Lessons from Christians in Egypt
Christians in Egypt teach us to care about what’s on the Lord’s heart, as well as to take heart when there is pressure to give up the faith.
The woman had been trapped inside the apartment for several months. And as she stood at the window of the third-story apartment, she gazed incredulously at the streets below. The voice in her head was telling her to jump. Jump, I will protect you. She’d heard this voice before but had resisted its request. However, this time something overcame her. She stepped out onto the ledge and let go.
Months before, this woman had made a decision that changed her life, that changed her eternity. She had decided to follow Jesus. As a result of her decision, she was now an outcast in her family. They had locked her in an apartment and for months on end pushed her to return to her Muslim roots. But this woman was faithful to the new hope she had discovered in Jesus. She wouldn’t turn her back on the loving Savior.
She wouldn’t turn her back on the loving Savior.
Bouncing off of awnings, she crashed onto the street below and got to her feet. Surveying the damage, she saw a couple bruises, nothing more, only the loving presence of Jesus Christ, her protector.
She’d escaped her tormentors, but as she stood on the bustling streets of Cairo, Egypt, she knew that the pursuit wasn’t over. Her family would continue to chase her, and danger would lurk around every corner. There was little solace, save one: the omnipotent God who delivers His people. She was confidently in love with Jesus Christ. And in the bustling streets of Cairo, she was one of the few.
Christianity in Egypt
Cairo’s crowded roadways paint the picture of Egypt’s burgeoning population. One hundred twenty million people live within its stifled borders. Most of the country’s people live along the banks of the Nile or at random oases throughout the desert. Outside of the cities, scattered villages stand as basitions of conservative cultures and traditions. Tourism tracks for ancient dynasties, and Old Testament history pepper the land. Giant metropolitan areas cast a wide net, housing wealthy elites working for global tech companies and offering garbage heaps to the weary poor. But within city cores, restless youth are starting to ask questions about Egypt’s future.
“Restless youths are starting to ask questions about Egypt’s future.”
Egypt’s longstanding relationship with Islam is demonstrated clearly by the presence of Al-Azhar University. The giant mosque serves as a beacon for Muslim scholarship. Sheikhs from around the world come to study Islamic tradition under its watchful eye. Egyptian culture is steeped in Islamic scholarship. Because most of the population speaks Arabic, people can study the Quran for themselves and are well versed in its tradition and history.
But for the nation’s youth, Egypt’s difficulties with terrorism, a ravaged economy, and pervasive domestic violence are calling some of these traditions and beliefs into question. The younger generation is open to Western thoughts and practices, encouraging a scientific study of religions and faith. This has opened a door for evangelical Christians in Egypt.
The largest cathedral in the Middle East was built in Cairo in 2019 and represents the minority Coptic faith (roughly 10% to Islam’s 90%; there is also a sliver of evangelicals). The cathedral is known in the community for its stories of victory over demon possession. However, cultural dangers and hostilities continue to rear their ugly heads around the nation’s churches.
“…cultural dangers and hostilities…”
Most churches are guarded by tanks, barbed wire, machine guns, police, and metal detectors. And while this seems like a positive step from Egyptian officials, many aren’t convinced by the show of force.
In Egypt a person is issued an ID at birth that lists his/her religion. Tellingly, it is illegal to change religions–at least not from Islam. Someone could convert to Islam though. Open evangelism is illegal for Christians.
So while the open display of protection might protect church buildings, it does little to protect church freedom. In a country driven strongly by tourism, one might suggest the tanks out front simply deter the ire of humanitarian groups.
For those on the ground in Egypt, the official view of Christians is very clear.
“…the official view of Christians…”
The aforementioned ID’s and metal detectors are a first wall in the defense of Islam. To attend a church service at a recognized Christian building, a person must clear security. And if a person has an ID card that says he/she is Muslim, admittance is likely a no-go. In fact, it is likely grounds for arrest. If an individual is trying to openly convert to Christianity, those same police who were protecting the buildings become protectors of Islam. The individual is taken to jail, from where some might never return.
Known Christians have been picked up off the street to be interrogated and coerced into giving up the names of other believers. Beatings, torture, and electrocution can all be common treatments during imprisonment.
To convert to Christianity is not just illegal and discouraged, it is deeply shameful for Muslim families. The woman’s story at the top of the article isn’t unique. For many Christian converts, it’s actually very common, and it’s not uncommon to hear a story that ends tragically.
