched during the first revolution in 2011.
1) After 30 years in office, the public grew frustrated with President Mubarek. Despite the fact that he’d done a lot of good things in the region and brought peace during his time at a number of key points, there was a lot of corruption in his government and the lowest class in Egypt really suffered. It’s said that in the last years he was in power, the entire annual income earned from the Suez Canal was used to fund the operation of the Presidential Palace! (It’s interesting to note that Mubarek had very good relations with the USA, to the point that the Egyptian army is 2nd only to Israel in the amount of support they receive from the USA). In the end, it was the middle class who stuck up for the lower class, and they ultimately threw him out of power using largely peaceful demonstrations starting at Tahrir Square (we visited there briefly yesterday – just a large traffic circle in the center of town). In the following several months while the military ruled the country, an election was held where the candidates were a candidate from Mubarek’s party, a candidate from the more hard-line Muslim Brotherhood, and a few other minor candidates. Since the Christians are a small minority, and as a backlash against Mubarek’s party, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate won the election.

The torched building in the distance, along the banks of
the Nile River.
2) The 2nd Revolution: After less than 2 years in power, the newly elected President Morsi from the Muslim Brotherhood was thrown out of power by the same people that threw out Mubarek. This time, the reasoning was religious – President Morsi was unabashedly turning Egypt into a very conservative, fundamentalist Muslim country. He was imposing the more strict version of Islam on the Egyptian people, and the people didn’t like it. As I mentioned, the vast majority of Egyptians are very moderate Muslims who value their societal freedoms and modern ways and they saw those values quickly eroding under Morsi. In the end, large demonstrations (mostly by the middle and upper middle class, so they were largely peaceful) led to the leader of the military going on national TV and telling the President to step down. He also asked the people to show their support for this by turning out the next day in the streets around the presidential palace. Millions showed up, so the military removed the president and once again took over the country. They set up another round of elections, but this time the head of the military ran and was easily elected the new president. Since that time, things have been largely stable and calm in Egypt, partially due to a bit of heavy-handedness (the military isn’t allowing dissenting groups from rising up again). The only remaining tension comes from the remnant of Muslim Brotherhood supporters. Virtually all the leaders of that group have been arrested and convicted already – some given life sentences and others even a death sentence. So occasionally, you’ll see a news report of an attack on a police officer or soldier in Egypt, signaling that the Brotherhood supporters are still fighting for their cause. But overall, it seems the vast majority of the Egyptian people are content with the new government.
It was great to see my friend and former colleague,
Mike Woods, from the EMIUK office.

Monday, August 25, 2014

August 2014 Update

Heading out on our road trip out to the Southwest - in all,
over 3000 miles traveled.

It had been nearly two years since we'd been through Southern California, so this Summer when we headed out West we went the Southern route. It was me and the boys' first time through New Mexico and Arizona, and the 4-hour detour to see the Grand Canyon for 45 minutes was a first too (Alisha had seen all of these on a trip as a kid).
I was surprised at how beautiful New Mexico is - I had
a very wrong impression. No offense to Nevadans, but I
can now say with a fair amount of certainty that Nevada
has the worst landscape in the country.
Having never been to Arizona before, I was a little
disappointed to not see any cartoon-looking cactus on
the side of the road. However, I think Flagstaff is my new
favorite place - I had no idea a city in the forest existed in
Arizona. I didn't even know there was a forest!
Very cool to finally see - it was a little embarrassing meeting
people in England who were amazed that we'd never been
to see the Grand Canyon before.

We got to spend some good time with family and friends - some of which we hadn't seen in two years - and we also camped for a few days up in Yosemite with Alisha's family, another first for me and the boys (yes, growing up in Northern California I had never been to Yosemite before!). What an impressive place.

We were sad not to make it to Oregon this time, but hope to do that on the next trip. Overall, it was a lot of driving but we enjoyed every minute of our visiting and were happy to be back living within driving distance!

We got a very special treat and got to see Manchester United
play at the Rose Bowl against the LA Galaxy with my sister's
family, the Morrow's. The boys were in 7th heaven.

