Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Want to Help Christians Stay in the Middle East? Start with Your Vacation

This article first appeared in the July print edition of Christianity Today.

Middle East Christian Tourism
(Credit: robertharding / Alamy)

Call Ann Fink crazy, but the intrepid grandmother has a tradition to uphold. She’s toured Israel, Jordan, and Egypt with 8 of her 13 granddaughters. Victoria, a preteen, is number 9.

“Her parents are not afraid,” said Fink, a Pennsylvania native, while visiting Egypt with Victoria. “We believe we can die at any time. Only God knows when and where.”

Neither tourist knew just how much visits like theirs support the region’s beleaguered Christians.

From a high-water mark of $7.2 billion in 2010, tourism revenue in Egypt has fallen by 76 percent following the unrest of the Arab Spring. The decline has devastated the economy and, with it, Egypt’s Christians.

Copts, an estimated 10 percent of the population, make up more than half of tour operators and more than a quarter of the tourism workforce, according to Adel el-Gendy, a general manager in the Tourism Development Authority. Christians have better connections to the West, he said, and are often more skilled with languages.

Gendy, a Muslim, has been assigned development of the Holy Family route—25 locations that, according to tradition, were visited by Jesus, Joseph, and Mary as they fled Herod’s wrath. Relaunched with government and church fanfare in 2014, the route is close to being designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO, he said. But the project has struggled as tourists stay away.

The route runs through Old Cairo, which boasts churches dating back to the fourth century but feels like a ghost town. Souvenir shops are open, but their lights dim. “Our income has dropped by 90 percent,” said Angelos Gergis, the Coptic Orthodox priest at St. Sergius Church, built above a cave where tradition says the Holy Family stayed three months. “We are assigned to assist 100 poor families in the area, but we used to help so many more.”

There are no tourist fees at Christian religious sites, but many visitors leave donations. “You can see things in Egypt you won’t see anywhere else,” he said. “And if you have any sympathy for us, please come. Your visit does help…

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One reply on “Want to Help Christians Stay in the Middle East? Start with Your Vacation”

Well said Jayson and so true, praying that this is picked up by the secular nationals to counter act on the continuous negative misinformation which is a large reason for tourists being put off. Do you have any contact with Christian Today which I believe is more UK based., but it would be nice to see it appear in there.
This picks up one of the biggest points that I have found my self biting my tongue, as a westerner are we able to say that Christians should not leave the area. However in your title you have put it so well. I continue to pray that this trend will be reversed as strength is gained in numbers. It is something that we need to continue to pray about.
On a visit to The Hanging church in Mar Georgis a few years ago I picked up a large book not quite A3 size on the Holy families exile to Egypt, which I ended up giving to Brian Harding of Daily Audio Bible when ai met him in London last year. When I was in Cairo last time I managed to return to the church, but unfortunately, I could not replace it with the same book but what I did manage to do was to pick up a smaller a5 sized book,,


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