“…not uncommon to hear a story that ends tragically…”
Many converting Christians are forced to flee from their families. Generally, a Muslim family responds by filing a false report about the relative. Thus, the police force has grounds to search for and arrest the Christian. If the police force coercion doesn’t work or isn’t handed out, the families often take matters into their own hands. The Christian convert can be beaten mercilessly until he/she renounces Christ or is killed. If anyone from the family tries to help the Christian, he/she might be killed, as well, even if he/she is a Muslim.
The Light of Jesus for Christians in Egypt
The situation is dire, overwhelming. But in the midst of darkness, Jesus Christ shines brightly.
Twenty years ago, Christian evangelists could go years without celebrating a conversion. The whole community would burst into celebration if just one person was saved. But today, despite the horrendous persecution, people are coming to the foot of the cross by the hundreds. Nearly every day, a Christian has an opportunity to bring someone to Christ. For those Christians diligently serving in Egypt, it has been answered prayer, a deeply humbling and encouraging display of God’s power and presence.
For many of these conversions, God is going before His people. There are countless stories of people encountering Jesus Christ through visions and dreams.
One man was a Muslim missionary who traveled all across Africa teaching the Quran. As he worshiped at a mosque one day, a voice spoke to him telling him that everything he was teaching was wrong. Despite having spent his whole life studying Islam, the man could not shake the overwhelming sense that indeed everything he was teaching and studying was wrong. Through faithful study, the man found Jesus Christ, the only true way to salvation.
“Jesus declared, ‘I am your gift.'”
Another man recounts a vision he had where Jesus appeared to him as a man dressed in white, offering a gift. The gift was opened, and Jesus declared, “I am your gift; I am God.”
For many Muslims, this free gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ is liberating. Islam is a works-based salvation. And the idea that Jesus simply offers himself can be confusing, but a clear demonstration of just how much He loves them. Jesus adores and died for His people, and His story resonates deeply with new believers facing intense persecution. Jesus’ own life serves as a powerful testimony to them, an encouragement to endure.
At times Jesus was misunderstood and rebuked by his own family (see Matthew 10:46-50 and John 7:1-5). Jesus was deserted by all of his friends and was beaten and arrested alone (John 18-19:16). And Jesus was brutally murdered; he was brutally murdered so that His children could be saved, so that people would know He was the Son of God, the Savior of the world (John 19:17-37).
“Jesus was misunderstood and rebuked by his own family.”
Jesus’ love and His own story inspire believers to stand for their faith and face persecution. And the litany of stories in the book of Acts provide further encouragement for Christians, as mere men lived extraordinary lives through the power of the Holy Spirit: Paul, Peter, Stephen, etc. Scripture is full of people who did not back down when it came to their faith in Jesus, and throughout all of it God was faithful. Christians today in Egypt are convicted to live the life that Jesus has called them to.
And through this conviction, Egyptian believers have a couple words of encouragement for the global church:
First, Christians in Egypt encourage us to “care about what’s on the Lord’s heart.”
Through an earnest plea, this believer expressed an essential element of the Christian walk. The goal of the Christian faith is to be like Christ. To be like Christ though, a believer must know what Christ wants, what He thinks.
It’s a reminder not to just fit Jesus into life, but to make Him Lord of it: “Yet I want your will not mine” (Luke 22:42).
“So humble yourselves before God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you” (James 4:7-8).
“Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you.”
Resist the desire to become lord of your own life; give it to God.
As a believer draws close to God, He promises to draw close to them, teaching them who He is. Caring for the things on God’s heart and taking an interest in His mission will give believers discernment in their prayers and in their actions. They will be able to act like Christ because they are doing what He wants them to. They won’t live aimlessly and pray ineffectively but will be used by God to accomplish His will.
Secondly, Christians in Egypt encourage us to take heart.
“Don’t be afraid to suffer,” one believer says, pointing to Romans 8:28:
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”
This believer wants to remind the church that this world is not home. The lives, bodies, and dreams people focus on pale in comparison to knowing Jesus. Nothing else matters, so wholeheartedly pursue Jesus, and teach others to do the same.The suffering can serve God’s greater purpose. Time is short; eternity is coming quickly, so don’t lose focus.
“Suffering can serve God’s greater purpose.”
“I just want to know the Lord, and that’s what I want for others.”
Admittedly, it can be difficult. Satan does not make it easy; he does not want people to know Jesus. The promise of Scripture though is that God will not let His children stand alone. And God’s children can rest confidently in His promises.
“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
“I will never leave you. I will never forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6,8/Hebrews 13:5)
As a believer in Egypt put it, “The Word of God is so powerful, and we don’t need anything else. That is enough.”