Tour of Egypt ends as political demonstrations unfold
By Kristen Miller
COKATO, MN; CAIRO, EGYPT As demonstrations began in Egypt, Cokato Evangelical Lutheran Church’s director of youth ministries, Nate Bendorf returned home from Cairo with a greater understanding of the political unrest that is dominating news headlines around the world.
Bendorf’s 16-day visit, Jan. 10 through Jan. 26, to the Middle Eastern country was part of a cross-cultural class he took through Luther Seminary in St. Paul.
His professor, a native of Cairo, took eight of the students in her class on a tour of Egypt, visiting historical sites including the great pyramids, various churches and monasteries, along with the Red Sea and the Nile.
“It was mostly to experience the culture and learn the history and how it’s developed to this day,” Bendorf said, noting how America has 250 years of history whereas Egypt has 5,000 years of history.
“To experience history and to stand where people have been standing for 5,000 years it’s surreal,” he said.
With several Middle Eastern countries experiencing poverty and political injustice, Bendorf explained that nonviolent demonstrations began in Egypt by a small political party in the days prior to his departure.
“I think everybody thought it would only go one day,” Bendorf said.
The demonstrations, which have only become larger and more violent since the first demonstration Jan. 25, revolve around human rights, such as child labor laws and fair wages.
“They are working for just causes that we are blessed to have in America,” Bendorf said.
For the travel group’s safety, they were restricted to their hotel for the last 36 hours of the trip.
This also prevented them from witnessing any of the demonstrations that were taking place. Not only is participating in demonstrations against the law, but so is taking pictures of them or anything related to the government, Bendorf explained.
Even by watching a demonstration, one is subject to prosecution for being associated with it, he said.
In the days leading up to the demonstrations, Bendorf noticed the city of 17 million people was quieter than usual.
The streets, which are typically bustling with people, were less crowded.
“You could tell something was coming,” he said, noting that the political state was the main topic of conversation among the locals.
Along with the political upheaval, there is also religious persecution that continues throughout Egypt, a country that is 85 percent Muslim.
Coptic Orthodox Christians make up for about a tenth of Egypt’s population, many of which live in fear.
Coptic Christians have been targeted in recent terrorist attacks, the latest of which took place at an Alexandria church following midnight Mass on New Year’s Eve, where 21 people were killed and 79 injured by a suicide bomber.
“It was amazing to experience really, for the first time, how difficult it is to be a Christian,” Bendorf said, noting that Christians are being persecuted all over the world, as well as those in Egypt. “We just don’t hear about it here in America.”
That was the most meaningful part of this experience for Bendorf. “I want to spread their story and motivate people to become aware of the situation in Egypt and all over the world, and fill it with prayer.”
“It’s been a process to try and gain the freedom of religion and freedom to express their faith,” Bendorf said.
He explained that the Coptic Christian faith dates back to the first century, with St. Mark, who came to Alexandria to “spread the good news.”
During Bendorf’s tour, he was able to visit a Christian orphanage, Coptic Orphans, which focuses on education to end poverty with an emphasis on the fatherless.
Bendorf explained that in Egypt, it is said that when a father dies, the family dies, because he is typically the only financial provider in the household.
Bendorf’s trip to Egypt opened his eyes to the obstacles that many countries face from poverty to religious persecution.
“There is a comfort of coming back to America it’s a totally different culture,” he said. “You feel for the people who don’t have the opportunity to escape and leave the daily persecution.”
Bendorf would like to see more people learning about what’s going on in other countries around the world. “I encourage people to have a global awareness and learn the people’s stories.”