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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Base, Council

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Terrorism is defeated neither by force nor ideology. Yet they dare not be neglected.

Egypt took a step in both directions this week. God, give her success.

A military base was inaugurated toward the Libyan border. And the president formalized an anti-extremism council, with representatives also from the Azhar and Orthodox church.

May the day come when no base is necessary. May men know you themselves with no need of clerics.

But until then, God, and in these days especially, raise every encumbrance against terrorism.

Raise the capacity of the military. Raise the morality of the people.

But mostly, redeem the conscience of the extremists. Win them to yourself.

There are always ways to do evil. Its final defeat is only in you.

Amen.

 

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Top 10 Persecution Stories at CT

Many thanks to readers who have followed my articles at Christianity Today. CT just published a year-end summary of the ten most read stories about the persecuted church, and I am pleased to report my articles placed at numbers 1, 3, 6, and 10.

That the articles needed to be written in the first place involves little of pleasure, but I am glad that in most there have been moments of grace amid the suffering.

1) How Libya’s Martyrs Are Witnessing to Egypt

Murders spark largest outreach ever amid new freedoms and new threats.

3) Forgiving ISIS: Christian ‘Resistance’ Videos Go Viral in Arab World

Ten-year-old girl from Mosul becomes Christian broadcaster SAT-7’s most-watched interview ever.

6) Libya’s 21 Christian Martyrs: ‘With Their Blood, They Are Unifying Egypt’

As Coptic Christians mourn ISIS beheadings, they praise the response of their government and Muslim neighbors.

10) Why Christians Are Fleeing One of Africa’s Oldest and Largest Christian Homelands

Beyond the search for a better life, evangelicals and Orthodox in Ethiopia increasingly share even more.

And this story came in at #16 of the 20 most read ‘Gleanings‘, subtitled ‘important developments in the church and the world’.

16) More Martyrs: ISIS Executes Dozens of Ethiopian Christians in Libya

Propaganda video released the same day Justin Welby arrives in Cairo to honor the previous 21 victims.

For what it is worth, none of the articles made the overall top 20 most read list, which was dominated by US domestic trends, though some with international aspects.

As for this list, in general I do not like the word ‘persecution’ or a focus thereupon. Though these articles certainly qualify, the word risks setting Christians into an ‘us versus them’ mentality that risks violation of many Gospel principles. The struggle, says the scripture, is not against flesh and blood.

But without doubt the next mentioned ‘principalities and powers’ have employed flesh and spilled blood. I am grateful to be in a position to help tell these stories, and pray they may result in greater love both for the church around the world, and those who stand against her.

Thanks for reading — and within your power — acting accordingly.

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Borders, Bombs

Flag Cross Quran

God,

The bombs continue, this time striking a security directorate in the early morning hours with a blast that rattled all Cairo. Several injuries, none killed – it is a marker of taunting more than a message of death.

But from where?

There are problems at the borders, God. To the west, Libyan officials have abandoned a desert crossing. To the east, militants seized Palestinians returning to Gaza, taking four from a bus. And long a guarantor of peace, the United States is considering pulling out peacekeeping forces on the Sinai border with Israel.

How much of Egypt’s trouble is imported, God? Most of the Gaza tunnels have been destroyed. But instability still reigns in Libya, as the Arab League debates arming the internationally recognized government. Will more war bring peace, or more weapons to smuggle?

Secure the borders, God, though with Egypt’s deserts the task is formidable. Ideas have wings, but keep out the men and means of violence.

Of those already here, may they be found, disarmed, and prosecuted.

But most belong here. Egypt has long been an exporter of violent ideology. Give winning flight to better ideas.

Help men of religion to lead the charge. Help them also to stay out of the way. Religion can inspire, it can also impose.

Help Egypt find the balance. Help her craft a society of welcome and tolerance, humanity and peace.

For those tempted to radicalize where these are absent, God, give them a stronger inner core of righteousness. May they fight for justice, but transgress not.

May humility rattle the region, and decency taunt the darkness. May the borders be secure because the center is whole. A marker of encouragement, a message of life.

Amen.

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There is no ‘Nation of the Cross’

Message Signed Blood ‘To the nation of the cross, we are back again.’

So boasted the black-clad narrator of the latest ISIS video, this time chronicling their slaughter of 30 Ethiopian Christians captured in Libya. Two months earlier, the victims were Coptic Christians, whose beheadings came entitled: A message signed with blood to the nation of the cross.

But what is the ‘nation of the cross’?

Some have embraced the terminology. The Christ Church United Methodist of the Woodlands, Texas, posted a Je Suis Charlie inspired message of support: ‘Here am I, I too, am a member of the nation of the cross.’

But Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK thinks they are making a grave mistake.

‘This divisive terminology implies that we as a “nation” of Christians are at war with the “nation of Islam”,’ he wrote to the youth of his church.‘Of course this is not the case, and we must not be coerced into a state of enmity.’

ISIS labeled the ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Church an ‘enemy’, likely for the ongoing Ethiopian military response against the Islamist terrorist group al-Shabab in Somalia. Likewise, the Coptic Orthodox Church is targeted to a great degree for the Egyptian government’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.

