Release’s Jack Norman heard on a recent visit to Egypt how Christians continue to suffer in a culture of oppression.
Life for Christians in Egypt has been marked for 2,000 years by persecution.
Most recently, for example, suicide bombers attacked St Peter and St Paul’s Church in Cairo in 2016, killing 29 people. In 2017 at least 30 Christians travelling to a monastery were forced off their bus and shot after refusing to convert to Islam. The following year, seven believers were ambushed and killed while making the same journey.
Despite freedom of religion being protected by the constitution, mobs have attacked churches in rural areas with seeming impunity, and young Christian girls continue to be kidnapped and forced into marriage with Muslim men.
In Egypt today all believers face a daily life of discrimination and oppression. This is most evident in the lives of those who converted from Islam.
One such family of Muslim- background believers came home one day to find their apartment broken into. They quickly discovered the thief – but when confronted he told them that if they reported him he would tell their entire community that they were now ‘Jesus followers’, and they would be forced to flee their home.
This man has returned several times to steal more items with impunity, knowing that they are powerless to stop him.
‘As a secret believer, Fatima is not able to share her faith openly with her family’
I was told about Fatima (not her real name), the wife of a prominent man described as ‘very serious’ about his Muslim faith.
Fatima began following Jesus some time ago, but is largely confined to her home. Discipleship takes place via the phone, when her husband is out.
As a secret believer, Fatima is not able to share her faith openly with her family, but chooses to stay and live as salt and light among them.
I was told she sometimes calls our partner and simply asks ‘Is it OK for me to cry?’
Once given ‘permission’, they told me that Fatima can cry for several hours over the phone.
I asked our partner if this was because she was being abused or beaten. The answer was surprising. ‘She cries because she cannot worship God openly as she would like to in her heart,’ he told me.
For some who are exposed as Christians, oppression can quickly turn to violence – there are many stories of new believers being kidnapped and tortured by family members to force them back to Islam.
Such is the price paid by those turning to Christ in Egypt.
However, although life will never be the same, they know the treasure they have found. They choose to live as secret believers, aware of the price they might pay if discovered – but praying that through the testimony of their changed lives they might one day see their families saved.
These courageous believers deserve our prayers and support.
While all Egyptian Christians face oppression and discrimination, women believers face unique challenges.
Helping women to build spiritual and economic resilience, and to take responsibility in their household, are some of the aims of Release’s Strength to Stand groups in Egypt and also in Pakistan.
Thanks to your prayers and gifts, much success has been achieved in meeting these aims – but there have been many less obvious outcomes too.
For example, ‘Mary’ (not her real name) was always quarrelling with her neighbours and had little understanding of the Bible and prayer. During one of our Strength to Stand groups, she was encouraged to show love to others. As she put this into practice it had an impact on her community, leading to stronger relationships with her neighbours.
Some women in the groups gather family members and neighbours to study the Bible together. They teach what they have learned in the group and get people to memorise scripture for themselves.
It’s not just women who are benefiting. In one neighbourhood husbands have seen the positive changes in the lives of their wives – and have asked church leaders to start a group for them!
The outcome of all of this is that ‘many families are returning to church and the church overall is being strengthened’, said our partner.
Read more about the courageous faith of persecuted Christian women in Embrace, the free newsletter of our Release Women ministry.
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