In terms of watershed events and turning points, my last visit to Egypt in 2009 now seems a near eternity ago. Just three years ago deep mistrust hindered interaction among the nation's Coptic Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Protestants. The rifts thwarted Egypt's Christians from working together for the kingdom of God.
For many years, some Egyptian Christians prayed for revival. Then as 2010 drew to a close, they heard God saying something big was going to happen in 2011. Many Christians prayed for the Lord to open new doors of ministry in the coming year. Others prayed for political change. A few minutes into 2011, a car bomb exploded as worshipers were leaving midnight Mass at a Coptic church in Alexandria, killing 23 and injuring about 100. Ten days later a police officer opened fire on Copts on a train, killing one and injuring five.
Such heinous acts of terrorism seem an anti-answer to these prayers. Violence against Christians in Egypt ramped up as a secular political revolution began to unfold, driving Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak from power. The country plunged into a violent free-for-all. Many Christians feared the worst.
One day last year amid the turmoil, the protests and violence arrived at the doorstep of an evangelical church in Cairo. The smell of tear gas permeated the room where church leaders had gathered to pray. A pastor at the gathering knew how to make an antidote cocktail to remove the sting of the gas. That's when the church's leaders came up with a simple idea: Go downstairs, greet people and offer the building's front patio as a shelter to treat the injured.
Earlier this month I traveled back to Egypt with some fellow Christians. Just a few blocks from that church, some of Egypt's youth were demonstrating against the government. We visited the church following a prayer gathering attended by a thousand Christians interceding for the nation. There we found church people on the patio treating the wounded and tear-gassed.
When I visited this church three years before, we had coffee on this same patio. Now it has become a triage hospital in the middle of a war zone.
These events have stirred Egypt's Christians to come together across denominational lines to seek the Lord. On Nov. 11, 2011, over 70,000 Copts, Catholics and Protestants held a nationally televised prayer service marked by miraculous healings. One report said the 12-hour service was the largest Christian event in Egypt for over a thousand years. "That's when we knew this wasn't a political revolution but a spiritual one," a Coptic priest told me. "Something very big is taking place."
The priest commented that 50 days later was Pentecost for Egypt's Orthodox church, which observed the event with a celebration in Tahrir Square. Christians are sharing the gospel, and Muslims are coming to faith in Christ.
But challenges abound in building a new Egypt. Before the revolution, Islamic government officials working in Parliament held prayers and Quran readings in a mosque next door. Recently, however, a fundamental Muslim read the Quran aloud on the floor of Parliament and called everyone to Muslim prayer, which halted all other activity for a time.
The past year has brought spiraling lawlessness. Days after our arrival a few weeks ago, a Presbyterian church leader driving from the airport never arrived home. He is feared kidnapped or murdered. The absence of institutional authority, combined with an absence of civil restraint, makes for big danger. We heard a lot of gunfire and agitated, chanting crowds.
Egyptians refer to this post-Mubarak reality not as "the revolution" but as "the chaos." Burned-out government buildings are everywhere, yet no one is working to repair or tear them down. The tourism-based economy is in shambles. Lack of security keeps visitors away. Extremists in Parliament have stated they want to both ban alcohol throughout the country and require female tourists at the beach to wear veils.
Trials abound. Egypt's Christians understand that greater persecution will come. But greater still is their hope. They believe Egypt's revolution isn't political, but spiritual. Many Muslims are coming to faith in Jesus, and Christians are deepening their commitment to Christ. "Salt that is in warehouses is not effective," said Yusuf (not his real name), a Muslim Background Believer. "The salt has to be in the food.
"We Christians have to go out and not only work in churches. The revolution remains incomplete. Worse things will take place first.”
The Coptic priest concurred. "We believe Egypt will come to the Lord," he told us. "We are praying for a revival to sweep all of Egypt. We're not putting hope in politics but in the Lord."
God's Word tells us that persecution is inevitable. But persecution will prepare Egypt for revival as the nation's people see the futility in any belief system not built solely on Christ. Jesus tells us that in this world we will face trouble. But through Him we can obey His call to take heart in every hardship. He has overcome the world.
Dr. Carl Moeller is president and CEO of Open Doors USA, an affiliate of Open Doors International, a worldwide ministry which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians living in the most dangerous countries around the globe since 1955. For more information, visit www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.
Publication date: February 24, 2012