But ISIS is not just after these churches. ‘Our battle is between faith and blasphemy,’ the narrator declared. ‘We swear to Allah: You will not have safety, even in your dreams, until you embrace Islam.’

In seeing itself as a caliphate, Angaelos told Lapido Media, ISIS wants to put itself at war with Christianity.

Alarmed

‘Because there is a Muslim ummah, there must be in their eyes a Christian ummah, the nation of the cross,’ he said, using the Arabic word that can be translated as ‘nation’.

‘This is why I am very alarmed when people use it naively, because they are buying into a rhetoric that is not ours.’

And according to Muslim scholars, ‘nation of the cross’ is not part of Islamic rhetoric either.

The word ummah is used 62 times in the Qur’an, sometimes referring to ‘peoples’ in general. But over time it becomes more specific to the Muslim community, according to Frederick Denny’s chapter, ‘The meaning of ‘ummah’ in the Qur’an’, in The History of Religions.

Christians and Jews are viewed as an ummah as recipients of divine revelation, but Christians are labeled ahl al-kitab, or ‘people of the book’.

‘This phrase [nation of the cross] is unknown, ISIS has invented it to divide people,’ Muhga Ghalib, dean of Islamic Studies at al-Azhar University told Lapido Media. ‘We have the three religions: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, and we are brothers in humanity.’

The editor-in-chief of the Muslim Brotherhood’s official English website agreed. ‘I cannot really make any reference of “nation of cross” to Islamic heritage, or history, and I’m not sure what the origin is,’ Hazem Malky told Lapido. ‘It looks like something they use in their own literature to serve their needs and ideology.’

But even where the rhetoric turns negative in Islamic history, terms like ahl al-dhimmah or kuffar are employed, to refer either to a protected community paying jizya tax, or to infidels.

ISIS’ video also highlights the fact that Syria’s Christians admit paying the tax, having been brought to the point of submission. Rejecting the nation-state system, ISIS sees the caliphate at war with distinct religious communities with the aim of subjugating them.

Obscure

Its extremist scholars have made a science out of reviving obscure concepts in Islamic history, like the selling of sex slaves and the burning of captives. These are rejected by the vast majority of Muslims today.

But even a group with traditional animosity against Christians finds the term ‘nation of the cross’ unfamiliar. Hany Nour Eddin, a member of Egypt’s dissolved parliament with the formerly militant al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, told Lapido Media ISIS tries to invoke the Crusades in its effort to pit East against West.

‘ISIS uses the logic of power and jihad in order to create conflict,’ he said. ‘They are trying specifically to recruit the Islamist current to their side, telling them the democratic experiment has failed.’

Bishop Angaelos, on the other hand, interprets it as the recruitment of an enemy.

He says ISIS wants a military response motivated by Christian sentiment. ‘The West must not give in. This ideology must fall, otherwise those killed will be replaced by others,’ he says.

Instead, those motivated by Christian sentiment have a responsibility to exhibit their faith.

After the beheading of the Copts by ISIS, Angelos tweeted #fatherforgive, and it quickly went viral. When BBC and CNN reported it, the popular discourse shifted.

Angaelos is calling for his own redefinition of terms to be taken up more broadly, to prevent the world being sucked into a false dichotomy.

‘When we disengage from this language, we move away from the simplicity of Christian West versus Muslim East, because it’s wrong,’ he said. ‘I find this concept of the Muslim world quite offensive. Do I not have a place? For millions of Christians, this is our world also, plus Baha’is and non-believers beside.’

He adds that ‘the nation of the cross’ does not fit the West in its religious diversity. Coining a phrase foreign to Islam, Christianity, and modern civilization, ISIS is threatening to set the terms.

‘They are killing Muslims not just Christians’ says Angaelos. ‘This ideology considers everything unlike itself an enemy.’

This article was first published at Lapido Media.

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Current Events

The Archbishop of Canterbury in Cairo: Offering Condolence, Bearing Witness

Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby

Archbishop of Canterbury Rev. Justin Welby visited the Anglican All Saints Cathedral in Cairo and opened his sermon with a surprising comparison. Earlier he visited Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar Ahmad al-Tayyeb, and Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II.

“It has been an interesting and useful day,” the archbishop told the packed cathedral of his high profile itinerary, “but worshipping with you is the most important part.

“Here we meet with Jesus Christ and become his witnesses.”

Welby’s visit was to offer condolences for Egypt’s most recent witnesses, the twenty Coptic Christians and one Ghanaian martyred in Libya in February. The word ‘martyr’ is derived from a Greek word meaning ‘witness.’

Symbolically, Welby delivered to Pope Tawadros twenty-one letters written by grieving British families. One is believed to have been related to David Haines, the aid worker captured in Syria and beheaded last year.

“Why have the martyrs of Libya spoken so powerfully to the world?” Welby asked. “The way these brothers lived and died communicated that their testimony is trustworthy.”

The Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer Hanna Anis, archbishop of the Anglican diocese of Egypt, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa, hosted Welby and welcomed him warmly.

