Archive | August, 2013

Breaking the fear barrier!

19 Aug

EgyptprotestWhile attending a conference in Rome last month I talked with an American who describes exciting new opportunities for Christians after Egypt’s second revolution

A lot more is happening in Egypt these days than is apparent on our nightly news. A Christian worker on the ground in Cairo, whom we will call John Nyalls to protect his security, reports a groundswell of excitement among the Christian population who are involved in reaching Muslims. He declares, “One year of Morsi’s government has done more to advance Christianity in Egypt than all the decades before it.”

Media attention to Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations gives the impression that this group is much bigger than it actually is. John estimates that only about one-half to one per cent of the population are avid pro-Brotherhood and up to five per cent may be ultra-conservative Islamists. But after Morsi failed in his promise to represent all the people rather than the Islamist faction and passing an Islamist-favoured constitution, the vast majority of Egyptians made it clear they’d had enough.

So unpopular is the Muslim Brotherhood these days, observes John, that many shopkeepers are refusing to serve men with long beards (the usual Brotherhood trademark), and taxi drivers are refusing to pick them up. Some Muslims have shaved off their beards in self-defence. 

Christians–especially young people from the churches–have become proactive, handing out thousands of copies of Bibles, New Testaments and CDs of the Jesus film and other material. Very few Arabic Bibles are refused. Believers add that they’ve even observed some covered Muslim women, after receiving Bibles, lift the book to their lips in a reverent kiss.egypttahrir square

It hasn’t all been easy for the Christian population, however. Ultra-conservative Muslims have retaliated against what they called Christian support for Morsi’s removal. A number of attacks have been launched against churches and Christians, particularly those who live in Brotherhood strongholds.

 “Now,” says John, “the wolf–the Brotherhood–is no longer pretending to be a sheep. Members are now unbridled in going after churches and Christians. And this is turning more moderate Muslims against them.”

He pointed out the astonishing fact that tens of thousands of Bibles are being downloaded each month in the Muslim world. The website published an interview with Ahmad Al Qataan, an important Islamic cleric, who said that every year six million Muslims convert to Christianity.”* Unfortunately, most disillusioned Muslims will turn to atheism rather than Christianity unless more people seize the day. John reports that Christian Egyptians who have been reaching out are coming across a significant enough number of atheists; they are feeling the need for specific training on how to reach them.

The next presidential election is not slated to be held until early 2014. The interim leader has meanwhile sworn in a Cabinet that includes women and Christians but no Islamists. Although no one wants a police or army state, John agrees with many that the longer the election is put off the better. “People need time to think through who should take control. Elections came too fast after the first revolution; the Brotherhood were the only ones organised enough to step in. Seventy per cent of the population are just struggling to survive, only maybe 30 per cent are thinking through the politics. The Brotherhood actually lost last time in Cairo and Alexandria, where the intellectuals are centred.”

Considering that Christians control about 30 per cent of the economy in Egypt, it would seem that they are in a position to exert great influence. In churches the tendency has been to support Christian projects within Egypt rather than world missions. John Nyalls asserts that with the new opportunities that are now apparent, the ministry paradigm needs to change. “Pray for creativity, that churches won’t just say, ‘No money, no mission'”.