15 December 2017

Open Doors

Serving persecuted Christians worldwide

The march was planned as a peaceful protest against violence and intimidation towards Christians in Egypt. But when the vehicles started driving into protestors and the snipers started firing, everything changed.

The months since the revolution had been difficult for the church in Egypt. Churches had been attacked, homes ransacked and burned, Christians murdered.

When a church in Aswan was burned to the ground Egyptian Christians decided to make a statement. On Sunday 9 October 2011, thousands would march to the Maspero Building, the Cairo headquarters of much of Egypt’s stateowned media.

It was carefully planned. The authorities were fully informed of the route and permission was obtained for the march to go ahead. It was intended as a peaceful demonstration.

But it didn’t work out that way at all.

As the marchers passed under a road bridge, unknown protestors pelted them with rocks from above. Then, when they arrived in the centre, scuffles broke out. Groups of men attacked the protestors with knives, metal poles and construction timbers. Then things got really bad. Suddenly there was gunfire, wounding hundreds and fatally wounding at least five of the pedestrians. And then, horrifically, military vehicles started driving straight into the protestors.

Video from the march shows the stuff of nightmares. In the orange-red glow of flares and fires we see people running for their lives. Riot-shielded police are shown savagely beating protestors with sticks. And, most shocking of all are the scenes of huge armoured patrol vehicles charging at the crowds like monstrous, angry bulls, ramming them, crushing them under their wheels. It was carnage.

Some 27 protestors died in the attack. Five appeared to have been shot by snipers on the roofs. Eleven were crushed to death beneath the wheels of the attacking vehicles.

It became known as the Maspero Massacre.

A stick in the shape of a cross

Samir, a Christian living in Cairo, was marching that night when the military vehicles started to charge the protestors.

“I looked back and saw the vehicles coming from behind us… as I ran this way, I felt it was coming this way, too… I ran with all my strength to get away from it. What would I do in front of the vehicle?

How could I stand in front of it? What can one man do, when all he has in his hand is a stick in the shape of a cross?”

“There were cars parked, there were a lot of people behind me. I was not alone. I jumped between the cars, so it hit the man directly behind me and threw him down.”

Samir escaped from Maspero and fled into Tahrir Square, only to face more violence.

“Those who escaped from the vehicles were hit by the batons,” he said. “And those who escaped the armoured cars and the sticks started to be hit by some troublemakers because they’d been incited by news that the Christians were killing, hitting the army.”

“When I went home I turned on the TV and I saw all the Egyptian media, all the channels saying that the Christians were killing the army,” said Samir. “I tried to call several channels to tell them, what you are saying is a lie. I couldn’t get through. The truth is not being told: I am the one beaten and it is said I am the attacker! I am the dead and it is said that I kill!”

More work than ever

After the attacks by both the army and the official media, you might be forgiven for thinking that the church would keep a low profile for a while. But the truth is that Christians in Egypt are aiming to tell more and more people about Jesus.

“We are full of hope and determination to keep on working,” said Brother Aziz, Open Doors’ director in Egypt. “Since the revolution, everybody expected that our work would stop or be affected, but by the grace of God, the work is growing because there is a growing need in the hearts of people. A wonderful spirit of prayer is coming over the country.”

“We are working hard on discipleship and small groups,” said Aziz. “We do not know what will become of the church in the near future, so we are preparing people to be able to continue to worship God and learn the Bible in their own homes, if necessary.”

“In the rural areas, normal churches have 100-300 members, operating in run-down buildings, because they’re not allowed to rebuild or refurbish them. They don’t have enough leaders.”

One feature of the Arab spring has been the use of mobile phone technology. The revolution has been filmed, texted, tweeted. Aziz spoke of their vision to use this technology to build Christian discipleship among Egyptian Christians.

“We have developed a discipleship programme for mobile phones that young people can use. They can download the software and can use it on their own or in groups.”

“We believe that Egypt is the heart of the Arab World,” says Aziz. “We are privileged to be a live church in Egypt. We are operating like a flagship, knowing that what God says to us in Egypt will eventually have an impact on all the Arab speaking countries.”

Arab Spring or Christian Winter?

The vision is undimmed, but the future is precarious. In Egypt, as in all the countries affected by the Arab Spring, the situation could turn very bleak for the church.

On 11 November, tens of thousands of Christians from all denominations gathered together for 12 hours in the Cave Church in Cairo to pray for their nation.

“We believe that prayer will change things, though we still don’t see it in reality right now,” said Nada, another Christian living in Cairo. “And even though it is getting tighter and tighter, and injustice against us is rising, God cares for us, He listens to us.”

“What we need the most is for others to support us in prayer,” says Samir. “Pray for us, pray for the Christians in Egypt. Those people need to be encouraged with words of prayers.”

“Many times the truth is not declared. What are we asking for? All that we are asking for is the freedom of religion, a place to worship, to be equally treated, like any other person. I am an Egyptian. I have rights and I have duties. I am only proclaiming my rights, my right to worship my God, have a place to worship and my right to freedom, not to be bound by others’ beliefs and thoughts. Give me space.”

“We are not asking more than our right to worship our God.”

To find out more about Open Doors’ campaign to strengthen Christians in the Arab World please go to www. opendoorsuk.org/righttobelieve or

call 028 9075 1080.