But an unfortunate symbolism coincided his visit with the release of another video from the Islamic State in Libya, this time of Ethiopian Christians. Two groups totaling twenty-eight people were martyred, one beheaded and the other shot in the head.

Welby paid tribute to them, along with others killed for their faith in Kenya and Nigeria.

He noted the certainty of their resurrection, but stated, “We must grieve for them, support their families, and seek to change the circumstances that lead to their deaths.”

Welby’s sermon did not go into specifics, but he has earlier defended military strikes against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, while urging local governments to exercise their mandated use of force to restore order.

And concerning the flood of refugees to the region, “Europe as a whole must stand up and do what is right,” he told the BBC, and share the burden of accepting them.

According to the UN High Commission for Refugees, over 125,000 Syrians have fled to Egypt. Refuge Egypt, a social service arm of the Anglican Church in Egypt, extends food and medical care to those the UNHCR designates as of particular concern.

Welby praised the Christians of the Middle East for their trustworthy witness. But in order to be communicated, it must be acted out.

“If the church hears the world’s cries for help, but turns its back,” he said, “they will not believe in the love of Christ.”

Visiting with President Sisi, the archbishop heard him emphasize that Egyptian Christians are not a minority, but enjoy their full rights as all other Egyptian citizens.

Visiting with Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyib, he heard that love and mercy are the two elements that must characterize both international and human relations, and that the true picture of Islam and Christianity must be presented to the world.

“When a community is full of light,” Welby said in his sermon, “people will see through it and perceive God, and know they are loved by Christ.”

During communion, he sought to demonstrate this. Aware the Coptic Orthodox and Catholic bishops present could not share in full fellowship, Welby went to them and knelt down, asking for a blessing. In response, the two reciprocated and each prayed for the other in turn.

So many are having hard times in this region, Welby said, he wanted to come and offer condolences. Finishing his sermon, hepromised the audience that he was praying for them in the Middle East, but closed with a request of his own, for the West.

“Please pray for us, that in our comfort we do not forget to be faithful witnesses.”

This article was first published at the Anglican Diocese of Egypt website.

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Current Events

More Martyrs: ISIS Executes Dozens of Ethiopian Christians in Libya

Ethiopian Christians LibyaA few excerpts from my article for Christianity Today, published April 20:

Once again, ISIS has orchestrated and filmed the dramatic mass killing of African Christians who refuse to deny their faith.

This time, the approximately 28 men targeted by the Libya affiliate of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also known as Daesh) were Ethiopian Christians. In February, the killing of 21 mostly Egyptian Christians drew widespread horror and fears of future massacres, but also led to Egypt’s largest Bible outreach.

The video was released the same day the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, arrived in Cairo to offer condolences for the previous martyrs in Libya: 20 Coptic Orthodox Christians and a sub-Saharan African. (CT reported how their deaths were unifying Egypt and inspiring Muslims throughout the Arab world, as well as honored in the Coptic calendar.)

“Why has Libya spoken so powerfully to the world?” asked Welby during a public sermon. “The way these brothers lived and died testified that their faith was trustworthy.”

The Ethiopian government has not yet been able to confirm the video, or certify the victims are its citizens.

But Grant LeMarquand, the Anglican bishop of the Horn of Africa, says they certainly appear to be.

“If they were given the chance to convert and did not,” he told CT, “they should be considered what ISIS calls them: ‘People of the Cross’, and therefore true followers of the crucified one.”

Bishop Angaelos, the general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, underscored the Ethiopians’ testimony.

“Once again we see innocent Christians murdered purely for refusing to renounce their faith,” he said in a statement.

“As Christians, we remain committed to our initial instinct following the murder of our 21 Coptic brothers in Libya, that it is not only for our own good, but indeed our duty to ourselves, the world, and even those who see themselves as our enemies, to forgive and pray for the perpetrators of this and similar crimes,” he said. “We pray for these men and women, self-confessed religious people, that they may be reminded of the sacred and precious nature of every life created by God.”

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Current Events

Escaping ISIS in Libya

From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Osama Mansour (L), from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Consider the horrible ordeal of Coptic Christians in Libya, as the Islamic State stormed their compound. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review tells how one escaped, helped by his Muslim friend:

Hani Mahrouf awakened at 2:30 in the morning when fists pounded on the door of his housing compound in Sirte, Libya.

It was Islamic State gunmen, searching for Egyptian Christians.

“They had a lot of weapons,” said Mahrouf, 33, a Muslim construction worker. “They asked if we were Muslim or Christian.

“We told them we were Muslim. Then they asked for the rooms of the Christians.

“They threatened us with their guns.”

The article describes how fighters scaled the compound walls, but the story centers on one who got away:

Osama Mansour, a Christian, was sleeping in a room of the first compound when ISIS burst in. Warned of what was happening, he slipped outside and “jumped from fence to fence just ahead of the gunmen,” he said.

He escaped but was left on his own in the dangerous city, separated from his friends.

“I stayed (in Sirte) for 30 days, but I didn’t stay in the same room” from night to night, said the 26-year-old tile worker.

A man he called “Sheikh Ali,” a Muslim from his home province of Assuit, helped Mansour hide and constantly change locations. Eventually, he grew a beard in order to leave Sirte.

