A Christmas response to a New Years tragedy in Egypt
== The following was provided by the Bible Society of Egypt and is reprinted here by permission==
On New Year’s Eve, just after midnight, a bomb exploded outside a Church in Alexandria just as worshipers were beginning to leave the Church. 21 were instantly and brutally killed (four others died later) and more than 70 were wounded.
Since the terrible explosion last October in a Catholic Church in Baghdad, El-Qaeda terrorists in Iraq have threatened to attack Churches in Egypt as well. Despite increased security by Egyptian police at the more than 3000 Churches in Egypt, with thousands of worshippers entering and exiting services, it is humanly impossible to prevent ill-intentioned incidents like that in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve.
Unfortunately, the rapid dissemination of awful pictures of dismembered bodies has been the “straw which broke the camel’s back” for many disgruntled Christians across the nation. The sense that they are discriminated against as a minority, the many incidents of attacks on Christians in the past few years, and the general economic crisis, all have built up frustration which, when sparked by this tragedy, exploded like a volcano. Many took to the streets in anger and violence directed at anyone or anything which happened to be around!
Church leaders have been working hard to calm and restrain this mob reaction which is against the spirit of forgiveness and peace taught by our Lord. Also, the majority of Muslims have expressed deep sorrow about what happened in Alexandria.
Let me try to clarify, from my perspective, the situation of Christians in Egypt:
The Christian minority (12%) in Egypt is unique in that it represents a remnant of the original Egyptians (descendents of the pharaohs) rather than a group who have come to Egypt for refuge. In spite of the discrimination against Christians in Egypt, and in spite of the many limitations they experience and the perception of some that they are “second class” citizens, many Christian businessmen have thrived with the new free market economy since President Sadat ended the socialist regime in Egypt in the early seventies, and it is estimated that they now control nearly 30% of Egypt’s wealth.
Many churches in Egypt are flourishing with plans to expand their facilities to accommodate the growing numbers of weekly worshippers. In spite of the great difficulty in getting permission to build new Churches, dozens of new Church buildings are opened every year. Christian ministries of all sorts are also booming, with expanded programs and modern facilities to help accomplish their activities.
So what’s the true picture of Christians in Egypt: “a persecuted minority” or a “thriving community”? Both of these statements are true. Like Christians everywhere in the world, those who name the name of Jesus are often ridiculed or scorned. Although Jesus is respected by all Muslims as a prophet and they affirm His Virgin birth, the tensions are escalating within the country between the advocates of a totally Islamic State (which would be very much more restrictive than at present) and moderate Muslims and Christians who are working peacefully within the present legal system for a more balanced democracy which respects human rights for all.
So how do we want brothers and sisters in the West to pray for us?
1. DISTINCTIVE CHRISTIAN BEHAVIOR
All Church leaders are distressed by the violence and anger expressed by mobs of so-called Christians around the country at this time. Please pray that those who consider themselves Christians will express their deep frustrations in a Christ-honoring way, rather than in unbridled rage and violence.
2. CHRISTMAS EVE SERVICES
On Thursday night January 6th Christians across Egypt will be in Church celebrating Eastern Christmas. Some have called for people to stay at home for fear of being attacked, but the general mood is one of defiance and confidence and it is expected that Church attendance this Christmas Eve will be greater than ever before. Many prominent Muslims have promised to attend services with Christians, to show solidarity with them and to send a message to terrorists that if they attack Churches they will be harming Muslims as well as Christians. Christmas Eve is also the time when Muslim government officials (Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, City officials) attend services with Christians to share with them in their feast. So hundreds of Muslim government officials will also be at Church Thursday night. Please pray for protection on every Christmas service across the country.
3. BIBLE SOCIETY SCRIPTURE SELECTION
Our Bible Society colleagues in Alexandria visited as many of the wounded as possible and were warmly welcomed as they distributed appropriate portions of Scripture. One young girl was very excited to receive an illustrated Bible and her mother, in delight, commented “this is just the book you have been waiting for!” During their visits they also came across some wounded Muslim soldiers who were guarding the Church and gave them appropriate gifts for which they were very thankful.