THE story of the Cairo Center is a story of the miraculous love and power of the Lord. Many leading government officials have expressed great surprise when they found our Center in such a prominent location. Christian leaders of both Orthodox and Protestant denominations have been amazed to learn that Seventh-day Adventists received permission to build such an institution on one of the city's main squares.
Cairo is one of the great cities of the world. With a population of 3.5 million (1960 census), it is not only the largest city of the Middle East and Moslem world but also of the continent of Africa. Cairo is a great crossroads between East and West. It is also a famous tourist center, with tens of thousands coming annually to see the splendors of the past and to be equally impressed with the beauty and progress of the present. Actually, the city has become the showplace of the United Arab Republic, and visitors who see the modernistic skyscrapers and apartment buildings and ride down the tree-lined four-lane boulevards may take away the impression that all is equally westernized and prosperous.
The truth is that only a small percentage enjoy what might be called a comfortable living. Although there is no caste system in Egypt, there is a tremendous difference in the standard of living between the poor (which comprise the vast majority) and the rich and middle classes. The homes of illiterate peasants (fellahin) may contain no furniture of any kind or at best only a table and a few chairs and beds. The way they live, their customs, their work, has changed but little from ancient times. All classes are found in Cairo, and the Advent-ist worker must learn to adapt his work to varied backgrounds of religion, customs., economic standards, and education.
Although Mecca is the famous holy city for the world's 350 million Moslems, Cairo is considered the headquarters of Islam. It is here at El Azhar University, founded more than a thousand years ago, that Moslems from all over the world come for special training in understanding and propagating Islam.
For a number of years our workers and members in Cairo have wondered how it would ever be possible to evangelize this great city. We did not have a church for our city membership, but rented a renovated garage. Several efforts were held in small and poorly situated halls and their success was, quite naturally, limited.
About ten years ago a choice piece of property was secured upon which to build a church. This property was on one of the most important squares in downtown Cairo. Just across the square is the main railway station, and all bus and tram lines, converge there.
It was found, however, that it would be impossible to secure a permit to construct a conventional type of church in this location. The Government of the U.A.R. makes it difficult for any Christian organization to build a church, and especially would this be the case on a central square. The question was whether we should sell our property and secure a less central spot for a church.
It was about this time that the centers in New York and London were proving to be successful, and plans were under way to establish such centers in other major cities of the world. Elder Neal C. Wilson, at that time president of the Nile Union, along with others in the Nile Union and the Middle East Division, became con-vlnced that our property should be kept and that a center should be established and a strong and continuous program of evangelism be carried on for the millions in Cairo.
After a few years the necessary funds were obtained. Then we were faced with the problem of securing the government permit to build. How could we secure a permit for such a center when we knew on good authority that a church permit was out of the question?
How thankful we are that the Lord gave to someone a vision of what could be done through welfare ministry and especially by means of welfare centers. Just as in other parts of the world the welfare work of Seventh-day Adventists melts prejudice and opens doors, so it was here. Our leaders outlined to the officials that the proposed institution would carry on a broad program of welfare, health, temperance, cultural, and religious activities. Several of the officials were skeptical and felt that we were only covering up a plan to build a church. It seemed that we would not receive a permit to build in such a central location. The matter was taken to the Lord in united prayer by workers and members throughout Egypt and the Lord intervened. The officials restudied the building plans and approved the building of the Center on the basis of a cultural and welfare institution, although religious activities and the holding of church services are clearly understood and accepted as an integral part of our program.
The actual construction work has now been completed, although we have not yet officially opened the Center. We have, however, conducted our church services in the building, and we are happy to report that the Sabbath school membership has more than doubled in the past two years.
For nearly one year a large quantity of clothing, shipped from the States, has been held in customs at Alexandria. Customs charges even on used clothing are excessive, and consequently we have requested release from the payment of duty. Since this clothing is to be used for welfare work, the various government agencies concerned have approved our request, and it needs only President Nasser's signature for final approval. As soon as we get this approval we will begin a systematic clothing distribution program. When this gets under way we will officially open the Center and invite leading government officials to attend.
As soon as we get our welfare program under way and have established good nubile relations in the community as a welfare and cultural center, we shall launch a major evangelistic campaign. Present plans and hopes are that the North American Regional Department will lend us one of their workers for a spring campaign in 1962.
The Center is a five-story building. On the ground floor is a small auditorium seating 175. There is also space for a small outpatient clinic, which we hope to have in operation by the end of this year. We have a bookshop and adjoining room in which we also maintain the Library of Hope for the blind. On the second floor is a representative and well-equipped auditorium seating 650. Also on this floor is the office of our Center director, Hilal Dose. Elder Dose and his family live in a small apartment on the roof of the Center. On the third and fourth floors are offices, rest-rooms, and the entrance to the balcony of the auditorium.
We want to especially thank the Nile Union, the Middle East Division, and the General Conference for the liberal support given in establishing this Center. We trust that our worldwide fellowship of workers and members will remember the work here in their daily devotions. We look forward to the day when by God's grace we can render a report of souls won and other progress made that will bring courage and cheer to those who have had an interest in this project. We trust and expect that the Lord will do great things in this center, that these Moslem lands will soon awake to the message, and that the sincere in heart will prepare to meet their God.