Hundreds of Egyptian Christians recently gathered for a two-day worship festival in Egypt within 15 miles of a terrorist attack that claimed the lives of 28 believers in May.
The Days of Harvest event at Maghagha in Minya governorate (5-6 October) was one of at least six large-scale conferences that have drawn Christians for worship and teaching and that have been screened live by satellite TV network SAT-7. All the festivals have taken place since the summer, when security threats forced churches to cancel any large meetings offsite.
Three major conferences have been held in different towns in the volatile Minya area. The Show Me Your Glory ll conference (29 September) united members of all 17 denominations of the Evangelical Synod of Egypt and was held in Deir Abou Hinnis in the south. Two Days of Harvest conferences, organised by the influential Kasr El Dobara Evangelical Church (KDEC) in Cairo, were held in Etsa and Maghagha.
It was from Maghagha that a convoy of vehicles, carrying Coptic Orthodox families, was travelling to a nearby monastery on 25 May. Around ten masked gunmen fired on the convoy and then shot victims at close range.
Refusal to fear
Buses taking worshippers to the recent conferences took different roads to their destinations, however. Rachel Fadipe, Executive Director of SAT-7 UK said “Crucially, these festivals have been organised after detailed consultations and arrangements with Egypt’s Interior Ministry and security forces. Nevertheless, Egyptian Christians’ willingness to travel after a wave of terrorism since last December shows their depth of faith and refusal to surrender to fear.”
As well as the gatherings in the south of the country, large festivals have been held at Wadi Natroun, 100 km north of Cairo. The One Thing prayer festival (21-23 September) gathered several thousand young people, while the Freedom Meeting conference (30 September – 1 October) drew members of Egypt’s Brethren congregations. From 26- 28 October, Count it Right, a family festival that can attract as many as 10,000 people, will be held at the same venue and transmitted by SAT-7.
Access all areas
A SAT-7 Egypt staff member said the organisers of these conferences arrange transport to allow as many people to attend as possible. The Days of Harvest meetings are also held in several locations each year so that Christians in poorer and less secure areas only have to make short journeys.
Beyond this, live broadcasts on the SAT-7 ARABIC TV channel and catch-up transmission on social media and Youtube take the festivals directly into the homes of viewers across the entire Arab world.
“Special thanks to SAT-7, the station that the Lord uses for His service and glory,” said Dr Andrea Zaki, President of the Evangelical Churches in Egypt, at Show Me Your Glory. “I thank the founder, the director in Egypt and its crew members for the service that it provides across the Arab world. It is a station that serves the Middle East.”
Those who watched the programmes online emailed their appreciation. “God bless you all,” said a viewer of the One Thing conference on the SAT-7 YouTube page. May God touch each one of the coming generation, my son among them.” “My dear beloved SAT-7 team,” wrote a man from Oman using Whatsapp: “All thanks to you for carrying the message of salvation to millions especially to those for whom TV becomes the only way they can watch it. For 15 years now, I have been a big fan and a regular viewer of SAT-7. It’s hard to put into words how I have been interacting for three hours via TV with the last meeting at One Thing.”
Although the conferences went ahead safely, the shocking murder of Coptic Orthodox priest, Samaan Shehata on a suburban street in Cairo on 12 October, brought home the dangers Egypt’s Christians continue to face.
In his message at Show Me Your Glory, Dr Zaki recognised that Egyptians “are tired” in the face of multiple challenges.
“The circumstances are difficult. We prayed for the economy. People are in pain and feel dire circumstances. There’s terrorism around us and our churches and our country have lost many martyrs. There’s confusion and loss of truth…conflicts between generations… We all have questions, wondering where we are heading.”
Dr Zaki drew parallels between the battering Egyptians are experiencing now and the experience of the disciples in the Gospel accounts of Jesus calming the storm.
We shouldn’t think that Jesus “is sleeping and doesn’t respond to our current storms,” he said. Instead, he urged delegates to approach the challenges as Jesus would, neither looking to blame others nor abuse their own power”. Too often, he said, we look for solutions outside when, as the disciples found, only God has the power to calm the storm: “The solution was inside the boat. When they woke Jesus up, their problem was solved.”