We Must Keep Standing Up!

May 20, 2022 by Isaac Six in Advocacy

A few years ago, as I walked near the Monastery of Saint Simon in Cairo (also known as the Cave Church), I heard a young boy cry out.

Looking across the street, I noticed the boy and his father at a little stand that I first mistook for a food vendor. As I got closer, I realized the stand belonged to a tattoo artist, and to my great surprise, the boy, about five years old, was in the middle of getting a new tattoo on his wrist.

To many in the West, seeing a small child getting a tattoo on the side of the road would understandably be a strange sight, but this was no ordinary tattoo. It was the Coptic Cross, and it is common among the Copts of Egypt to get the tattoo at a young age, permanently marking themselves as a member of the Coptic Christian community.

It’s difficult to overstate the significance of this. The Coptic people have faced centuries of overt discrimination and persecution. They are a minority in Egypt, and openly practicing their faith in the wrong city or at the wrong time can get them beaten or arrested. They often serve as scapegoats for imagined crimes. To mark oneself permanently and clearly as a Copt is to make a bold and public declaration of faith and community to the world, one that could cost dearly.

For me, the brave act of this young boy and his family serves as both a call to be bold in my own faith, and as a reminder that the victims of persecution we advocate for are often only just starting out in life.

In fact, a few of the greatest advocacy efforts in recent years have involved young children. In 2014, Open Doors USA and many others drew attention to the case of Mariam Ibrahim, a young, pregnant mother sentenced to death for apostasy in Sudan. Mariam gave birth while literally still in chains in a Khartoum prison, only to be released and given asylum in the United States after widespread international condemnation.

In 2014, the kidnapping of 270 girls by Boko Haram in Nigeria, most of whom were Christian, led to the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Everyone from First Lady Michelle Obama, to Angelina Jolie, to Open Doors USA urged Nigerian government officials to help secure their release. Today, more than half of those kidnapped have returned, though others, including Leah Sharibu, a Christian girl taken in 2018, remain hostages.

Finally, in 2021, an advocacy case in a closed nation that remains confidential due to security concerns has led to a father being reunited with his wife and young daughter, released from jail after they were imprisoned separately for telling others about Jesus.

In all of this, I’m reminded of the incredible compassion Christ has for children, perhaps nowhere more clearly stated than when He exhorted His disciples to “let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these (Matt. 19:14).”

Much work remains. In China alone, millions of Christian parents may not legally take their children to church, where egregious regulations criminalize the attendance of anyone under 18 at religious services.

For this reason, we must continue to advocate on their behalf, speaking out boldly to governments and officials: “let the little children come to Jesus.”

After all, if a young Coptic boy is willing to tattoo the cross of Christ to his wrist as a bold declaration of faith, how can we fail to stand up for him and so many others like him when they face persecution? The simple answer is: We can’t.

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