Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Pilgrims’ Process: Why Christians Closest to the Holy Land Visit the Least


This article was first published at Christianity Today in the June print edition.

Walking down the Via Dolorosa, Nabil placed his hand on the wall where Jesus reportedly stumbled on his way to being crucified.

I am a lucky man, thought the 58-year-old. I can feel the Holy Spirit in my body.

This wasn’t how the Coptic Orthodox pilgrim had expected to feel in Jerusalem’s Old City. “Most Egyptian Christians want to visit as part of their faith,” he said, noting that he saw many elderly women dressed in black, weeping at each station of the cross. “Not me. I’m retired, I have nothing else to do, and I like to travel.”

Touring the Holy Land has been a transformational experience for Christians worldwide. In 2014, more than half of the 3.3 million tourists who visited Israel were Christians, according to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Of these, one out of four was Protestant.

But among these tourism figures, the Arab Christian community is nearly a no-show. In 2014, Jordan sent only 17,400 tourists (which were not differentiated by religion). Egypt, only 5,200—all Copts. Lebanon forbids travel to Israel entirely.

So Close Yet So Far

There are many reasons Arab Christians don’t tour Israel. The ancient sites are right in their backyard, so familiarity breeds complacency. And economic and political conditions hamper travel.

“I grew up minutes from Mary’s Well in Nazareth, and walked to school daily past the Church of the Annunciation,” said Shadia Qubti, a Palestinian evangelical. “It’s where I met friends for coffee.”

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Hajj Stampede

Flag Cross QuranGod,

Have mercy on the more than 700 Hajj pilgrims trampled underfoot in Saudi Arabia. Have mercy on the two million still alive, witness to the disaster. May they reflect anew, and seek you with all their heart.

Eight of the dead are among the 62,000 Egyptians on the pilgrimage. For them and all nationalities beside, comfort their families and provide for their children. Many Muslims believe Mecca is the best of all places to die. Help them to balance their grief with acceptance of honor.

Help the Saudi authorities to review all procedures, God. May they do all in their power to ease and order the necessary rituals.

And apart from the Hajj, God, bless all Muslims as they celebrate their holiday. May they laugh, love, and long for you. Lighten their hearts from the troubles of the region; burden their souls to serve you and their peoples.

Have mercy, God. Forgive the dead and the living, and revive us all.


Update: The Ministry of Endowments now lists 124 Egyptian casualties.

Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

How Egypt’s Goverment is Trying to Get Christians to Follow Jesus

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This article was published at Christianity Today on December 23, 2014.

The sound bomb exploded right behind the Egyptian Museum on Cairo’s Tahrir Square, throwing Ibrahim Morgan’s Swedish tour group into a temporary panic.

Then they settled back down and finished their tea.

This latest tactic in Egypt’s Islamist insurgency is meant to instill terror without harming civilians. It seeks to convey a message to citizen and tourist alike: Egypt is unstable.

This has been the dominant narrative abroad regarding Egypt, thanks to three years of instability, four presidents, and two revolutions. However, some locals like Morgan disagree.

“We know it is nonsense what the media says about Egypt,” Morgan said after the November 28 incident. “This group is here and they have had a great time.” The Swedes nodded in appreciation.

But relatively speaking, they are among the few. Since hitting a highwater mark of 14.7 million visitors in 2010, Egypt’s tourism numbers declined by a third, devastating the economy. The sector represented more than one-tenth of Egypt’s GDP, and tens of thousands have lost their livelihood.

Once stability—or its perception—returns, the numbers will likely rebound. The Giza pyramids, the temples of Luxor and Aswan, and the medieval mosques of Islamic Cairo will long attract international visitors.

But in October, the government launched a unique campaign to increase a segment representing only 1.9 percent of total tourists: Christian pilgrims. To do so, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehlab and Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II promoted the most noteworthy biblical example.

“Jesus was the first ‘tourist’ to Egypt,” said Tawadros at the launch event, according to AsiaNews. “For us, for our community, his stay in this land has been a blessing for the present and for the future.”

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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