The Attacks on Egyptian Churches
By Ken Walker-
When I quoted a Christian leader as saying that President Mohammed Morsi had placed Egypt on the edge of a volcano that could erupt at any moment, I had no idea how prophetic those words would be.
“The rapid developments taking place in Egypt nowadays bring an image to mind—a man standing in the middle of a blowing sandstorm,” he said in the story I wrote for the June issue of Charisma.
The situation is changing so fast and remains so tenuous that I e-mailed several sources to ask for a comment after Morsi’s overthrow. The only response I received was one Egyptian who promised to reply but didn’t.
My concern stemmed from curiosity over whether the opponents of Christianity were using the cover of the Muslim Brotherhood’s outrage over Morsi’s ouster to fuel further attacks on churches. This concern proved to be well-grounded.
The first report I noticed surfaced in mid-July, when Charisma’s daily news service carried a story headlined, “Christians Emerge as Scapegoats After Egypt’s Coup.”
It detailed how Muslim extremists had targeted the nation’s Christian minority (roughly 13 percent) for blame despite the Islamist leader’s widespread popularity.
“I talked to leaders up in Alexandria that have said it’s an absolute mess up there,” said Tom Doyle of e3 Partners at the time. “It is on the radar, not as much as Cairo and Tahrir Square, but there are some terrible things happening.”
He also said while Christians were delighted with Morsi’s removal, they were bracing themselves for expected counter-attacks and asking for prayer.
By mid-August, I wasn’t surprised to see other stories about attacks on churches. One said that nearly 20 churches had been attacked, looted and burned in a single day. Another quoted a Baptist pastor who posted Facebook updates and a video of the damage to his church from arson.
Soon after, I received an e-mail update from Doyle with an update from Robert Hope, e3’s U.S. team director for Egypt.
Hope recalled spending an hour on the phone with an unnamed Christian he called H in which H told of the situation in Egypt being much worse than reported in most news coverage.
H said 60 churches had been burned across Egypt, a number that soon rose to 75; I wouldn’t be surprised to see it go higher. Three of them were in H’s hometown of Beni Mazar—one Baptist, one evangelical and one Coptic (the Copts are by far the largest Christian presence there.)
Fortunately, this update contained a kernel of good news similar to what I heard talking with other Egyptians: some Muslims react to persecution by showing up to help protect churches. (A similar report appears in the Sept. 7 issue of World magazine.)
“Pastors are encouraging them to leave the churches, saying, ‘You are more precious than these buildings. We can rebuild them, but we don’t want you to lose your life,’” Hope said.
With the situation changing by the day, there may be other, earth-shattering developments even as you read these words.
Yet some words from my original interviews are worth remembering. Among them is the statement by Orlando pastor (and Egyptian native) Shaddy Soliman, that, historically, every time there is political chaos and uncertainty we always see the church experiencing true revival.
And, a request from Fazil Kahlil, assistant pastor of the largest evangelical church in Cairo, that believers elsewhere pray that Christians in Egypt would remain strong in their faith and endure persecution.
“Pray that we will be faithful to what God is calling us to as the church in Egypt and faithful to the cost,” Kahlil says. “And, if God’s glory is coming, that we will be ready to see the suffering come.”
If others can learn one thing from believers in Egypt it is the need to seek God, cry out to Him and live according to His Word, Soliman says.
“Our hope needs to be in the kingdom of God, not political systems or loyalty to the nation,” he told me. “God’s kingdom needs to become the driving force of our hope.”
Indeed it does, no matter where we live.