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Grace in Loss

If you are a soccer fan, you probably already know the result. If you are not, you probably don’t care that much about knowing or not knowing. In either case, we hope the following account is amusing, if a bit disturbing. The title is not meant to be about the Egyptian people, but to be about God, at least in one perspective.

As Julie wrote the other day, I was at a monastery the past three days, and missed the monumental, last minute victory by Egypt over Algeria, forcing a playoff in Sudan. I did not miss the news reports leading up to the match, however, in which Egyptian fans stoned the Algerian bus as it drove into Cairo, injuring two players and giving a concussion to a trainer. Football was far from the minds of the monks, however, and there was even posted a sign to visitors to keep news from the outside to a minimum. Still, Julie texted me excitedly as Egypt’s late tally meant a winner-take-all playoff.

Coming home I discovered the match was to be played on Wednesday, on which I have my evening class at the Orthodox Biblical Institute. I have missed a couple classes due to work, and excused myself from the Monday class due to my stay at the monastery. I was hoping they would not count that, at least, against me. Not wanting to miss again, however, I would nevertheless catch the conclusion as my class ended at 9pm, while the match would end at 9:30, barring extra time.

When I arrived at the Institute the priest was late which didn’t bother any of the few students who had bothered to show up. My class is about fifty people strong, and there were only about fifteen who came. The presiding professor named 7:30 as the time we would abandon the class, but the priest came with fifteen minutes to spare, and class began. Of course, no one was really upset, since they had all chosen God over soccer just in attending. Class took awkward pauses every couple minutes, though, as a roar went up outside every time something exciting happened. The church which hosts the Institute had set up a large screen in the courtyard, and there were perhaps one hundred people gathered below our window, three floors down.

The priest decided to have mercy and ended the class after only an hour, and as we exited we heard the groan. Algeria scored to go up 1-0 just before the half. I saw the goal, actually, on the cell phone of one of my classmates who had fancy internet connectivity. He had offered me before the class started to sit beside him and watch; I did not, but I don’t know if he had earlier been sneaking or not.

We all descended to watch the second half, during which Algeria defended their lead resolutely. Egypt mustered a few chances, but the game ended weakly and everyone left quietly and disappointedly. My friend with the magical cell phone motioned for us to leave, and we quickly boarded the near-empty metro car to go home.

Along the way my friend’s one comment was that this was probably for the best. In fact, it was an act of God’s mercy. In the days leading up to the game certain Algerians had retaliated against Egyptian workers in their country. My friend took consolation in the loss, for if Egypt had won the Algerians would have slaughtered the Christian Egyptians in their midst. It was their nature, he said, they are savage and barbaric. Egyptian Christians, some will claim, can have difficulty with their Muslim neighbors, but Algerians are altogether in a different class.

So Egypt missed out once again; it has been since 1990 that they participated in a World Cup, though they are regularly one of the top teams in Africa, and have won the continental tournament several times in this stretch. I would have much preferred a victory. It would have made this summer more interesting if Egypt was involved, besides the fun I would have had in celebrating out and about in the streets. Where God’s wisdom lies however, is beyond my ability to fathom, but in a religious society such as this, many do not hesitate to interpret.

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