Imagine living in a place where your faith made you an outcast. Perhaps it would cost you financially or would impact your career opportunities. Maybe being a Christian meant you were mocked in school or cost you friends. What if following Jesus meant your church was targeted by bombers during one of the biggest services of the year?
And what if, on top of all of that, you couldn’t keep your faith quiet, even if you wanted to?
This is the situation many Egyptian Christians find themselves in this month; they’re about to enter into the season of Ramadan when pressure for Christians in Muslim-majority countries increases. Everyone notices the Christians who aren’t participating in the cultural traditions and customs of the surrounding community. And, only one year removed from the beginning of multiple brutal terrorist attacks, you might guess that Christians in Egypt are reeling, cowering in fear and worried about the threat of violence.
Far from it; with God’s help, they are honoring the dead, praying for justice and declaring their faith boldly, even in the midst of Ramadan—even in the middle of painful memories of violence and death.
In Egypt, it’s not uncommon to see Christians with tattoos on their wrists. Many Christians have them, even children who are elementary-aged. While we in the West might be uncomfortable to see such a young child receive a tattoo, this tradition goes back centuries in Egypt.
Egypt changed from a Christian country to a Muslim country in the seventh century; according to some sources, the Christians who remained in Egypt were tattooed to show they were Christians and forced to pay a tax. The Members of an ethnic religious group from North Africa but primarily Egypt, where they are the largest Christian denomination in the country. More Christian community in Egypt has adopted the tattoo as a powerful tradition, changing its meaning into a radical expression of faithfulness in the middle of difficult situations.
The tattoos show that the bearer belongs to Jesus. To bear a symbol that will never go away means, no matter what, you carry with you a reminder of your commitment to God—and His commitment to you. The declaration of your faith is public and available for all to see; there is no hiding your allegiance to Christ when it’s permanently marked on your hand.
During the month of Ramadan, Christians around the world who live in Muslim-dominated countries are “marked” in a similar way. They may not go through the pain of being marked with ink and needle, but their behavior during this Muslim holy month identifies them in a very public way nonetheless. There is no hiding the difference in faith during Ramadan.
That’s why it’s so important to pray with and stand with our brothers and sisters around the world who are feeling an extra squeeze this month. We are all one Body of Christ–and as 1 Corinthians 12 reminds us, when one part suffers, every part suffers. That means we feel it when our brothers and sisters in Egypt, Iraq, Malaysia or Indonesia feel pressure because of their faith during Ramadan.
Most of us may not bear the literal marks of the Members of an ethnic religious group from North Africa but primarily Egypt, where they are the largest Christian denomination in the country. More tattoos, but we all share the spiritual marks of faith in Christ—a similar, radical call to faithfulness. We stand with our brothers and sisters around the world who bear this same mark, to give them encouragement and hope—and to remind them they aren’t alone.
Stand with your brothers and sisters in Christ when they need it the most.