Wednesday, February 24, 2010


We had a dose of this earlier in the week. The pilots at Lufthansa, our air carrier for most of the journey, went on strike 5 days before we were scheduled to leave. Fortunately, they were back at work within 24 hours and our departure from Dulles shouldn’t be affected.

Then it turned out that the Egyptian government has changed the practice of issuing visas to groups entering the country and we will have to prepare for the new routine, with each of us going through the line individually, paying for our own visa stamps, and reassembling on the other side, rather than having our guide take care of the transaction.

In the great scheme of things, these are very small events, hardly worth mentioning. But they raise the specter of the unexpected, which is so much a part of pilgrimage. If we wanted to have orderly, predictable, calm lives, we wouldn’t travel. We go on pilgrimage—at least in part—because we are seeking the unexpected, hoping for something we cannot yet name, open to the changes and chances of new places, people, and experiences.

For the same reason, it’s important to travel light. We can make ourselves crazy trying to prepare for any eventuality—bringing all the right clothes, packing everything we think we might need, reading everything written about the places we’ll visit before we get there. Preparation is good, but being too prepared can make the journey so predictable that we might as well watch a National Geographic DVD.

A better approach? Make modest preparations. Tend to your spirit. Remember that we are traveling in community, that we will watch over and care for each other on the journey, that there are people waiting for us in Egypt—and readily accessible back home—who will also watch over and care for us, and many more who will gladly share their knowledge and support.

And then expect the unexpected, and be grateful for the adventures ahead.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


For Western Christians traveling in the Middle East, the experience of being in a religious minority group can be disorienting. It’s an unfamiliar feeling, and it begins as soon as you arrive, exhausted and jetlagged. There are mosques instead of churches, minarets instead of steeples. The sound of the muezzin intoning the call to prayer wakens you early each morning. You may see observant Muslims pausing to pray during the day wherever they happen to be. You will not see Christians doing the same.

As pilgrims in Egypt, we will be guests in a Muslim country. Good guests naturally wish to honor their hosts and respect their hospitality. We do so by learning about and appreciating the uniqueness of their land, people, and culture, by receiving gestures of kindness with grace, and above all, by giving them the benefit of the doubt. We are people of good will. We trust that they, too, are people of good will. We have every hope that there will be some benefit to our encounter with each other. Otherwise, why travel?

But we are pilgrims, after all, and Christian ones at that. We will not have the same freedom to express our faith publicly that we would in, say, Ireland. We must think carefully about how we can practice pilgrimage without calling undue attention to ourselves and possibly offending others. We must learn to carry our faith in our hearts—deep and strong—without the external supports we are so used to. And we must be glad and grateful when the rare opportunity to meet other Christians is offered to us.

There will be similarities as well as differences. We will find that in some ways, we are not so different from our Muslim hosts. with them, we can readily affirm that God is great, that there is no other god than God. Like them, we also seek to submit our wills to God's will. Perhaps we can even find in each other the welcome companionship of those who are seeking to live lives of faith in a world that is increasingly devoid of it.

Posted by Deborah Hunley


This satellite image of the Nile River shows how stark the contrast really is between water and no-water, fertility and barrenness, farmland and desert, life and death. Egypt is a large country, but most of its territory does not have enough water to sustain life, so almost all of the population is clustered around the river and the rich delta that forms where the Nile empties into the Mediterranean Sea.

Imagine what it would be like to call this place “home.”
If you lived along that long green ribbon, what would it mean to you that the desert is so vast and the river is so narrow? Can you trust that the annual inundation* will come this year, as it has in the past? How vulnerable are you? Will there be enough to go around? How might your experience be different from delta-dwellers, who are surrounded by vast miles of fertile soil with no desert in sight?

The River helped make Egypt a rich and powerful empire. But here's the other thing--the water is not "Egyptian" water. It comes from other places, other peoples. Heavy rains in Ethiopia fill the Blue Nile and send the flood waters rushing downstream. The White Nile flows out of central Africa before joining her sister near Khartoum. And so, while Egypt flourished in ancient times through the extraordinary fertility of the Nile, that gift came from far beyond her borders.

That's a reality worth pondering. So much of what we are, what we have, what we hope for, comes from a source upriver. Isn't that as true for us as it was for the ancient Egyptians? What what is our response to such grace and generosity?

* that is, before the construction of the Aswan High Dam...

Posted by Deborah Hunley

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


As we prepare for our journey to Egypt, friends and family are asking for ways to stay in touch while we're away. In particular, they'd like to know where we'll be each day, what we're seeing, and any impressions we'd like to share.

Here's the thing: there's a fine balance between letting people who care about you know you're OK -- you and your luggage arrived safely, your digestive system is working properly, and so on -- and spending so much time recording your thoughts and experiences that you don't have time to be a pilgrim -- which is, after all, the point.

So here's what I propose: I'll put the word out that this blog is up and running, post the itinerary and weekly reflections I've been sending to the group so others can view them, and let pilgrims and others comment if they like.

Then...when we begin our travels, I'll hope to snag a pilgrim volunteer every day or so to post on the blog -- that way the folks back home can see what we're up to without too much disruption for any one person. Sound fair?

Posted by Deborah Hunley