Christian Revival in Egypt Includes Revolution Story
I can't give the name of the ministry organization that provides support for marginalized Christians and believers put under pressure in Egypt in the text of this story – I'm not used to that.
Naming your sources is what you learn in Journalism 101. It's ingrained in me.
However, on a media trip to Cairo, in the middle of an Egyptian revolution set against the backdrop of a newly elected Muslim Brotherhood majority government without a president, I begin to get accustomed to this "new normal" working protocol. But it takes me a couple of days.
On the first night of our trip, a few hours after checking into the hotel, we hop into a van and head to a Christian broadcast station that is about a 15-minute drive away. We arrive and enter a fenced-in structure that has no outside signage that I can see. After checking in with a security guard we are let in through the doors.
Inside a basement staff lounge area we meet with a prominent Coptic Orthodox priest. He had just finished a show for broadcast and now has time to talk to us.
Our host and translator explains that we cannot use his name.
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We begin the interview with a prayer led by the priest.
It is quite obvious during the beginning of the conversation that this man has given his life to Jesus – he is not about lifting up his own name or particular style of worship.
The Coptic Orthodox Church is the largest Christian denomination in Egypt, estimated to make up about 10 percent of the nation's population of 81 million people.
Copts have endured sporadic persecution during the decades' long reign of former President Hosni Mubarak. In some cases, since his overthrow, persecution of Christians has intensified as a Muslim Brotherhood and fundamentalist Muslim majority in government appears to be flexing its muscles.
While many have seen the success of Islamist parties in the Parliamentary elections as a sign of hard times ahead, others feel that it is still possible for a constitution to be crafted by the Egyptian government that would guarantee religious minority rights for the Copts and other groups.
"What is in your heart that you would like everyone to know about the Christians in Egypt?" I ask the priest first.
"I would like to say that there is a big revival happening in the Orthodox Church, not only in the Orthodox Church, but the Egyptian Church as well," the priest says through the translator. "The Lord is using the people, the congregation more than the leaders of the Church in this revival."
Dressed in traditional Orthodox priest attire, he is talking from his heart and his eyes are glowing with compassion.
Sporadic prayer marked the beginning of the revival five years ago. Those prayer sessions turned into regularly scheduled meetings by the end of 2010, he explains. "People from different churches gathered together to pray together."
During the interview, we discover that the priest believes that the revival is tied in with the country's revolution.
Nationwide protests, known as the "Day of Revolt," against the government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak began on Jan. 25, 2011. Tens of thousands of protesters held a mass demonstration in Cairo. Thousands of more people held protests in cities throughout Egypt.
"Just before the revolution, God was telling us that something awesome is going to happen in Egypt," the priest said. "Although we are church leaders from different areas [of the country], even different denominations, the Lord was sending the same message to everybody."
Catholic, Protestant, and Presbyterian (evangelical) church leaders were gathering unofficially for these prayer meetings, he said. They all felt something significant was going to happen in the next year.
"Twenty minutes into 2011, the bombing of the Alexandria church (The Saints Church) happened. [The church leaders] then began to believe even more in the prophecy that something great was going to happen. A short time later, Jan. 25, the revolution started," the priest recalled.
"We saw these events happening, but we thought something bigger is going to happen – a big spiritual event," he explained.
On Nov. 11, 2011, more than 50,000 (some estimates put the number at 70,000) people gathered together for 12 hours to pray at St. Simon Church in Cairo, also known as the "Cave Church."
It was the largest Christian gathering in the modern history of Egypt. It brought together, for the first time, all Christian denominations: Coptic Orthodox, Catholics, and all branches of Protestant and evangelical Christians, Wafik Wahba, associate professor of Global Christianity, reported shortly after the event.
"This historic day of prayer took place at a momentous juncture considering the current situation in Egypt," wrote Whaba. "Nine months to the date, on February 11, 2011 the former President of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, was forced out of office."
The Coptic Orthodox priest said during our interview that the event was a movement of God.
"It was very strange to see this great number of people gather in one place although it was not safe to do so," the priest said. "And this happened overnight, from six in the evening to six in the morning."
The regularly scheduled meetings between Christian leaders continued after that day, he said.
I began to see a clearer picture of this juxtaposition between the revolution and the revival going on during Egypt's transition after Mubarak.
Little did I know that this seemingly strange partnership would become even more apparent to me in the coming days in Cairo.
I did not need names to see it.
This story is part of a series based on the reporter's recent week-long visit to Cairo, Egypt. The first article in the series, "Reporter's View From Cairo: Maybe Our Prayers Were Not Enough," can be read by clicking here.