Branch in land of pyramids is 'home away from home'

The Cairo branch, nearing 20 years of age in the land of the pyramids and the pharaohs, is a family away from home for Latter-day Saints who come to work or study in this people-packed historic land.

The 115 branch members are much in the minority in this nation with a population of 60 million people. Latter-day Saints are also a minority among resident foreigners (expatriates), many of whom enjoy Friday, the national religious day, as a play day rather than a day to worship the Lord.But Friday is the Sabbath for branch members who enjoy a typical LDS block schedule of meetings and activities. Among other things, Latter-day Saints here get a spiritual lift as they bear testimonies and participate in the full program of the Church, including early morning seminary for the youth.

They also have such unusual activities as baptizing their children in the Red Sea, taking excursions to Mt. Sinai, and enjoying felucca (boat) rides on the Nile.

On one outing, 41 members rode camels and horses in Egypt's great western desert in a two-day campout. Scouts from the branch once traveled to Alexandria and went aboard the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea.

On another occasion, the entire branch traveled to Alexandria to hold a sacrament meeting with the handful of members living in Egypt's second city. And several carloads of members traveled to the Fayoum area southwest of Cairo to view the "Griggs Digs," the archaeological sites excavated under the direction of BYU's Dr. C. Wilford Griggs.

Branch members have engaged in such public service as collecting shoes for a girl's orphanage, quilting baby blankets and baking items for charities, and planting flowers at the Church's villa.

As this writer learned from living in Cairo, social activities and spiritual stimulation help as expatriate Latter-day Saints cope with the day-to-day challenges of living here. These can eventually seem overwhelming for Americans, such as struggling to communicate when you cannot even decipher Arabic street signs, staying well, and even in having babies, thousand of miles away from stateside hospitals and medicine. It is also a challenge to keep cool and clean amidst heat and litter, to go without little things taken for granted in the West, and remain calm amidst reports of terrorist acts.

Typically, branch members stay a year or so and then move back to the USA as their projects are completed. Thus the membership of the branch is constantly changing.

Branch meetings are therapeutic to members during their stay in Egypt. One LDS family in Alexandria recently traveled 150 miles by train to attend branch conference, a meeting with Pres. Douglas Phillips of the Athens Greece Mission as the speaker.

At this conference, a message from branch Pres. David M. Orton, a finance officer for Esso Oil in Egypt, was particularly appreciated by members coping in Egypt. He told them that if they are filled with the pure love of Christ they will have a positive outlook on life, will look for the good and not let disappointments and failure keep them down.

Laura Amerine, the branch Relief Society president and wife of Marathon Oil Egypt's controller, said the branch helps others with such services as taking care of children. But she said: "So many times what are needed are smiles, hugs and little acts of kindness. It's the bits and pieces of kindness that really show someone you care."

The Cairo branch was organized in 1974, when two students who arrived in Cairo for intensive study of Arabic, Dilworth B. Parkinson and John Sharp, got together with Carol Azeltine, a teacher at an international school in suburban Digla, and began holding LDS meetings in the garden area of the American university in downtown Cairo.

Later, LDS families moved to Cairo to teach, work for oil companies and other firms or for various other projects to aid Egypt. These members met in each others' apartments in suburban Maadi, and later, beginning in 1981, in leased villas.

Since last September the branch has been housed in a two-story air-conditioned villa on Road 17 in Maadi. As reported in the branch's monthly newletter, the "Egyptian Ensign," this villa provides a large chapel, a multipurpose room, kitchen, library, Primary room, nine classrooms, and a small but adequate yard.

The branch newsletter was begun in 1985 by this writer, while a visiting journalism professor at the American University in Cairo, and has continued until the present. Also, a history of the branch was begun then and later expanded and updated by Brother Forshee, the immediate past branch president.

In addition to President Orton, the following have served as Cairo branch presidents: Donald Bowen, Arnold Green, Douglas R. Bradford, Hyrum Hall, and from 1985 until 1992, Don Forshee.

Since Chruch meetings were begun in Cairo, a dozen General Authorities have visited the Saints here. Most recently, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Council of the Twelve visited.

The branch has welcomed many other visitors from the USA, including the BYU Young Ambassadors on three occasions, a touring group from Ricks College and an archaeological exploration team from BYU.

Beginning in 1980, a continual string of couples has come to Egypt specifically to serve as special Church representatives, engaging in public service and making friends for the Church but not proselyting. They have made significant contributions.

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed