Undaunted by the slaughter of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya in early 2015, 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.
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.”
'Their intended victory was instantly nullified by the steadfast voices of the 21, putting their trust in Christ.'
The Bible Society distributed the tract through Egypt’s churches, but one congregation went a step further. Isaaf 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.’
The moment-by-moment staged filming of the process of torture and beheading of 20 Christian workers from Egypt and one from Africa, accomplished what for ISIS was an unwanted and unforeseen result. The intended ‘victory’ proclaimed was instantly nullified by the steadfast voices of the 21, putting their trust in Christ to sustain them, not in whispers but in shouts, “Yasouh, Yasouh, Jesus, Jesus”, for the world to see and hear. It echoed in living colour the prophecy in Revelation 20:4 - ‘And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus, and because of the word of God.’ But also the promise in Rev. 2:10 - ‘Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor's crown.’
'He publicly forgave the men who killed his two brothers.'
The beheadings by the Islamic State in Libya have resulted in unprecedented sympathy for Egypt’s Christians, who are increasingly finding common identity across denominational lines. The martyrdoms have also allowed Copts a platform to witness to the realities of their faith, as they publicly forgave the terrorists.
Last week, the brother of two of the 21 Coptic Christians beheaded presented an extraordinary message of grace to the killers. Beshir Kamel thanked ISIS for including the men's declaration of belief in Jesus, saying it had strengthened his own faith. Then, asked if he would forgive his brothers' murderers, he said that his mother would open her home to the men, and ask God to open their eyes. He even prayed for the men involved, asking God that they would be saved. Check out the moving SAT-7 television broadcast.
BBC Trending reported on a video made by young Egyptian Christian Anne Alfred, which had gone viral in her home country in the wake of the slaughter. The video, which calls for forgiveness and peace instead of anger and hate, was watched over 500,000 times in the week following the murders. Quoting Jesus with the words ‘Forgive them father, for they know not what they do’, Alfred's video struck a chord with Christians and Muslims in Egypt and beyond.
The golden thread running through these stories is this remarkable notion of forgiveness, even in the face of unspeakable horror. People who've been directly bereaved, whose lives as they knew it are over, expressing grace, forgiveness and peace to the very people who caused their pain. “What kind of power produces that much strength?” asks columnist Martin Saunders of Christian Today. “I don't think we should underestimate the power of this reaction. In the face of brutal radicalism, forgiveness is an even more radical response, that might ultimately throw ISIS’ plans and ideology off course.”
'If we don't forgive what do we have? Retaliation, resentment and anger, but no solution and no closure.'
The power and the point of forgiveness is brilliantly illustrated by Coptic Bishop Angaelos, who said: "When it comes to crimes perpetrated against us, there is only one way forward, and that is to forgive. If we don't forgive what do we have? Retaliation, resentment and anger, but no solution and no closure." And of course, this is what sets Christianity apart, both as a worldview and as a faith. Forgiveness is part of the Christian DNA.
The new ‘Two Rows by the Sea’ tract underscores how openly Christian material circulates in today's Egypt. Also at the Arab world’s largest book fair in Cairo, held January 28 to February 12, which drew 2 million visitors, the call of the gospel resounded. Injeels, Arabic New Testaments, were available for the equivalent of 13 cents. A DVD of the Jesus film was available for free to every curious observer.
“There has been a great response to our presence at the fair,” said Henain Ibrahim of Spiritual Service for Publishing (SSP), a Cru affiliate, one of at least a dozen Christian publishers. “Though we do not target Muslims, as the great majority in Egypt it is natural they have been the majority of our customers as well.” By the end of the fair, SSP had sold more than 7,000 New Testaments and given away more than 17,000 copies of the Jesus film.
Stories about how God works among refugees and Muslims will help mobilize the Church to participate in this strategic mission and seize the opportunities that arise.
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