Egyptian Christians celebrate at Feast of Tabernacles

ICEJ vows influx of Arab Christian Zionist tourists.

The Jerusalem March (Credit: Dennis Zinn)
A delegation of 16 Egyptians traveled to Israel this week, marking the first time Evangelical Christians from an Arab Middle Eastern country are participating in the Feast of Tabernacles, the five-day gathering of more than 5,000 Christian Zionists in Israel.
“It is so amazing, and I am so touched by what the Lord is making in the land,” Yohanna told The Jerusalem Post, using his Baptist name for security reasons.
He recalled how the group enjoyed outdoor prayer in Jerusalem on Tuesday “and the rain started coming down – a sign of prophecy being fulfilled.”
Yohanna was referring to Zechariah 14:16-19, where the prophet describes that the nations “will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles.” However, if representatives of the Egyptian nation “do not go up and take part, they will have no rain.” If they do, the country is blessed with rain.
Joining thousands of other Christian pilgrims at the event sponsored by the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, the Egyptian delegation comprised mainly leaders from different ministries and churches. Their guide, Tom Craig, ICEJ’s new Middle East coordinator, explained that the group members knew each other fairly well before the trip because “this is still kind of a quiet movement. They cannot be really outspoken in Egypt yet.”
But Craig said there is a large and growing number of “believers” across Egypt whose appreciation for Israel is growing and who desire to pray for the Holy Land.
It was also challenging to receive visas to enter Israel. Some 23 people originally applied for visas, but ultimately only 15 adults and one child came. They also had to take precautions about their travel plans to Israel and back, Craig explained.
Yet despite their concerns, the trip has emboldened many of them – so much so, that some participants are saying that next year, they might be willing to travel direct.
“I am not scared,” Yohanna said. “I trust in my God to protect me until I arrive back home.”
He said Isaiah 19:23 describes a highway from Egypt to Assyria (modern-day Syria).
“The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together,” the Bible describes. They are supposed to worship together in Israel.
“There is a huge community of believers in Egypt,” Yohanna said. “And I have brothers in Lebanon and Syria, and they are praying for this highway, too.
“It is time to stop all the evil, the force of the devil that is hate and bad relations between Egypt and Israel,” he continued. “When I walk in the streets in Israel and talk with the Jewish people, they do not believe I am here. But here I am. It is time again to be of one flesh, for the wall between us to drop down again. It is time to love and worship together.”
Craig said this will be the first of what he expects to be additional and larger missions not only from Egypt, but other Middle Eastern countries, as well. An American, Craig has been working in Arab tourism for 27 years, but only started with ICEJ in January. He relocated to Jerusalem to take on the job of bringing Arabic-speaking Christians to Israel.
Craig said the group has "totally been welcomed and appreciated for coming" by Israelis.
“There has been some kind of shift in mentality in these Arab societies that is reflected in Christians wanting to come and visit Israel,” Craig said.
ICEJ vice president David Parsons explained that the former pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria used to discourage pilgrimage to Israel, but the new one, Pope Tawadros II, encourages it, which could be part of the shift. Either way, said Craig, “There is new and great interest.
“Next will be Jordan, then Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and the Gulf states,” he said. “We are starting to take a longer-term view of how this could be developed over the years to build bridges between those nations and Israel.”
Those nations and more.
A sign saying "Iraqi Christians bless Israel and the Jewish people in the name of Jesus" at the Jerusalem MarchA sign saying "Iraqi Christians bless Israel and the Jewish people in the name of Jesus" at the Jerusalem March
According to Parsons, representatives of close to 100 nations took part in this year’s event, which began on Sunday at the Ein Gedi oasis and ended in Jerusalem on Thursday, when tens of thousands of Christians marched in the Jerusalem Parade in what they term “the March of the Nations.” They handed out flags and buttons and held large signs that read, “We love you Israel,” and “We stand with Israel.”
Delegates came to the feast from exotic islands like Samoa and Fiji, and from Taiwan and China and Africa and everywhere in between. The economic impact on Israel of the event is $18 million to $20m., according to Parsons.
This year, ICEJ celebrated its support in bringing 150,000 new immigrants to Israel since 1980 from Helsinki, Warsaw, Ukraine, Central Asia, Western countries, Ethiopia and even northeast India.
“These Christians come to say, ‘Israel you are not alone,’” said Parsons. “We are here in good times and bad.”
Speaking at the feast earlier this week, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum said that a couple of years ago she brought her 13-year-old daughter to one of the Feast of Tabernacle gatherings, who saw their love and support for Israel and the Jewish people.
“She said something that broke my heart,” Hassan-Nahoum recalled. She said, ‘Mom, there are people around the world who like us?’
“My daughter thought that no one around the world liked us, until she came to one of these gatherings,” the deputy mayor continued. “So, thank you for restoring her faith in humanity, and thank you for your love and friendship.”