BY: MONICA MIKHAIL
The escalating political tension in Egypt these past two years broke on August 14, 2013 sending the country into chaos. Enmity ruled the hearts and minds of those who previously had power. Islamists sought to demolish the country if they could not rule it and all those who opposed them. Egypt was in distress.
Christians, as well as other groups, became targets. The days following led to the complete destruction of 52 schools, convents, monasteries, and institutions that belonged to the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant churches. Coptic Orthodox Christians, the largest Christian community in Egypt, endured over a hundred attacks on their churches and their institutions. The Church of God was under fire. On that Wednesday, when Egypt imploded, I was supposed to be studying for my Physics final but everything seemed trivial. The bloodshed and devastation consumed my thoughts.
Even before August 14, Christians in Egypt had been suffering silently—the world not taking much notice. In the times leading up to this event, the danger was very perceptible and real. Children like ten year old Jessica became victims of the aggression towards Christians. She was shot in the chest on the way home from Bible School the evening of August 6. Although the suffering of Christians in Egypt had officially become real to the world on August 14, it was the reality of many before that date.
As I sat in Berkeley’s Chemistry library staring at my physics notes thinking about the state of the Copts and all Christians, I cried for Egypt. My heart hurt for all those who were recipients of injustice. I wanted to believe that I genuinely desired to be in the country of my ancestors. As a Coptic Orthodox Christian, I wanted to believe that I would have enough courage to defend my faith just as my brothers and sisters in Christ. I wanted to believe that I would recognize what was truly important and cast aside my daily responsibilities so that I may spend time in my parish church lifting up prayers to my God. If there were attacks, I wanted to believe that I would stand with the brave even if it meant death. The truth is though, I do not know if I would be able to do any of that. In that moment, what I wanted the most was see the end of the persecution against the Church of God.
The oppressors seemed to have robbed the country of its peace. The political turmoil had caused such overwhelming tragedy – laughter was replaced with tears of mourning for the lost. When St. Paul commands us to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks,” his words seemed inappropriate to the current situation. He could not have possibly meant in everything give thanks. To me, it seems too difficult to adopt a spirit of thanksgiving during times of tribulation. However, unlike me, there were those who suffered direct persecution that were able to thank God for everything. This past September, Atef, a fourteen year old boy, returned home to his mother empty-handed after he was sent by his mother to buy his bread. He was shot in the back. Despite everything, he said, “Had it not been for God’s protection, the mob would have eaten me alive.” His love and faith in God did not waver. He was able to see God’s glory on a personal level. Hearing the stories of people like Atef convict me.
St. Peter says to the congregations belonging to persecuted churches,
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
The Church of God has always known persecution – beginning with the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to St. Peter, it is not anything that warrants confusion for even Christ says to his disciples, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you”. Rather, with great pleasure, St. Peter tells the afflicted, Rejoice! You have been found worthy to suffer with Christ! Instead of praying and beseeching Christ to call to an end the trials that pervade us, it should be asked that the Lord strengthen the persecuted so that they may continue persevering. He already does this by blessing the oppressed, saying, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven”. He reminds us that while we may suffer on earth, we should not allow darkness to consume us and pain to overwhelm us. Heaven, the ultimate resting place, should be our focus.
Christ has given us the “power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy”. We must remember the promises of the Lord and believe that even in the midst of war, that peace and joy are possible. The world may be in a state of turmoil, but this is only a temporary stop before we reach our everlasting home. Our Lord Christ assures us that “in the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world”. August 14 and the days following, I prayed for Egypt like I never had before, and I still do. However, instead of asking God to call to an end the persecution in Egypt and abroad, I ask Him to grant strength to the afflicted and I pray that I am able to stand as a witness to him when times of persecution come, no matter what form it appears in.
 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; New Kings James Version
 1 Peter 4:12-14; New King James Version
 John 15:18; New King James Version
 Matthew 5:11-12; New King James Version
 John 15:19; New King James Version
 John 16:33; New King James Version