This Palm Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of the church bombings in Egypt that took the lives of 49 and injured over 100 in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria last year. These attacks captured the world’s attention due to their timing, but they weren’t out of the ordinary for Egyptian Christians, who have been facing growing opposition from radical Islam in recent years.
This Easter season, Christians around the world – including Egyptians – face increased persecution for their faith, as those who oppose the gospel seek to strike fear into the hearts of followers of Jesus. The lessons below from our Egyptian brothers and sisters remind us that God hasn’t abandoned His people when they’re experiencing opposition and persecution – He’s instead using it to strengthen their faith and draw them closer to Him, for His glory and their good…
Lesson #1: “Teach your children that God is their best friend.”
Rasha, 31 – wife and mother in Luxor
“I see how the recent increase in persecution has influenced my two children. Daniel used to be an extrovert and outspoken. He was always the leader in the group of kids, but recently he has been really scared because of all the stories he hears. Now he doesn’t even dare to walk to the kitchen to get a glass of water on his own anymore – he always wants to be close to us.
“The most important thing I try to teach my children is that Jesus is their best friend – that He is always close by. I tell them that I can be one foot away from them, but God’s inside them. Always. And with Him, they don’t need to be afraid.
“We read the children’s Bible together daily and talk about what it means. It isn’t always easy. They don’t always understand, and they don’t dare to pray out loud yet. But I see them grow. Yesterday, I heard my son talking, but when I looked at him to show him I was listening, he told me, ‘No Mum, I am not talking to you, I am talking to Jesus!’”
Lesson #2: “Physical signs can help to remind you of God’s presence.”
Mina, 23 – business student in Cairo
“I have a little cross tattooed on the inside of my wrist. My parents gave it to me when I was still young so that I would always be reminded that I am a Christian. It’s a tradition to do this in Egypt, and many of my friends also have a tattooed cross on their wrist or their hand.
“The tattoo really helps me. Sometimes I forget that God is there, but then I see the cross on my wrist (pictured above), and I am reminded of His presence. Often, I also wear a cross around my neck. When I am afraid I grab it and I feel safe.
“There has been more to be afraid of recently. Bombs have been exploding in churches across Egypt. Maybe tomorrow a bomb will explode in our church—you never know. It doesn’t keep me from going. It would be an honor to die for Christ. As a human, I can be afraid, but I know that God can protect me if it is His will. The recent bombings have been good for me. They’ve taught me to live closer to God – be more serious about my faith. My prayers go much deeper. They really come from my heart.”
Lesson #3: “The peace of God is bigger than the fear of persecution.”
Maraya*, 29 – tourism worker in Upper Egypt
“I have experienced persecution firsthand. It’s the reason I don’t want a recognizable photo and real name to be used. The darkness in our country is growing, and I have had my share of persecution. The guy that is standing in front of my father’s shop with his cart is persecuting us. He comes into the shop to curse Christianity and the cross and to tell me he will throw acid in my face. Once he beat up my dad, and the neighbors came to help him do it.
“In our culture, if a Muslim fights against a Christian, the Muslims always side with their Muslim brother – it’s their religious duty. The police didn’t do anything with the report we filed. Later, he threatened to kill my dad if he reopened his shop. For 20 days, it was closed and we sat at home, praying and crying. Every day, people from the church came to pray with us.
“At first, I was afraid, but slowly I started to feel an unimaginable peace. It was bigger than I could understand. I hadn’t felt it before and I didn’t understand. But I felt peaceful, and not afraid anymore. My father taught me how to forgive our persecutor and how to look at him through the eyes of God. We pray for him all the time. Our fight isn’t over yet, but we know God is with us.”
As Egyptian Christians prepare for Palm Sunday, please pray with your brothers and sisters–many of whom have lost husbands, wives, children, uncles, aunts and friends in last year’s suicide bombings or other persecution attacks.
*name changed to protect identity
Large photo features cross tattoo on Mina’s wrist.