The Upper Room was created to address challenges faced by Christians in the Holy Land, a community living in the shadow of a vicious pandemic, in addition to the harsh economic and political situation that has plagued them for generations.
At the beginning of the last century, Christians constituted more than ten percent of the population of the region that now comprises Palestine/Israel. Today, that number has dwindled to less than 1%, and the outlook for Christians in the Middle East grows worse with each passing day. Nowhere is this felt more sharply than in the Holy Land itself. This puts pressure on Churches and church-related organizations to play a bigger and more decisive role to address the difficulties facing the Christian community. There is no other source of support to maintain and strengthen the presence of the ancient Christian communities of the Holy Land. No Christian wants to see the Holy Land without an active and vibrant Church to continue to bear witness to our origins.
The global COVID-19 pandemic is having a devastating impact on the entire world. In the city of Jerusalem – and particularly among the Christian community – the destruction caused by COVID-19 manifests in three ways. East Jerusalem’s economy is already fragile. It depends overwhelmingly on tourism, the field where most Jerusalem Christians work as guides, travel agents, and tour operators, and where local olive wood artisans, souvenir shop and hotel owners and their employees rely on the constant stream of visitors from abroad to support their families. With the abrupt shutdown of the tourism industry, the great majority of East Jerusalemites have lost their livelihoods, The local economy is being hit hard. The devastating impact of this will likely last for many years to come, creating an entire economically displaced generation, with attendant social and political problems we cannot begin to imagine. There is not a household, not a business, and not a family that has not been directly affected. Even prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the East Jerusalem population struggled with the already existing political and economic turmoil. Now many residents see nothing but a gaping void.
The educational system is likewise in a deep crisis following the coronavirus outbreak. Interactive learning and digital resources are becoming essential teaching tools. With children no longer attending school, communities are scrambling to mobilize resources, and to maintain some semblance of social structure.
In addition to the incapability of the teaching system to meet the needs of the labor market, coronavirus outbreak has left more than one million people in the country out of work – either on unpaid leave or laid-off. Meanwhile, the crisis has shone a spotlight on required skills for the future labor market. This was especially the case for computer literacy, with many employees asked to work from home. Many businesses and workers without computer skills were left behind. This situation will pose a challenge across the entire society, emanating from the educational system, employment, and other business sectors.
In the face of these challenges, many Christians are emigrating or waiting for the opportunity to emigrate. This is a trend that threatens the very existence of the Christian community in the Holy Land.