In an Egyptian village near Bani Suwif, the Christmas Eve service on January 6, following the Julian calendar, took place in a makeshift tent amid the ruins of the old church sanctuary. Local Christians came dressed in their finest clothes to take part in the four-hour worship service.
This year’s celebration took on a more somber note for these Christians after officials ordered their deteriorating church building to be knocked down due to safety concerns in 2015. Officials issued a permit to build a new church, but the security authorities later cancelled it to “keep social peace in the village,” a statement villagers say usually refers to appeasing the anger that rises among radical Muslims when local Christians attempt to build even a small church in their village.
Unable to begin construction on a church building, church members pooled their meager resources and knit together empty sacks that had held chemical fertilizer to convert the ruins of the sanctuary into a tent. Huddled together on benches beneath the fertilizer sack tent, the congregation celebrated Christmas.
Bravely setting aside bitterness and despair, these Christians sat side by side on Christmas Eve, finding hope and joy in the truth that the Almighty came to earth to reconcile us to Himself and will ever remain the enduring reason for our joy in this dark, fallen world.
In the days leading up to the January 7th Christmas celebration, many Christians in Egypt also gathered together to spend time with the Lord in worship and celebrate God’s goodness and faithfulness throughout the past year. Congregations big and small, in huge cities and in small villages, gathered at church on the eve of the New Year.
The New Year’s Eve church service is the most widely attended service of the entire year. Dressed in their finest clothes, often newly purchased just for this special night, they bring with them the memories of the hardships and struggles they suffered throughout the year. Many Christians wonder what good 2016 could possibly bring. Is there any hope?
A brother from Egypt shares this message of hope:
We Christians of Egypt went to church on New Year’s Eve and raised our hands and prayed for the living God to save our country and our region from the wicked deeds of the evil one. Our country has been hit dramatically by terrorism and the evil plots of radical Muslims. We prayed that our shining light as Christians would not be blown away by the huge concerns about the future and what it holds for us. Our only assurance remains that God is good. He is and will always be in control.
We know that the spirit of love we have in us is much more powerful than the spirit of hatred and evil that the enemy generates through the attacks of radical and fanatic Muslims on the church. “Love your enemies,” Jesus said, and so it should be!
Father, thank You for the hope we have in You, that Christ visited earth to reconcile us with You, that we might live to bring praise and glory to Your name. We pray for our fellow Christians in Egypt who suffer for Your name’s sake. We pray for an end to the hostilities against them, but more than that, we pray that their current suffering will not be in vain. Give them courage and strength in the midst of trouble. Give them joy and hope in the midst of sorrow. In this godless generation, cause our Egyptian brothers to “shine among them like stars in the sky as [they] hold firmly to the word of life.” (Phil 2) In the name of Jesus, who has won the victory and in whom we place our hope, Amen.