COVID-19 has greatly impacted the lives of people in the Middle East, but specifically, how is this pandemic impacting the lives of Coptic Christians in Egypt? For the first time in their 2000 year history, Christian Coptic churches are closed.
Weddings, which, although important world-wide, are celebrated in special ways in Egypt. Generally for a few days people celebrate a wedding with decorations and lights in their homes and in the streets. Thousands come together for the official wedding led only by the priest or pastor in the church; this has been the standard for thousands of years with no deviation allowed. Afterwards, of course, the parties begin with people celebrating the wedding until the early hours of the next day with famous Egyptian food and music.
In March and April 2020, the Egyptian government stopped all weddings for the first time in this country’s history. Now, in May, weddings are allowed again, but only six people can attend the official wedding in the church. The Coptic Church is now allowing for the first time that the weddings can also be in homes. The priest and one deacon can lead the ceremony and again, only six people can attend.
The Coptic Pope (not the same as the Roman Catholic Pope) has also given permission for the people to pray at home. For Egyptian Coptic Christians, this is abnormal because they are used to attending mass every Friday and Sunday to confess their sins to the priest and have communion.
The week of Easter was very difficult for Egyptian Coptic Christians, because they were accustomed to a daily mass beginning with Palm Sunday through to the Resurrection Sunday to celebrate the journey of the Cross. With COVID-19 restrictions in place, there was a great sense of loss to Egyptian Christians.
Now many Evangelical pastors and Christian leaders are having online services. The good side of it is that these services can reach more people even in their homes. Family members are close to each other and growing in faith. Some of the Egyptian Christians have been saying, “We used to have churches but we didn’t have time to go. Now we have time but we can’t go to the churches.”
How is COVID-19 impacting the lives of Muslims, which are over 85% of Egypt’s population? For the first time in their 1400 year history, the mosques are closed and the government has ordered the people to pray at home. Special to note is that during Ramadan, the fasting month (this year in May), millions of Egyptian Muslims have, for centuries, have continued certain practices which this year have stopped including daily prayers all month five times a day in the streets. During this month in other years, families and friends meet at 6 pm for a meal to break the fast of the day (“breakfast”). Snacks, treats and covered dishes are shared throughout neighborhoods in the evenings for a month. Not this year. The four day feast celebrated at the end of Ramadan begins on May 23 or 24 depending on the cycle of the moon. The Egyptian government has put more restrictions in place during this time especially with public transportation to stop gatherings.
In Saudi Arabia, each year two to three million Muslims make the pilgrimage to worship, but not this year. It is not easy for Muslims to change all of their habits so quickly.
To travel into Egypt now is permissible but with a quarantine of 14 days in a hotel or resort (that guests pay for) before going anywhere else. Wearing masks is required at all times in public places, but for many people it is hard to afford buying masks. Many people have lost their jobs and income and cannot find work. COVID-19 numbers are climbing in Egypt and many are fearful. This is a difficult time in Egypt.
So pray that God will open the eyes of people to know Him and accept His salvation. Pray for the families in Egypt, their needs, for the Christians to use this time wisely. Pray for our ministry teams there, who are very busy with ministry (see pictures below). We know that God will use all of this for good. I’d like to share some verses with you to encourage your heart in the Lord. – Reda Khalil, Middle East Coordinator