The boys with Morrow cousins Joey and Bradley.
The Crawford and Berry cousins on a hike at Yosemite NP.
Brodie and cousin TJ and I made it to the top of Nevada Falls
at Yosemite - just as a thunderstorm blew in. Not ideal to
summit a rock face with lightning cracking all around.

I'm sure everyone has heard of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, so I thought I'd bring you all up to speed on the close connection EMI has to this situation. I'm sure the name Dr. Kent Brantly is virtually a household name by now - he was the Samaritan's Purse (SP) doctor who fell ill with the Ebola virus and was flown back to the US to receive treatment (thankfully, he's largely recovered now).

But Dr. Brantly was working at Elwa hospital in Liberia, the joint SP/Serving in Mission (SIM) hospital EMI designed two years ago. We had a number of teams visit the Elwa project site, and I helped with some of the structural design for the hospital. Actually, the room that was dedicated to treating the Ebola patients was originally intended to be the laundry room, but they needed a secure, isolated place to treat the patients and it was about the right size.
The 2011-12 EMI Master Plan for Elwa Hospital in Liberia.
EMI's Disaster Response team also had a civil engineer lined up to go to Elwa hospital to help with the sanitation requirements for cleansing the rooms after the patients died. Unfortunately, Dr. Brantly became ill two days before our team member was to fly out to Liberia, and once that story broke SP decided to freeze all additional personnel from going to Liberia.

Also, as I read the stories in the news these days, in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, I keep running across the names of all the hospitals I worked in back in 2010-2012 doing the Mercy Ships facility assessments. These hospitals have become ground zero for this Ebola epidemic - and if you'll remember my blog reports after those trips and the stories and pictures describing the state of those hospitals, you'll know why the situation is as difficult to contain as it is. Sadly, those hospitals lack back services like consistent running water, consistent electrical power, and sanitation systems that function properly, if at all. Our reports addressed this and gave a path forward towards reliable water, power and sanitation, but Mercy Ships is still in the process of raising funds and trying to sort out the complicated process of implementing of our reports. Please pray for the people of West Africa, and that somehow God can intervene and spare those countries and even the rest of the world from this terrible illness.


Summer has ended and the boys are back in school. Alisha was not able to find a teaching job, but she's viewing that as a blessing in disguise as her heart really was not in it. She has applied and was accepted to substitute teach, so she's hoping to get an opportunity to do that. It would really help us financially, but we're trusting God in this transition period and he has always provided where there was need. Getting into substitute teaching in the district here can be very difficult though as there are many substitute teachers and long-standing relationships tend to win out. You can pray that she gets her foot in the door somehow.

Soccer season is also in full gear, so our schedule just got crazy with practices and games. It's all good though, as hanging out on the soccer field is a favorite pastime for our family - though we have to admit, the understanding of the game by referees, parents and even coaches here in the US is a bit of a challenge after having experienced the ingrained football culture in England. I guess it stands to reason, since the modern game was invented there!


I head out to Egypt towards the end of next first time in North Africa!
We had a Colorado office (Int'l Office and USA Office) staff
retreat a couple of weekends ago up in the Rocky Mountains.
We'd never really done anything like that before, and it turned
out to be a great time to hang out together in a beautiful setting.
Not a bad place for a weekend staff retreat, though the
elevation of 9300' was a little extreme.
The retreat center, run by OCF (Officer's Christain Fellowship),
had free kayaks to take out on their pond. Cool place!

Alisha led a P90X ('PiYo') workout with some fellow EMI
staffers each morning at the retreat.
The EMI kids did a water filtration demonstration to learn
more about what their dads (or moms) do on EMI project trips. 
These sand filters are simple to make and were a great
chance for the kids to learn.
The boys are ready for soccer season (Jonah's team starts
 a bit later than Brodie's and Graysen's).
Graysen and his teammate Colin at the Air Force Academy
fields - 28 fields in all were used for this massive
preseason tournament. We spent the whole weekend at
th fields and loved every minute of it.
Lining up for the tournament championship game. Gotta love
the pageantry!
Having a post-game chat. I love coaching these boys!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

