The Radical Forgiveness One Egyptian Mother Has for Her Son’s Murderers
On May 26, 2017, 28 Egyptian Christians traveling to a monastery in Egypt’s Minya region died for their faith when ISIS militants attacked their bus. For survivor Nadia, a day she had been looking forward to turned into a day that changed her life forever. She recently talked with Open Doors about that terrible day and shared, if given the chance, what she would say to her son’s attackers.
“A mother of six children, one of whom is in Heaven.”
This is how Nadia introduces herself. An entire wall in her house in the rural Egyptian town of Buni Suef is covered with pictures of her son, Hany, including a joyful selfie taken just hours before his death. The Friday morning excursion was a trip the whole family had been looking forward to. Relatives from the United States were visiting, and everyone was excited about visiting the monastery in upper Egypt’s western desert to celebrate the Feast of the Ascension.
“We weren’t worried about our security at all,” she says.
Deny Your Faith or Die
Arriving on the rough road to the monastery (from the start of the path, it takes an hour to reach the monastery and cell communication cuts off a few miles on the road), Nadia saw what she thought were men in military clothing standing on the road. Instead, they were armed ISIS militants who had strategically staked out the area, knowing that Coptic Christians would be traveling there.
Suddenly, the armed men shot the wheels of the bus. From her seat at the back of the bus, Nadia watched the as the men in masks entered. The first man they turned to was her son-in-law, Sameh, sitting at the front.
“They ordered him to convert to Islam,” Nadia says. “But my son-in-law showed the cross tattoo on his wrist and said: ‘No, I will not. I am a Christian.’ Then he was shot.”
Below, Nadia remembers the bus attack that killed her son and son-in-law.
One by one, the attackers turned towards each man, giving him the same choice: Deny your faith or die. Then they stopped where Hany was sitting. He also raised his wrist.
Nadia heard the last words of her son: “No, I am a Christian.”
“Maybe you think I would rather have seen my son make a different choice,” Nadia says. “And of course, as a mother, I am terribly sad and angry. But I am happy that I witnessed the faith I raised him in. I am thankful that he wouldn’t deny Christ even with his life in danger. He made the right choice, and that has been a huge comfort to me.”
After the attackers shot all of the men, Nadia noticed that one of her younger relatives, 24-year-old Bishoy, had survived. The attackers also saw this. Bishoy’s mother begged them to spare her son, Nadia says, but the gunmen showed no mercy and shot him in the neck.
Then militants turned towards the women and, shouting insults, took all their jewelry. Nadia watched in horror as the gunmen grabbed her 3-year-old grandson, Mina.
“They said they would kill my grandson Mina if the girls on the bus wouldn’t come with them,” she says.
Suddenly, they left Mina and ran out of the bus toward an approaching pick-up truck for yet another attack, this time a father traveling to the monastery with his two sons.
“I still thank God that He prevented the girls from being taken,” Nadia says. “The men would have abused them terribly.”
One of the few survivors, Nadia fainted when a gunman approached her.
“I was no longer conscious of my son or anybody. I didn’t say goodbye to anybody,” she says.
She sustained a critical injury in her arm caused by random gunfire and can no longer use it. In the aftermath of the attack, she says she has felt carried by God and the church. The Bible on her table with the open notebook next to it are visible signs of how Nadia has clung to her faith in Christ to find healing and strength in life’s darkest hours.
“Without God’s comfort, I would have gone crazy,” she says, pointing to a verse that has meant so much to her over the last year:
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
Nadia misses her son every day. But she has the assurance that Hany is in Heaven with the Savior he didn’t deny–and that she will see her son again. If she were presented with the same life-or-death choice between denying Jesus or life, she would surely respond the same way Hany, Sameh and the other men did. “If I meet the attackers of my son and they kill me for my faith, I’d be happy,” she says. “Then I would join my son in Heaven.”
But her time spent with God and His Word in the community of Christians also has Nadia doing what many would describe as a seemingly impossible feat for a mother who watched the murders of her son and family members, witnessing their attackers carry out one evil act after another.
Says Nadia: “I pray that they will be touched by God so they will change their ways.”
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