Egypt, Persecution and Love
For Christmas, my wife and I gifted my daughters a quick trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando. As we were driving back yesterday, I saw the news of ISIS killing 21 Egyptian Christians. I spent a week with Egyptian church leaders in 2008, so this news is extremely personal to me.
I love the culture, history, and people of Egypt. They’re kind, humble warrior types. Egypt is unique in so many ways. It is considered a bridge to the West for the rest of the Middle East/North Africa countries, as they are a modern society. Rich and poor live together in a world that is always shifting.
The church is somewhat free, but not really. It’s not as if you can just go plant a church in Egypt. If memory serves me right, you need government permission and you have to go through a bunch of red tape to start a church.
Egyptian Christians are considered second class. It’s not illegal to be a Christian in Egypt, especially if you are born into a Christian family. But, you are treated differently in a culture that is 85/90% Muslim, most of which follow Sharia Law (according to Wikipedia).
Yet, Cairo is also very Western. Big malls, fashion, Starbucks, and entertainment are everywhere, but so is extreme poverty. I met a woman who sold her kidney to feed her family.
The blend of past history and future progress melts together to create a unique and beautiful culture—one that is full of beauty and pain!
As I spent time with Jesus followers, I heard the stories of persecution. The persecution was mostly subtle, but it was still significant. One day, we were praying for a sick pastor, and I opened my Bible to read a Scripture. I was told that what I did was informally illegal and could cause persecution in the form of harassment by the police, who monitor the movements of Christian clergy.
We could speak and read Scripture in a church service that was recognized by the government. I remember speaking in one church that had been bombed by Al Qaeda. Black soot covered the walls, and holes in the church building reminded all of us that following Jesus in Egypt was a dangerous proposition.
As I walked out of the church, after spending time with the pastor who was caring for over 75 widows, a car drove up to the church’s door and swept us away. Yes, this sounds dramatic, and it was. Apparently, this neighborhood was a stronghold for Al Qaeda. Many of the 9/11 hijackers had lived and prepared in this neighborhood; therefore, it was still active and dangerous and not friendly to outsiders or local Christians.
I spent time with the local Christian community, from the president of the Evangelical Christian Association of the Middle East, clergy who had been persecuted, Christian families, orphans and widows inside the trash city church, and also some the richest Christians in the entire Middle East/N. Africa region.
I also had dinner with a very wealthy Muslim family who had two sons who were studying in the States. Another guest that evening was a big shot in the Egyptian CIA. The day after we had dinner, this guy was negotiating peace talks between Israel and Palestine. When I picked up the paper in my hotel right in front of the Nile River, his face was on the front page. Yes, my mind was blown away!
With the exception of the gentleman from the Egyptian government, we had all become friends. I felt their pain, and I experienced their joy. They existed in a mixture of hope and oppression. They had faith that God was guiding them, but fear that at any given moment, they could face persecution and harassment or even death!
Then, the Arab Spring of 2010 started. I saw many of my friends, desperate for freedom and opportunity, protest and fight for a better future for their country.
When I left Egypt, I thought for sure I would return. I haven’t yet, which makes me sad. At the time, Help One Now had not even launched; our key connection in Egypt stopped working there for a season.
Yet, I’ve prayed for the people and country.
Yesterday, as I drove north on Highway 95, my heart hurt for those 21 Christians, who were put on display for the world to see what evil really looks like. They were fathers, brothers, uncles, and cousins. They were men created in the image of God. Yet, evil descended on them, and their lives ended in tragedy.
As I type these words, I’m hopeful that they are celebrating a new life with no pain. But, for those of us on this side of heaven, we have an opportunity–an obligation– to stand up against the evil of this world.
“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” — Amos
So please, join me in prayer for our brothers and sisters who face persecution for their faith. We can make a difference, we can be their voice, we can serve together.
The only way to stop hate and evil is to love more than those who hate. So today, let’s find a way to love. Love your neighbor, love the world. After all, good overcomes evil!