We want to thank all of you for the concern and prayers that you have expressed for us and for Christians in Egypt in the last 24 hours through emails and social media. The two bombing attacks of Coptic churches during Palm Sunday worship were unexpected tragedies that have saddened the whole country.
First of all, please know that we are fine. The events that took place are far from us. The first church attacked in the Tanta community of the Nile Delta was called Saint George (Mar Gerges), which some feared was the similarly named church and Metro station in Coptic Cairo that is just north of us. We take many visitors to that historic area of the city, and the security there is plentiful, so an attack there would have created even more concern.
Secondly, those whom we serve in Egypt are safe. The Church of God congregations are secure, and will likely have increased security as Holy Week continues, just as they did for the Christmas and New Year’s events in the wake of the Coptic Cathedral complex bombing in mid-December. A good number of the Cairo Christian Fellowship gathered to worship downtown last night; many of the CCF are still active in their family Coptic congregations throughout the city.
Security within Egypt has improved remarkably since our first days here in post-revolution Egypt. There have always been moments of sectarian strife between religious groups in outlying portions of the country, but those events have been rare. Recently, ISIL-allegiant groups in the northern Sinai have gotten more bold in threatening the lives of believers there, but that seemed to be getting some correction. There has been no cause for alarm in Cairo or Alexandria in quite some time, so the multiple bombings yesterday were surprising.
The governor and security forces in Tanta (the site of the first bombing) are being called to account for the lapse of security there. Whereas the security forces in Alexandria are being praised for sacrificially doing their job. Video surveillance clearly shows security personnel redirecting a man away from a driveway back through to a secure entrance with a metal detector; the video shows the police pushing him back through the metal detector toward the street for a pat-down when he detonated the vest. There were not many outside of the church at this time, and so that blast being kept outside prevented the loss of many more lives – especially because that particular church was more full as the Coptic Pope (Tawdros) was officiating the Palm Sunday service at that location–perhaps the reason for a metal detector outside of that location, as they are not normally at church gates.
So what’s next? Holy Week is a time of special services throughout all of Christendom, as it is here in Egypt. There will be much more stringent security, which will probably include blocking off streets and posting church members at checkpoints near to church properties and even at the gates to confirm the identity of persons coming to worship. Bags and purses will be checked. All of that may sound surreal, but even such things could not stop someone seriously intent on harm. Some believers may avoid the larger churches, but at the celebration of Easter and in the wake of these recent martyrs, many Egyptian believers will be emboldened to go worship especially this year. The security will likely continue until the end of the month as the Roman Catholic Pope (Francis) will be visiting April 28-29 for a historic visit with the Coptic Pope and Egyptian President.
As for us, the Cairo Christian Fellowship is “off” so that the members may attend their family churches. So we are also going to celebrate with “family” – Zach and Audrey Langford, our teammates in Birkenhead, are being installed as temporary leaders of that congregation as Pastor John and Linda Pemberton have entered retirement. There are so many layers of special meaning in the Langford’s asking us to be there with them on this day, which we will outline in our next newsletter, but we will get to spend Easter with them and perform the dedication service for their daughter Lola. We are very happy that this is possible.
Next Wednesday, April 19, 3:00pm EST – we will have a special Facebook Live broadcast from Birkenhead, and we will update any other events from Egypt, as well as update some regional news at that time.
Until then, continue to pray for Egypt and for believers here. It is a time of sadness, and yet a time of resolve to continue to live boldly for Christ. Pray not just for believers here, but around the world who may not have the ability to worship and confess Jesus so freely. As I shared with the CCF last night: yes, these are difficult times, but not any more difficult than have been faced by believers throughout history; it’s just our turn. And the faith and grace with which we face these trials will determine the manner in which the next generations will face similar trials. Let us live up to the example of our Savior and the saints of the past, while also setting the right example for our children. Let us not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good, to the glory of God.”
May the Lord bless you and bless through you and your congregations this Holy Week.
Grace, Mercy & Peace…
Ken & Keli Oldham