“ISIS had two checkpoints that they would move around. I heard they were checking for tattoos” — he pointed to the bluish-black cross that he and many Coptic Christians ink on the insides of their wrists — “and we put a plaster cast on my hand and wrist. Sheikh Ali gave me a Quran and a prayer rug for the trip.

“I had to do this — I can’t have my mother wearing black” for mourning, Mansour said.

The article says most of his companions also eventually returned home, but it does not specify Sheikh Ali. Maybe he is still in Libya, able to work. If so, Osama may be using a pseudonym to protect his friend’s identity there.

One would hope it is not to protect his identity in Egypt. Recent news has some in the village protesting the church President Sisi promised to build in the name of the martyrs.

But in Libya, in this instance, the bonds of relationship and homeland proved stronger than the militant call of extremist religion. Amid constant news of chaos and atrocity, stories like this are precious reminders of humanity.

Unfortunately, guns and ideology can change the equation.

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Neighbors

Flag Cross Quran

God,

You desire peace not just for Egypt. Honor also her neighbors, that all might live in peace together.

For two doors down, a nation is in mourning. A terrorist attack on Tunisia’s tourists threatens to undermine stability there. Comfort them, God, and give them resolve.

Resolve to defeat a terrorist menace. Resolve to hold firm to a democratic path. Resolve to see the region cooperate.

For Tunisia’s struggle is not hers alone. While she has sent more fighters to Syria than any other nation, the ones who attacked her trained in Libya. Civil war in both nurtures chaos and extremism, threatening Tunis and Cairo and others beside.

For the sake of both countries, and above all for her own people, lighten Libya’s burden, God. Establish legitimate government, to extend legitimate security. Tighten borders, but open societies. Give wisdom to outsiders who want things put straight. Give wisdom to Libyans, to straighten themselves.

To Egypt’s east, another nation needs peace. Israel does not suffer the volatility of the region, but her recent elections showcase disharmony between peoples. Guide them, God, and give them resolve.

Resolve to defeat a terrorist menace. Resolve to hold firm to a democratic path. Resolve to reconcile her differing peoples.

Reconcile, God, her Arab and Jew. Set these citizens in equality to serve jointly their nation.

Reconcile, God, the Palestinian and Israeli. Give just solutions to their disjointed hopes; inspire just leadership to enact them together.

Honor Israel and Syria, Tunisia and Libya. And with them Egypt, for a region both stable and strong. Give each one sovereignty, to bless her neighbor. Together may they live in peace.

Amen.

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Current Events

Podcast: On the Middle East, Christians, and ISIS

The Way Home - Dan DarlingThis week I had the opportunity to appear on ‘The Way Home‘ podcast, hosted by Dan Darling. Darling is the Vice President for Communications at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and he invited me to share about current events in the Middle East and in particular how they are impacting Christians. Here is his introduction:

All of us have reacted with horror at the atrocities committed by the terrorist group ISIS upon Christians in the Middle East. How can Christians pray? How should we think about ISIS?

Today on The Way Home I talk with Jayson Casper, a Christianity Today journalist who has been covering this story. He called me from Cairo to discuss how Christians in places like Egypt, Jordan, and other countries are reacting to the atrocities of their brothers and sisters in Syria and Iraq and Libya. He also gives a thorough analysis of ISIS and Islamic extremism.

Our conversation lasted about half an hour, touching on various questions. Is ISIS Islamic? How are Christians responding? How should Western Christians pray?

Please click here to open a new window and listen to the podcast.

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How Libya’s Martyrs are Witnessing to Egypt

Two Rows by the SeaThis article was published first on Christianity Today, on February 23, 2015.

Undaunted by the slaughter of 21 Christians in Libya, the director of the Bible Society of Egypt saw a golden gospel opportunity.

“We must have a Scripture tract ready to distribute to the nation as soon as possible,” Ramez Atallah told his staff the evening an ISIS-linked group released its gruesome propaganda video. Less than 36 hours later, Two Rows by the Sea was sent to the printer.

One week later, 1.65 million copies have been distributed in the Bible Society’s largest campaign ever. It eclipses even the 1 million tracts distributed after the 2012 death of Shenouda, the Coptic “Pope of the Bible.”

The tract contains biblical quotations about the promise of blessing amid suffering, alongside a poignant poem in colloquial Arabic:

Who fears the other?
The row in orange, watching paradise open?
Or the row in black, with minds evil and broken?

“The design is meant so that it can be given to any Egyptian without causing offense,” said Atallah. “To comfort the mourning and challenge people to commit to Christ.”

The Bible Society distributed the tract through Egypt’s churches, but one congregation went a step further.

Isaaf Evangelical ChurchIsaaf Evangelical Church, located on one of downtown Cairo’s busiest streets, hung a poster on its wall at eye-level with pedestrians. “We learn from what the Messiah has said,” it read over the background of an Egyptian flag. “‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you….’”

Pastor Francis Fahim said the poster was meant to express comfort to all Egyptians, Muslim and Christian.

Please click here to read the rest of the article at Christianity Today.

