A Crown of Beauty for Ashes
On August 15, after the Muslim noon prayer, hundreds of angry attackers armed with sticks, knives and guns marched into the street of a village located about 75 miles south of Cairo shouting victory against “infidels” – in this case, meaning Christians.
From building to building, and door to door, crowds of enraged Muslims broke into every shop and house, looting as they went. Eventually the mob arrived at the village church claiming victory when one attacker climbed atop the church’s steeple. As the church’s cross came crashing down, the crowd cheered. It did not take long for the mob to begin stealing computers, furniture and other valuables; then setting the building on fire.
Local Christians at first watched the attack from the relative safety of their balconies, but quickly choose to evacuate, running for their lives. In an instant, life savings were either looted or destroyed. However, many Christians agreed that the overwhelming feeling of hatred towards them was worse than the loss of possessions. Horrified young girls, mothers and children together with their husbands and fathers gathered helplessly wondering, “What are they going to do to us? Why are these people attacking us? What did we do to deserve this?”
The walk down the street that morning was the longest ever for Markus and other church members. The destruction was stunning! None of them could have ever imagined a day when peaceful Christians, who had lived in the area for centuries, would endure such a dreadful wave of attacks!
As the group led by Markus finally arrived at the 1,200-year-old church building, they walked through the burnt rubble wondering; “How are we going to prepare this place for the Friday worship service?” The priest insisted that the church service must take place, regardless of the destruction. He had been inspired by Pope Tawadros II’s message. As the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, following the attacks on Christians in Egypt, Pope Tawadros II said, “If the destruction of these properties was the price Christians in Egypt have to pay to get a free Egypt, then that sacrifice is worthwhile.” In total, more than 85 churches and Christian-owned properties were viciously attacked and burned in the series of attacks across Egypt.
Marcus shares that in spite of the destruction, the hope for Christians in this small village remains firmly rooted in God’s Word. The message delivered that Friday morning in hull of their burned-out church was from Isaiah 61:3, “… to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”
A month after the attacks, a majority of the Christians affected have been identified and are already receiving physical and emotional support through Open Doors channels and other ministry groups. Here are just a few of the ways they have been helped:
- Restoring homes by painting and replacing windows and doors, and purchasing new basic furniture, appliances, mattresses, linens, cookers, water heaters, small fridges, clothing, blankets, and manual washing machines.
- Buying bulk food, including wheat and rice, and replacing a number of buffalo and sheep stolen from farmers.
- Restoring shops and livelihood by restocking grocery stores, paint shops, purchasing furniture and tools for a barber shop, and shoes for a shoe shop.
- Providing shelter for 30 Christian families forced out of the village because their homes were completely destroyed.
- 120 children also received new school bags with notebooks, pens, pencils, etc.
Open Doors learned through the tears of grateful fathers and mothers that their hope has been restored, and they have a new determination to stay in their villages and shine Christ’s light and love among their neighbors. A priest from the church shared a message to the world, “Please tell Christians around the world how thankful we are for standing by our side when we’re going through such hard times in Egypt. We’re so grateful not only for the financial and practical support we received, but also for the prayers and spiritual support.”
Join in praying this prayer.
Lord Jesus, daily we are reminded of the spiritual battle being waged against Your church. It would seem hopeless, indeed, if not for reminders of the power of Your presence in the midst of crises. Thank you for the clear protection that you showed over Your flock in Egypt; that although earthly possessions were destroyed, Your protection … and then Your provision … are a testament to the faithfulness of Your Spirit. Father, today we join with our brothers and sisters in Egypt rejoicing in Your Word, praying as one, “… to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” In the name of Jesus, who hears and understands the suffering of His people. Amen.
*Representative photo used to protect identity.