Last Friday was Christmas for many Orthodox believers. It is also Christmas for the Coptic believers. The Coptic Faith has a long and rich history. It originated in Egypt, in fact, Alexandria might be considered the place of origin. They were Egyptians. Though they have a closer tie to the Orthodox church, there are also Coptic Catholic Churches and even Coptic Protestant Churches. The Copts represent an estimated 10-20% of the Egyptian population. The Coptic Church has expanded into other cities in the Middle East, representing the largest body of Christians in the Middle East. There are even Coptic Churches in many other African countries.
On New Year’s Day a bomb exploded outside a Coptic Church in Alexandra, killing 23 Copts. The killing of these Coptic believers put a damper upon their celebration of Christmas. Though Muslim extremists are blamed for this bomb, Muslims all over Egypt have expressed their disgust with this brutal attack. Thousands have shown great sympathy and compassion for the families of the Copts killed in this attack. As a demonstration of goodwill, thousands of Muslims even attended the Coptic Christmas celebration on January 6 and 7. In fact, some very famous Muslim intellectuals, actors and clergy also joined the Copts.
This killing symbolically represents the sad state of affairs in the world in regards to the freedom and tolerance of religions. I realize that this is a delicate subject. The freedom and tolerance of religion has most often been nice words but in reality non-existent. The so-called “religious wars” give this principle of respect for each other’s religious a bad name, to say the very least. Most often the assaults upon this principle came from religious extremists. It is frequently more about political power than about religion.
It’s not hard to think of examples: Outrageous and unimaginable were the massacre of Christians in Roman Coliseums and the massacre of the Huguenot Christians in France. We have all heard the horrendous stories of the Jewish Holocaust. Many of us are acquainted with religious persecution of protestant pastors and believers during the tyranny of such country leaders as Nicolae Çeauçescu. Most of us will never forget the tragic killing of the five missionaries on the shore of the Curaray River in Equator by the Auca Indians (the Waodani people). The list goes on and on and on.
The national pastors whom Praise International sponsors deal with many forms of religious discrimination. Be it in Africa, India or the Philippines, etc. The discrimination against our Praise pastors comes no where close to the above-mentioned atrocities, but it is still very real. Having worked often with a great number of pastors in Eastern Europe, I know that protestant churches have experienced religious oppression and persecution, mostly from national régimes, frequently by creating subtle and less subtle laws that obstruct the growth of the protestant church and punish its adherents in some ways. I have been saddened deeply, spending time with many Romanian pastors who experienced first-hand the cruel years of Çeauçescu, listening to their stories of persecution and survival.
Romanian Pastor Richard Wurmbrand survived years of torture and imprisonment during the Çeauçescu years. After his release, Wurmbrand founded the Voice of Martyrs, a well-known ministry whose mission is to help pastors, serving in countries where they suffer severe religious persecution. Open Doors is a ministry that has a similar passion.
Praise International has partnered with Romanian Pastor Ion Vasile, supporting and facilitating the ministries of several Romanian pastors. Pastor Vasile and his family are very dear friends of mine. In spite Romanian laws meant to stifle the expansion of protestant churches, he has personally planted several churches and through discipling aspiring young Bible school students, training them, challenging and coaching them and his supervision of them, many other evangelical protestant churches have been planted in eastern Romania.
Please pray for Pastor Ion Vasile, for his family, for the many pastors whom he oversees, for the Romanian Christians in these churches and for the spiritual needs of this entire country. Pray also for pastors and Christians all over the world are being persecuted.