July 2014 update

Someone in our family had a 'milestone' 40th birthday this
month, but we won't mention her name.
We're driving to the West Coast in a couple of days to visit family and have a little vacation. Sadly, we won't be making it up north to Oregon this time as we wanted to see our SoCal friends/family since it's been two years since we've been down there. We've also never driven the southern route west so the boys are very excited to see New Mexico and Arizona for the first time (I've never been to NM or AZ either!). Before we head out, here's what's been going on with the Crawford's and EMI this past month:

We sent 4 project teams out from the US office this semester to work in Haiti, Ghana, Estonia, and Ethiopia. So far, I've helped out on two of them - a new medical clinic in rural Ghana, and a foster home center for up to 80 children in Estonia (the first time EMI has ever done a project in this former Soviet state). For each of these, I helped with structural advice on a few of the buildings, as well as providing a review of the overall project and master plan.

As I've mentioned before, I am heading up the relaunch of our new Latin America ('America Latina' - hence the 'AL') office (no, we're not moving to Latin America to join the office, I'm just leading the relaunch). We've been having monthly conference calls (via a 'Skype' type of program that allows multiple video/audio participants) with the team, and this time we welcomed three new couples who are considering joining the team. This is really exciting as we currently only have two committed families, one short of the minimum of three we need to start a new office. Some of the team will be joining a project to the region (Peru) in September, so please be praying that God speaks to these families clearly about whether or not he wants them to join the team moving down to Latin America in the Summer of 2015.

After 3 months of desk-squatting, I finally have an office of
my own!
The developing International Office is in quite a transitional time. There are 5 departments in the IO, each with a Director in charge: Programs, Finance, Development & Communications, HR and Recruiting. The Programs Director will be moving to join our new West Africa office at the end of the year. The Devel/Comm Director has not yet arrived after just leaving the India office after 5 years, the Recruiting Director has just returned from a 6-month sabbatical, and we've just named an HR Director who is currently on staff in our EA office (and will remain there for at least a couple of years). Since the IO is newly forming, I've been tasked with bringing all of these departments together and making sure they're coordinated and unified as the IO charts the course ahead - especially as we're adding two more overseas offices in the coming two years.

Alisha and intern Katie - the mentoring of interns at EMI is
not only something we enjoy doing, we learn a lot ourselves
from these impressive young engineers/architects.
Alisha and I have both mentored interns this semester - something we really enjoy doing. EMI interns are some of the best and brightest young people in the country, so it is a privilege for us to have the chance to make a small impact in their lives during their brief time with EMI.

When we return from the West Coast, I will be golfing in EMI's annual golf marathon fundraiser next month - the only organizational fundraiser we do here in the IO/US office. At the end of September, I'll be traveling to Egypt for the annual EMI Director's Conference. As I mentioned before, while we're there we'll be taking a two-part training session (boot camp - ha!) for preparing for crisis situations, both from a management position and a field position. They're tight-lipped about what all we've be subjected to, but the point is to give us several different types of experiences in order to help give us confidence should we ever encounter a 'crisis' situation while we're out on a project trip.

We had the EMI interns over for a BBQ on the 4th of July.
We also held our own World Cup tournament too. The first
round was won by Brodie's 'Iran' team, and the second by me
and Graysen's 'Wales' team.
When we haven't been glued to the TV watching the World Cup, summer so far has been filled with Vacation Bible Schools and soccer camps for the boys, and once again getting used to the impressive Colorado thunderstorms. Rarely does a day that starts sunny, end sunny in Colorado! And now this week, we're now looking forward to seeing our 'Southern' family and friends, as well as a couple of days in the Bay Area. Do get in touch with us if you're around and have time to meet up to say hi!
Go Team USA! This was our 'street celebration' after beating
Ghana in our first World Cup match!

"The good news is, you not only have free tickets to a World
Cup match, we will pay you to be there! The bad news is, you
will unfortunately have to stand with your back to the game
the whole time and watch the crowd." #lamestjobintheworld
We had a refresher on good oral hygiene now that we're back
in the US and no longer a part of the UK's NHS (National
Healthcare System) :(.
They're just so cute - we have to post monthly pictures of
Millie (or Mildred when she's in trouble - which is unfortunately
more often than I'd rather report), and...
Murphy - who so far is by far the most low-maintenance and
easy-going pet we've ever had. He's a star! (And yes, these
two little fur-balls are as soft and cuddly as they look. :) )