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Beheadings

Flag Cross QuranGod,

After a few days the spirit risks becoming calloused. One more tragedy amid a litany of offense. But the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya might strike a nerve that runs deeper. It might awaken a nation to danger, or deaden further a decayed humanity.

For some, God, are blaming the victim. There is talk that the church can only expect such treatment after its support for Morsi’s removal. There is talk that all is faked to further this conspiracy and extend it to Libya.

But there is also action. Two would-be bombers blew themselves up accidentally in the Upper Egyptian city where the victims are from.

God, let not those frustrated with Morsi’s removal descend into hatred and violence. Let them not draw sectarian readings and exact revenge on the innocent. Let not their seeking of justice lead to embrace of chaos. In their struggle, God, save their humanity.

For many are expressing their humanity anew. Government and Muslims alike have poured out sympathy on their Coptic fellow-citizens. A new church will be built in the Upper Egyptian city where the victims are from.

God, let not this moment pass without touching permanently the Egyptian soul. Let not the forgiving example of the Christian families be lost in the outrage against their killers. Let not a desire for justice lump all pro-Morsi together. In their struggle, God, deepen their humanity.

For callousness is still quite possible. So-called Islamic State partisans have been beheading tribesmen in the Sinai for months. May directed targeting of Christians not become as normal. That atrocity is normal at all is a stain on all humanity.

But what should a spirit do to avoid callousness? Do strikes on Libya and a call for international intervention signal a spirit that is hardening? Or is it rather a conscience awakening? Guide Egypt and the world with wisdom to meet this threat.

Whatever the solution, God, limit the blood. Speak alike to presidents and jihadists, that peace, reconciliation, and justice might somehow meet between them.

God, the offenses multiply daily among Egyptians of every persuasion. In their desire to see the world put right, help them hold tenaciously to the humanity of the other. May they forgive, that they be forgiven.

It may be the only way to save their own souls, and Egypt alongside. Be merciful, God, be merciful.

Amen.

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Current Events

Libya’s 21 Christian Martyrs: ‘With their Blood, They are Unifying Egypt’

(credit Mohsen Nabil / AP Images, via CT)
(credit Mohsen Nabil / AP Images, via CT)

From my new article in Christianity Today:

Late Sunday night at an otherwise quiet curbside café in Cairo, customers put down their tea and backgammon. They sat riveted, watching Egypt’s president pledge retaliation against the Islamic State in Libya.

Earlier in the day, jihadists released a video of the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians. Following President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s declaration of a week of mourning, the channel switched to images of the orange-clad victims, walking to their death on the shores of Tripoli.

“Do you see that?” one customer exclaimed, rising to point out the scene to his friend. “They dressed the Copts like in Guantanamo. This is horrible!”

The remark demonstrates the gut-level reaction of Egyptian Muslims, contrary to the desires of the Islamic State.

“There has been a very strong response of unity and sympathy,” said Andrea Zaki, vice president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt. “People are describing Copts as Egyptians, first and foremost, and with their blood they are unifying Egypt.”

The article then provides commentary from other Christian leaders, and ends with a very direct message:

This thought is the central feature of nearly all Coptic advice to Christians in the West: Support Egypt.

Sidhom speaks openly of his “grudge” against the US administration, and no longer holds hope that American organizations can help. Zaki asks Western citizens to pressure their governments to see the “reality” and designate the Brotherhood as a terrorist entity. Kharrat asks for tourism and investment, especially in Upper Egypt.

But all ask for prayer.

“We are praying for God to change the hearts of those who have been raised on extremist thoughts,” said Anton, “and that this generation of Sisi will be different.”

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today, published February 18, 2015.

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Current Events

Photos: The Orthodox Church and the Tragedy in Libya

As Egypt mourns the victims killed by the so-called Islamic State branch in Libya, the Coptic Orthodox cathedral has been a center of attention. Every day the official spokesman has issued press releases and pictures updating the situation; all photos that follow are credited to the Coptic Media Center.

On Friday, February 13, following the announcement by the Islamic State that they were holding 21 Coptic Christians, the cathedral permitted their families to hold a small protest.
On Friday, February 13, following the announcement by the Islamic State that they were holding 21 Coptic Christians, the cathedral permitted their families to hold a small protest.
On February 14, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehlab met with the families, promising best efforts and to take care of them while in Cairo.
On February 14, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehlab met with the families, promising best efforts and to take care of them while in Cairo.
On February 16, after the Islamic State released its video of beheading its victims, President Sisi visited Pope Tawadros to express his condolences.
On February 16, after the Islamic State released its video of beheading its victims, President Sisi visited Pope Tawadros to express his condolences.
He was followed by Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehlab.
He was followed by Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehlab.
Also offering condolences was a delegation from the military, including the Minister of Defense, Sedki Sobhi.
Also offering condolences was a delegation from the military, including the Minister of Defense, Sedki Sobhi.
Also paying condolences were the ministers of social solidarity, health, and youth.
Also paying condolences were the ministers of social solidarity, health, and youth.
Following these was a delegation from the Azhar, including the Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb.
Following these was a delegation from the Azhar, including the Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb.
Later that evening Pope Tawadros received the condolences of the US ambassador, R. Stephen Beecroft.
Later that evening Pope Tawadros received the condolences of the US ambassador, R. Stephen Beecroft.
Also offering condolences was a delegation from the Protestant Churches of Egypt, headed by Safwat al-Baiady.
Also offering condolences was a delegation from the Protestant Churches of Egypt, headed by Safwat al-Baiady.
Many other churches also paid condolences, including Coptic Catholic Bishop Yohenna Qulta.
Many other churches also paid condolences, including Coptic Catholic Bishop Yohenna Qulta.
Also visiting the pope was prominent Coptic businessman Naguib Sawiris.
Also visiting the pope was prominent Coptic businessman Naguib Sawiris.
Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehlab and Minister of the Interior Mohamed Ibrahim and the governor of Minya visited Bishop Paphnotius of Samalout to console the families and promise the state would build a new church in the name of the martyrs.
Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehlab and Minister of the Interior Mohamed Ibrahim and the governor of Minya visited Bishop Paphnotius of Samalout to console the families and promise the state would build a new church in the name of the martyrs.

