Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

A Tale of Two Weddings

Burned Church Wedding

From my new article at Christianity Today, published October 23, 2013, on why protesting a drive-by shooting is complicated for Egypt’s Christians:

The wedding party stood outside the church, eagerly awaiting the ceremonious arrival of the bride. Instead, drive-by shooters killed four, including two children and the groom’s mother, and injured 18.

Beyond its poignancy, the attack in Cairo’s industrial neighborhood of Warraq was significant for being one of the first to target Egypt’s Christians specifically, versus the now-common attacks on their church buildings.

“Since the revolution, this is the first instance Coptic people were targeted randomly in a church, with weapons,” said Mina Magdy, general coordinator for the Maspero Youth Union, a mostly Coptic revolutionary group formed in response to church burnings in 2011 after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak.

Please click here to read the rest of the article at Christianity Today, which describes the pulling back of protests so as not to be associated with anti-‘coup’ sentiment. There is also a video of the second wedding, held in a burnt-out church in Upper Egypt, which you can watch here (4:14 mark).


Whose Wedding is it Anyway?

Last night Emma and Hannah were in their first Egyptian wedding as “ashbiinaat.”  This is basically the equivalent of the western “flower girl” or “ring bearer.”  I still can’t tell you the name of the bride or the groom, but I can tell you how it came about and how it played out.

About three weeks ago, one of the Sunday School teachers at the Arabic Evangelical Church of Maadi approached me to ask if Emma could be in the wedding of a fellow teacher.  She mentioned the name of the teacher, but said she wasn’t present that day so she couldn’t introduce me.  I told the teacher that I would ask Emma, but didn’t think she would want to be in the wedding as she had recently been saying she didn’t want to be in any weddings.  Both girls had preformed beautifully as flower girls in their Uncle Aaron’s wedding last fall, but Emma had decided she didn’t like the attention and chose not to be in any more weddings.  I promised the teacher I would talk about it with Emma, and as long as the white dress still fit from the previous wedding, I had no objection to her taking part.

Emma surprised me by quickly agreeing to be in this wedding and once we tried on the dress and learned that both hers and Hannah’s still fit, I took that information to the teacher the following week at Sunday School.  I cautioned that while Emma agreed, she may change her mind under pressure as everyone is staring at her, taking pictures and getting in her face.  I suggested that if there was trouble, maybe Hannah could join her at that moment and it might make Emma feel more comfortable.  I really wasn’t trying to push for Hannah to be in the wedding, but who knows how they understood it.  In any case, she came back to me a few minutes later, after talking with the bride, and they wanted both girls to now be in the wedding.  At this point I got to meet the bride, who I kind of recognized as one of the teachers, but I can’t remember her name now.  I still don’t really know why she asked Emma to be in the wedding, as she has no relationship with her; I can only assume she wanted a cute foreign kid in her wedding.  And now she had two!

The wedding took place on Sunday night, the day after our enjoyable, yet long, rihla to Anafora.  The girls had both gone to preschool that day, then had lunch, then Emma did her homework, and then they played outside a bit before it was time for dinner and getting in their white dresses.  Both girls were excited about their role and telling our neighbors all about it.  The wedding was supposed to start at 6:00, and we were told to arrive between 5:30 and 5:45.  Being the punctual foreigners, we ate dinner, dressed the girls, combed their hair, and hopped in a taxi, arriving at the church around 5:35.  The florists were there decorating the church and the videographer and photographer looked to be present, but there wasn’t any sign of anyone else, let alone the organizers.  I had the girls sit down on the white aisle runner and snapped a few pictures before anyone arrived.

And then we waited, and waited, and waited.  People very slowly started arriving, and Emma and Hannah danced around outside as Layla toddled around inside the church.  As it got closer to 6:00, and it became obvious that this was not going to start on time, Jayson and I wondered about allowing our girls to be in weddings of people we don’t know.  It’s one thing to do this for friends or acquaintances, but strangers?

