Just over 10 years ago , on 11 November 2011, Christians in Egypt gathered in an extraordinary way to lift up their homeland in an interdenominational night of prayer. A decade on, Egyptian Christians’ ability to gather has been restricted by COVID-19 – until now. Mary Joseph, SAT-7’s Communications Officer in Cairo, tells us more.
For the first time in 18 months, Christians from across denominations and international borders gathered in Egypt in Jesus’ name. As I prepared to attend JC2033 – a special event to kick off preparations for the 2000th anniversary of Christ’s Resurrection in 2033 – I couldn’t help but have mixed feelings.
Even as vaccinations and masking have made such events a safe prospect, I was nervous to attend JC2033, the first large event televised by SAT-7 ARABIC since the beginning of the pandemic.
But my fears were put in perspective when I reflected on the power of gathering across denominations. I thought back ten years, to when Christians gathered for a night of prayer for Egypt following the “Arab Spring”, and how the presence of God was powerfully felt at the Cave Church in Cairo. On that evening an estimated 70,000 Christians of all denominations came together for worship and prayer. It was the largest Christian gathering in Egypt’s modern history and all twelve hours were broadcast live by SAT-7.
With this indelible memory in mind, I joined the around 2,000 people gathering for JC2033.
And I was incredibly glad that I did. The three-day event was held at Anafora, a quiet retreat centre at a farm in the Egyptian desert, hundreds of kilometers away from the bustle of the city. The vast space of the land, and the quietness of its solitude, created feelings of restfulness and serenity among the attendees that allowed us to enjoy special spiritual time with God and each other. I know that watching the event will also have been very inspiring to SAT-7 ARABIC viewers, who always share how much they appreciate feeling part of events that they cannot attend in person.
Why not start eternity today?
The cross-denominational and international unity among the 2,000 attendees also touched my heart.
“Togetherness among Christians is very important,” said Olivier Fleury, former director of Youth With A Mission in Switzerland and the event’s organiser. “Not just denomination-wise but also across nations. When you see the whole of humankind come together from every nation, every tribe, every language – that is eternity. Even with our limitations, our problems — why don’t we start eternity today? It is our togetherness that is attractive to the rest of the world,” Fleury told me.
JC2033 provided an opportunity for key church leaders in countries of the Arab world to meet one another and interact. In between the praise and worship time and sermons that are so uplifting for SAT-7 viewers, I was able to talk to church leaders and other attendees from across the Middle East and North Africa, from Yemen to Iraq.
“This is a very good experience for me, and for our believers in our church, because as I see it, there’s no difference if I am Baptist or Pentecostal or any other denomination. We are one body, and we should stay in this body and in this unity,” said Rev. Alwand Shekhany, pastor of Rafa Evangelical Church in Iraqi Kurdistan.
I also had the unique opportunity to meet with people from countries I have never visited, including Cameroon and Switzerland. Some of the attendees originally come from non-Christian backgrounds, and it was interesting to hear their experiences in their own countries.
Egyptian Christians’ “striking faith”
Sam Monono, a Christian counsellor from Cameroon, came to Egypt especially to attend JC2033.
“Many people talk about unity, but it’s difficult to unite. We have so many churches that speak about the Body, and talk about Jesus, but they have differences. Since this conference is all about unity, I had to come. I hope to learn some strategies so when I get back, I can work with other churches in the body of Christ to unite,” he said.
Revd Martin Hoegger, Pastor of the Evangelical Reformed Church of the Canton of Vaud, and former General Secretary of the Swiss Bible Society, also attended the event.
“What strikes me about Egypt is the faith Christians have here. It is a great faith in Jesus as perfect man and perfect God. He is in our midst. He unites us and we have to follow Him and live his lifestyle. The secret of unity is living the humility of Christ,” he said.
Amen! After attending JC2033, my prayer is that just as unity in Egypt inspired the world in 2011, our churches will grow in unity and witness today as physical togetherness returns.
Mary Joseph is SAT-7’s Egypt Communications Officer and is based in Cairo. She has lived in Egypt and Australia and worked as a journalist in secular and religious media. Her passions are reading, writing, travelling and photography.