The link given above is to the Facebook page of the official spokesman of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which contains pictures of many other visits.

Christians in Egypt have taken great comfort in the expressions of sympathy from state and Muslim citizens alike. It is a difficult time for the church, but the tragedy is serving to unite the nation.

‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’

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Current Events

Bishop Mouneer on the Beheading of Egyptian Copts in Libya

Copts Killed in LibyaDear Friends,

It is with great sadness I write you today about the heinous murder of 21 Egyptian Christians at the hand of the so-called Islamic State branch in Libya. These men from the Upper Egyptian city of Samalout are no different from thousands of other Muslim and Christian Egyptians in Libya, seeking employment to support their families back home.

Except that these 21 were specifically chosen for their Christian faith. The video of their beheading expressed the Islamic State’s intention to increasingly target the Copts of Egypt.

This morning the Egyptian government launched airstrikes on Islamic State positions. It has declared a week of mourning, banned further travel to Libya, and will work to facilitate the return of all Egyptian citizens. The foreign minister has been dispatched to the United Nations to discuss the necessary international response.

The Anglican Church in Egypt and the world expresses its deep condolences to the families of these men, and also to his Holiness Pope Tawadros II, patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Please join me in praying for peace in Libya, Egypt, and the entire Middle East. Please pray the international community will act in wisdom, correctly and efficiently, and support Egypt in its war on terror. Please pray the churches of Egypt will comfort their sons and daughters, encouraging them to resist fear and hatred. And please pray for the perpetrators of this terrible crime, that God would be merciful to them and change their hearts.

Jesus tells us in John 16:33, “In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

Such cheer may seem impossible, but it is God’s promise. Please pray for us, that we may live lives worthy of his name, and hold to the testimony exhibited by the brave Egyptians in Libya.

The Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer Anis
Archbishop of Episcopal / Anglican Diocese of Egypt
with North Africa and the Horn of Africa
Primate of the Episcopal / Anglican Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Is Coptic Evangelism in Africa Really on the Rise?

Bishop Antonious Marcos, missionary bishop for Africa. Behind him is a picture of the Coptic saint know as St. Moses the black.
Bishop Antonious Marcos, missionary bishop for Africa. He served first in Kenya and now in South Africa. Behind him is a picture of the Coptic saint known as St. Moses the black.

From my latest article on Christianity Today, published March 28, 2013:

Many Egyptian Christians wear their faith on their sleeve—literally. The cross tattooed on the wrist of Coptic Orthodox believers is a public display which marks their identity for all to see.

Such a quiet witness usually avoids reproach. But recently in Libya, radical Muslim militias detained dozens of expatriate Christians in Benghazi. Amid allegations that captors seared off such tattoos with acid, one Christian died from medical complications during the ordeal, and a Libyan church was repeatedly attacked.

Accusations of evangelism have been at the heart of a series of recent incidents of violence—including the first Coptic martyrs of the modern era—against Copts in Libya, Sudan, and Egypt. Which raises the question: Are Copts starting to recover their missionary heritage?

This article was co-written with a colleague from Sudan, who mentioned the following incident:

Last December, two Coptic Orthodox priests were arrested after baptizing a female convert from Islam. Since the arrests, stories about arrests of Westerners and other Christians attempting to spread the faith circulated in media linked to the state security apparatus, although the accuracy of the reports is hard to ascertain.

Though some Sudanese Copts have enjoyed business success under the Islamist government of President Omar al-Bashir, other denominations have seen their churches destroyed either by mobs or by the state, which cites the breaching of planning laws. With the independence of South Sudan removing the great majority of the nation’s Christians, Bashir has promised a 100-percent Islamic constitution.

Tensions are high also in some Egyptian villages:

There are signs Muslims feel threatened in Egypt as well. Recently churches have been attacked in Beni Suef and Aswan over female converts to Christianity alleged to be hidden inside. Generally this is understood as a Muslim community effort to save face when a woman breaks community traditions or runs away with a lover. Others think true faith might have a role.

“It is an untold story that every now and then a Muslim can be convinced and convert to Christianity,” said Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Coptic newspaper Watani. “It is always done secretly, but somehow here it became public. In Upper Egypt especially, this creates a social scandal regardless of the direction of the conversion.”

