They are known as “Coptic Christians” because of their rootedness to Mark, the Gospel’s author, who they believe brought Christianity to Alexandria (Egypt) and served as the church’s first bishop (speaking the Coptic language). Until 800 AD, Coptic Christianity was the religion of the vast majority of Egyptians, maintaining a strong majority until as late as the 10th century, when the Muslim invasion transformed Egypt. Although the Coptics were deemed second class citizens and forced to pay a special tax, they were allowed to practice their religion unmolested.
Today, Coptics represent the largest grouping of Christians in the Middle East. In Egypt, their home base, they represent 10 percent of the population.
Rest assured, the kidnappings and beheadings of these Coptic Christians were not accidental. They were designed to send a strong, if chilling, message to the world.
And there’s more. On February 24, 90 Assyrian Christians were kidnapped after ISIS radio reports claimed that they were “crusaders,” according to a report in The Guardian, a British newspaper. Churches have been burned and “hundreds” of women have been sold into slavery. Unconfirmed are reports of Christians being crucified in Syria, “literally being nailed to trees.”
The irony is stunning. In the land where Jesus was rudely unwelcomed and ultimately murdered by the state, Christians continue to face the same challenges. And the situation is dire.
During these 40 days of Lent, may I ask that you be in earnest prayer for our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East? Now more than ever they need the confidence of a global Christian community wrapping its arms around them. Pray that they will not lose faith, but remain bold and determined in their witness. Pray that they continue to reflect the life of Jesus, whose life was marked by mercy, forgiveness, grace and community. Pray that, although pushed to the edge by devilish forces, that they not fall into the hands of the ultimate enemy, Satan, who is eager for them to abandon their faith and join his demonic chorus.
Pray that Christians around the world might rise up and shout “enough!”, determined to give voice to the voiceless, protection to the powerless, and leading the charge to develop a long-term strategy for confronting evil.
Like you, I am sickened and angered by these news reports. But friends — and please hear me — we are not powerless. We serve a God who faced every bit of brutality the world threw at him and still rose victorious. His victory is in our blood.
But his victory isn’t defined in political terms. His — and our — victory is defined in far more resilient and life-changing ways like peace and reconciliation and mercy. Don’t let Satan convince you that ultimate victory looks any different than that.
So … should our president and political leaders employ a political strategy? Absolutely. In the same vein, now more than ever, Christians around the world must be bound and determined to reflect the power and passion of Jesus. ISIS cannot take that kind of power from us.
It’s in our blood.