As we waited for more people to come, we watched the road for signs of the bride’s car.  Emma and Hannah practiced their Egyptian wedding call, which is called the “zigruut.”  It involves moving your tongue back and forth inside your mouth very rapidly while making noise. I’m sure they will be experts at this by the time they are 8, if not earlier.

You may notice that Emma and Hannah have their hair in pigtails.  Perhaps this isn’t the dressiest thing to do with hair, but I am not the best when it comes to styling hair.  Also, the girls’ hair is fine and light so   I don’t feel like there is much I can do with it.  So, for something different, I put it in pigtails.  This is their last picture in pigtails, because when the bridesmaid, Miss Mary, arrived, she asked me to let their hair down.  Emma’s worked okay, despite the fact that I had no comb with me.  But poor Hannah has very little hair in the back, and once it is in pigtails, it keeps that shape for a long time!

It was about 5:50 when Miss Mary arrived and explained to the girls exactly how to walk with her.  It turns out there were other children in the wedding as well, and they would all walk in formation with the one bridesmaid who would be accompanying the bride from the car, up the stairs, and into the church.  Once they got into the church, the role of the children was over.

As we waited for the bride to arrive, the many children who were attending the event, posed for pictures with some of the Sunday school teachers who were also present.

And then, finally, we heard the familiar “honk—honk—honk-honk-honk” of the bride’s car as it approached the front of the church.

The kids lined up with Miss Mary to welcome the bride.

Emma had told me she would smile nicely for the wedding, and I especially notice it in this picture as that is not her natural look.  I also notice that this is when Hannah really started to fade.  Due to the long trip the previous day, she was wiped out and ready for bed already.  She did make it all the way to the inside of the church, but just barely.

As the bride exited the car, led by her father, I barely recognized her as the woman I spoke with two weeks prior.  For one, her hair had been brown, and she wore glasses.  The amount of make-up was quite different from her normal look as well.  This is all to be expected on the wedding day, but the change of hair color really threw me.  The kids lined up in front of the bride, ready to lead her up the stairs.  All the guests surrounded the procession and the big mob moved into the back of the sanctuary.

At this point, Miss Mary and the kids stopped as the bride and groom continued to the front stage.  Emma and Hannah came back to me and they were free to do as they pleased.  Hannah, who was very tired, chose to sit with us, which quickly turned to lying down on a pew.  Emma, who was still excited about the whole wedding thing, wanted to sit in the front where she could see better.  I let her go, figuring she would behave well.  I also realized that these weddings are different from our traditional western weddings where the wedding party and pastor may be on stage, but everyone else is sitting in the pews.  Perhaps the photographer or videographer move about inconspicuously, but as much as possible, no one blocks the view of the bride.  You may be able to see from this picture that these events are much more informal as some gather as close to the stage as they can.  Also, the pictures and video of the wedding is of utmost importance, and the professionals do not need to stay out of sight.

Among the crowd, the groom is standing on the right edge of the photo, and the bride is next to him, outside the frame.

Emma spent most of the ceremony as close as she could to the bride.  At one point, Jayson went to the front to take pictures and told me she was standing next to the iconostasis.  I couldn’t believe she felt comfortable up front and center where all the attention was focused.  Perhaps because it was her choice to be there, she felt okay.  I also wondered if it was okay with the bride that Emma was right next to her.  I was told later that it was no problem.

Around 6:30, Jayson took Hannah home to put her to bed, and I pushed Layla around the church in the stroller to keep her content.  Emma came to the back of the church about 5 minutes before the ceremony ended and told me that she now wanted to play outside, as many of the other kids were doing.  She also wanted chips like the other kids.  So, we took one last picture with three of her teachers (at top of post) and bought a bag of chips for the taxi ride home.  She had done a great job in performing her duty, and even enjoyed a close-up view of the ceremony.  Now it was time to have a snack and get home to bed as she returned to being a normal schoolgirl the next morning.  Maybe one day we will learn the names of the bride and groom, but until then, we’ll be thankful it was a good experience for our girls.