But far from politically and religiously sensitive conversions in Muslim lands, the Coptic Orthodox Church maintains missionary bishoprics in sub-Saharan Africa:

The reality is the Coptic Orthodox Church remains committed to planting churches—just not in the direction of Muslims. In the 1970s, Pope Shenouda consecrated the first of two bishops for service in sub-Saharan Africa. Today, 65 churches serve more than 400,000 Copts in Kenya, Zambia, Congo, and other nations.

“The early riches of the Orthodox tradition are spreading again in Africa,” said Antonious Marcos, appointed missionary bishop to Kenya in 1976 and now based in South Africa. “Our church is a missionary church, because it was started by a non-Egyptian: John Mark.”

This was a very interesting article to research and write, showing a side of Coptic Christians often not well known in the West. As for the question in the title, are they recovering their evangelistic impulse: Well, they are accused, it seems some are, and reality is just as murky as with Christians around the world.

Please click here to read the full article on Christianity Today.

Categories
Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Libya Offers the First Coptic Martyrs Outside Egypt in the Modern Era

Coptic Orthodox Church - Misrata, Libya
Coptic Orthodox Church – Misrata, Libya

On December 29, 2012, an unknown assailant killed two Egyptians praying in a service building attached to a Coptic Orthodox Church in Misrata, Libya. Located to the west of Tripoli, the attacker threw a homemade bomb into a midnight prayer service of 150 people, injuring two others.

According to Fr. Marcos, the Coptic priest in Misrata, the assailant appeared to have targeted the service, attacking the home rather than the more heavily secured formal church building. He did not have any prior warning of an attack, however, nor any knowledge if his church was targeted because it was a Coptic Orthodox Church in particular.

Fr. Marcos wondered if the attacker may have been confused thinking this prayer service was in celebration of the New Year. Two years earlier in Alexandria a Coptic Orthodox Church was bombed on December 31, 2011, killing 21. This prayer service had been ongoing for a month, however, so the priest offered the possibility of no connection at all.

The churches of Libya, however, are included in the Coptic Orthodox diocese of Beheira in western Egypt. This is the diocese from which the current patriarch, Pope Tawadros II, was elected.

The bombing represents an unfortunate continuation of the sufferings of the Coptic Orthodox Church since the Alexandria bombing. Fr. Marcos noted the two who died were the first Coptic martyrs outside of Egypt in the modern era.

Whoever did this, he assured, represented a very small percentage of people. Libyans, he declared, are good people who do not know religious fanaticism as they have only one religion, Islam. The church had lived in peace in Misrata for a long time.

During the Libyan Revolution at one point the church was hit by a bomb. On other occasions it was strafed by gunfire. None of these events targeted the church, and Fr. Marcos related that no injuries were suffered. The Coptic community gathered together as a community and managed as best they could.

Their management included offering service and grace to others. Soldiers connected to Col. Gaddafi at times demanded shelter in the church. This was freely offered, but with the request that all weapons be left outside. Sometimes this was followed, sometimes not.

Fr. Marcos remarked the Copts of Misrata are praying for their own salvation, the salvation of Libya, and the salvation of the world. They ask God to bring peace and love to their city, even to their enemies who committed this crime.

He remarked his church was a praying church, united in seeking blessing for all people, of which God heard their prayers. He wondered if the attack was orchestrated by the devil in an effort to stop them from praying. If so, he assured, this plan would fail.

May God bless their community, the people of Libya, Copts in Egypt and around the world, and the nations of the Arab Spring. May the upheavals they suffer result in peace, prosperity, and good governance in the near future.

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Prayers

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Terrorist Cell?

God,

It is first useful to recall what are understood to be facts. On January 28, the decisive day of the revolution, the prisons were opened. Though many were later apprehended, others are still at large.

During the volatile transition to democracy security was lax and policemen absent. It is understood many weapons entered Egypt through Libya.

Amid the controversial decisions of leadership, both the military council and President Morsy freed many convicted Islamists. Some were released long after their terms expired, others were given outright pardons.

Throughout the post-revolution months the Sinai Peninsula witnessed repeated attacks on the Israeli gas pipeline and police and military checkpoints. The president launched a high profile army crackdown on its criminals and jihadists.

So God, it is fully believable there may be terrorist cells in Egypt. If so, thank you for the discovery and apprehension of the group in Nasr City.

But some allege it is all a sham. Mostly the formerly jailed Islamists, they assert it is an attempt by security to reassert not only its authority, but also its relevance and possibly its need for emergency powers.

God, what can the average Egyptian know of these things? Should any manipulation exist, silence and thwart it. For all of Egypt’s difficulties, such has been the state of terrorism – quiet.

Keep it so, God. Keep Egypt’s political powers engaged in the peaceful transition process. Cantankerous as it is, threats and frustrations are expressed in the media or on the street. Find some way to unify all, God. May none be forced into the corner of violence, and may those who wind up on the edges of consensus recommit to a social and political struggle, neither armed nor intimidating.

