Four Years After Mass Beheadings, Families of 21 Martyrs Share Hope of Heaven

February 15, 2019 by Lindy Lowry in Middle East

“We only knew martyrdom from films, but martyrdom was reintroduced and it strengthened our faith because these people, these 21 martyrs, lived among us.”

For Malak, the reintroduction of modern-day martyrdom on a worldwide scale is especially sobering. He is the father of one of the 21 martyrs killed by Islamic State militants on the Libyan coast. Few will forget the graphic images of the mass beheadings in a video released and paraded online around the world.

Today, February 15, marks the fourth anniversary of the deaths of 20 Coptic Christian men from Egypt (Copts are the native Christians of Egypt) and one Christian man from Ghana—all 21 martyrs for their faith.

In the days and weeks leading up to their deaths, ISIS captors reportedly tortured the men who had traveled the 1,200 miles to Libya to find work and support their families. Militants attempted to persuade them to deny Jesus in return for their lives. They all refused. In fact, during the barbaric execution, the men repeated the words, “Lord Jesus Christ.”

New Book Captures Families’ Faith

A new book, The 21: A Journey Into the Land of Coptic Martyrs, by German novelist and poet Martin Mosebach includes interviews with families of the men who were killed.

Reportedly, what he found was “a completely different point of view of martyrdom.”

“No lamentation, no mourning, no pity, but, instead, pride and happiness. This was not seen as an injustice or an incident that should not have happened. On the contrary, mothers, widows, brothers, and fathers all spoke the same language.” 

Mosebach commented on the hope of Heaven and faith of the families he spent time with in Upper Egypt: “There was really the presence of the supernatural in the lives of these very simple people who were not mystics at all. These were people with very simple theologies, but it was a real theology,” he said.

‘The Faith of All of Us Grew’

Mosebach’s observations align with the words of families who spoke about their loved ones–and their own faith–last year when the church dedicated to the martyrs opened. Strengthened by visibly seeing and hearing the faith of their martyred loved ones, family members responded quickly. Only three months after the video released, they initiated the building of a church in honor of all 21 men.

This house of worship, they proposed, would be built in Upper Egypt’s Minya province in the tiny agricultural village of al Aour (155 miles south of Cairo)—the area where 13 of the martyred Egyptians lived. Last year, the Church of the Martyrs of Faith and Homeland opened its doors.

“I am proud that my father is on the pictures in the church,” Fifi Shehata, the daughter of Maged, said in an interview last year. “It’s a big honor… At first, it was hard to deal with the fact that our father was martyred, but later we felt comforted by God.”

Malak looks beyond the senseless killings and shares an eternal perspective. His words reflect hope, reminding us of second-century Christian author Tertullian’s famous observation: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

“To be honest, I was happy when I saw my son in the video,” he told World Watch Monitor, “because then I knew the place he had gone to. And when I saw he died with the name of Jesus on his lips, I was very proud. I rejoiced!”

Malak said his own faith, as well as the faith of the whole Christian community in Egypt, had grown as a response to the evil carried out on Sunday, February 15, 2015. Indeed, his insights are proven. Our partners in Egypt continue to share that the Church is growing as a result of persecution,  as increasing numbers of Muslims leave Islam and turn to Christ.

He is thankful for this church being built in the name of all 21 martyrs: “That is even better,” he says. “The faith of all of us grew.”

The wife of 29-year-old martyr Samuel Abraham echoed Malak. Only a week after learning her husband was one of the 21 men, she told Vice News: “ISIS thought the killing of our relatives would destroy us. It did not. It revived us.”

In October 2017, Libya officially confirmed it had found the bodies of the beheaded Christians, and in May 2018, the families of the 20 Egyptian men received their loved ones’ remains, which were buried in the new church. A

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