The plan seemed perfect: Transform an aging Seventh-day Adventist church in the heart of Egypt’s capital into a vibrant community center catering to local needs.
But construction companies dismissed the idea of completely rebuilding Cairo’s Center Church.
“There is no way that you can get a permit,” said a top engineer at one construction company.
Church leaders prayed and decided to move forward in faith. They contacted one more construction company and inquired about the process of securing a permit to renovate the building.
“It’s true that it is difficult,” a senior engineer replied. “But we think that we can obtain the permit in one to three months.”
A month later, the engineer called back to announce that the building permit was ready.
The quick progress astounded Akram Khan, treasurer of the Adventist Church’s Egypt-Sudan Field.
“One month!” he said in an interview. “That was the first sign that God really wanted us to do something with the building.”
More miracles followed in rapid succession, church leaders said. Center Church’s premises underwent a complete renovation in a year and reopened its doors as the Ramses Cultural Center on July 31, 2018.
Adventist Church president Ted N.C. Wilson rededicated the four-story complex to God’s glory and appealed to church members to remember that a key part of the church’s mission is helping people in big cities.
“Cairo is a city with almost 20 million people — people who are broken-hearted, people who are captured by evil things, people who are blind to their own needs, people who are spiritually hungry,” Wilson said in a speech in the refurnished hall of the Center Church. “That is why the Ramses Cultural Center exists.”
The Center Church, whose 750 seats once filled the building, now occupies a corner and has seating for up to 280 people. The renovated building also has a preschool, a dental clinic, a fitness center, a massage room, apartments, a kitchen for healthy cooking lessons, and seven classrooms for wellness lectures and English classes.
The Adventist Church has 200 members in Cairo and 800 in all of Egypt, an African country with a population of about 100 million.
Immigration and other factors have contributed to a decline in church membership since the Center Church opened in 1962 on land acquired in 1953 by Wilson’s father, Neal C. Wilson. The elder Wilson, a former Adventist Church president who died in 2010, served for 15 years as president of the former Egypt Field.
Ted N.C. Wilson, who grew up as a missionary child in Cairo, said his father would have rejoiced if he had been present at the dedication of the Ramses Cultural Center.
“He spent over one year collecting all the signatures from government officials and government offices to open this building,” he said.
He and other church leaders praised God for the speed with which the Ramses Cultural Center was completed, starting with the crucial step of obtaining the building permit. Khan, the treasurer, said the miracles didn’t end there.
“Everything that we are doing with this building is a miracle,” said Khan, a Pakistani native who has served in Egypt for eight years.
Another miracle came when church leaders found a Christian contractor who understood their dream of combining the church and community center in a single building, Khan said.
“God gave us a second sign: a good contractor who can understand our philosophy from a Christian point of view,” he said.
But that wasn’t all. Johnny N. Salib, secretary of the Egypt-Sudan Field, recalled that the initial plan called for the church to be converted into something else -- a medical center. A market research company hired by the church had determined that medical services were much needed by the community. But church leaders ran into a wall over the medical center. The biggest problem was that the law barred foreign doctors, and the church has no Egyptian doctors in the country.
“God showed us that we shouldn’t go in that direction, and he closed the door,” Salib said. “That was hard for us. We were frustrated and thought the whole project would collapse. But then God opened a new door.”
The new door opened with the arrival of Peter Koolik, a construction adviser for the Adventist world church, who suggested replacing the medical center with the preschool, English-language school, and other facilities, church leaders said.
“He came at the crossroads,” said Rick McEdward, president of the Middle East and North Africa Union, whose territory includes Egypt.
“Peter came in at the right moment many times,” he said as he thanked Koolik at the dedication ceremony.
Koolik, who has helped construct community centers and churches in Fiji, Russia, Vietnam, and elsewhere, praised team effort for the results.
“The church members really came together with the new vision,” he said in an interview. “We praise God for the opportunity that we had to be part of this amazing project.”