Help the state to both empower and regulate the police. May they perform their duty unencumbered, serving both law and society. May the people partner, hostage to neither fear nor spite.

And of those whose consciences are seared and contemplate violence for political ends, protect the people from them. Speak to them, God, and convict them of their evil schemes. Redeem them, that they may serve not only you but others as well. Widen their vision and enlarge their hearts.

God, so much is uncertain in Egypt, but you have kept her safe. Thank you, and please continue.

Amen.

Categories
Personal

Reflections on Egypt and Libya: The Body as Bloody Canvas

As noted yesterday, I was at the protest at the US Embassy in Cairo. Really, it struck me very much as a non-event. Similar to when the Israeli Embassy was stormed last year, it seems like the work of a small few, looking to make trouble, perhaps even allowed to do so. It fits in with the manipulations all around this country, and hard to tie to any one party.

I am not pleased it happened, of course, but I can accept it. The burning of the American flag is simply a political statement. I have long learned to live with diatribes against American foreign policy, and watching a flag burn is in several ways easier to digest than someone arguing with you over why America hates Muslims, or something of the like.

But when I learned this afternoon that the American ambassador to Libya was killed in a vicious attack on the consulate there, it was a different matter entirely. My stomach sank and my day was placed on hold, as the facts settled in. Burn the flag, curse my nation, do as you wish. Many times, there is a semblance of legitimacy, if not justification, behind their frustration.

But do not kill.

Yesterday I stated I was somewhat uncomfortable among the protestors. It was mostly in the beginning, when their chants were most vociferous and individuals melted into a collective whole. After a while, it was fine, as I realized they were more summoning the will to protest than driven by rage. I always feel somewhat ashamed when I take note of my reticence; these are people who must be engaged as people. In 99% of the cases, simple human decency wins the day and creates a relationship, however temporary. It is my job and joy to serve them, to help their perspectives become understandable.

But in that 1% humanity is lost and the person becomes a canvas to paint a political message in blood.

That is Libya, and it is a reminder of what is at stake, of the depths of human depravity. Yet the blood for that canvas flows from the heart, which must bleed differently if misunderstandings and antipathies are to be overcome. This is Egypt, at least for now.

But it is Libya also, and every corner of the globe. If the heart does not bleed differently life-as-existence will continue but life-as-abundance will stagnate and die.

Unless the seed falls to the ground and dies it will produce no fruit; but if it dies it will bring forth a harvest. The heart may in the 1% bleed on a canvas, but it must bleed differently in the 99%.

It is said this is true of the American ambassador. May he rest in peace.

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Books

Launching “Books” with Libyan Poetry

If you look to the column on the right hand side of this page you will notice a new link – “Books” – which looks to chronicle what we read. A few times in this blog we have been able to write a book review of recent reading which has aided in understanding Egyptian society. Other times we have referenced a book which we have not read, but perhaps have interviewed the author or just remembered its general usefulness. The “Books” link is an effort to congregate all this information in one place, so that you can read along with us, if you care to.

The lead item in “Books” is not of this nature, however, but rather focuses on books we have had a hand in producing. Before moving to Egypt we lived in Tunisia, where among other activities I worked with a local author and publisher to translate books from Arabic into English. The first of these has come to print, which, oddly enough, is a selection of poetry from a Libyan author, entitled “The Journey of the Blind”.

I enjoyed making the translation, and though it might seem counterintuitive, translating poetry was actually a little easier than translating prose. This might not be true with classical poetry, but this author uses a modern style, which left me free to arrange meanings keeping with his style, but without the burden of having to worry about meter or rhyme.

Below is a selection from his works, selected because it is my favorite, dealing with issues of travel, home, and belonging.

MY GRANDFATHER’S TESTAMENT

[1]

I saw in the road

My old horse

Which my grandfather gave to me

Before he died,

And after he informed me

Of the dangers of travel,

Of night, of beautiful women, and of sailing,

And after he informed me

Of the dangers of the road, and thieves.

Do not let the beautiful women

Steal your little heart in the morning.

The road is before you, my dear little boy,

The road is before you,

He informed me and then closed his eyes.

[2]

In the early morning

I saw him praying,

In the paths of my homesickness,

In the forest of names and languages,

In the very cells of my body.

And I heard him say:

The best of all homelands is my home,

And the most beautiful of seas.

You see it in the sand,

In the high palm tree,

And in the mirage.

My grandfather told me

In the language of the elderly:

Do not go away,

For the people on the other side of our sea

Walk towards a distant gloom.

Do not go away, do not go away.

Beware!

Beware of the distance of the road.

Of this he informed me

               Before he fell asleep,

                           Before he fell

                                           Asleep.

Benghazi 1968

You can see an image of the book by clicking here: Cover – Journey of the Blind

The collection is available for purchase; my parents have been kind enough to agree to mail a copy to anyone interested. Full information is found under the “Books: Translations” link. Other titles referenced there can be purchased through Amazon, which if bought through this site provides us with a small percentage of the price. Not enough to persuade you not to borrow the book from the library, but on the off chance a summary catches your fancy and you would like to see the binding on your bookshelf, if you are kind enough to consider us, we appreciate it. Thanks.