This Sunday afternoon, I read along with the rest of the world about the brutal beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christians by ISIS. Another horrific, intentionally symbolic and strategic bloodbath by a group of terrorists who are attempting to strike fear into the heart of everyone with an internet connection and a heart.
This latest feat is incredibly tactical and shrewd and evil.
As soon as I read the tragic news, I immediately thought of my Coptic Christian friends in Egypt, and specifically I thought of Jasar.
When Leslie and I were in college we spent a couple of weeks travelling across Egypt, the Coptic Christian community was already feeling somewhat persecuted by an predominately Muslim community and so they were cautious to identify themselves publically as Christians but several times we had people whisper things to us like “I follow Jesus too” but sometimes they didn’t have to say anything, like Jasar.
The Real Christian Nation
We met Jasar when we stopped at a local kiosk to get a snack, he was sitting in his chair with a Arabic Bible open in his lap. When we saw the Bible, I asked him what his favorite Bible verse was and Jasar said “Romans”
Maybe the Arabic version doesn’t come with verses.
He told me about how all around us were Jesus followers, trying to live at peace with people who don’t believe like they do. He told me about how often people are confused by Christianity and American culture.
I soon understood what he meant. It was from one of these types of people that I received this letter a few days later. An Egyptian Muslim man handed me this letter, and I’ve kept it for over 13 years Here it is:
Dear Americans: Please tell your film censor board not to release any pop albums which are of bad scenes. This will affect our children in bad manner. Thank you for your presence. Bye George Bush & Condalessa Rice
To be clear, I wasn’t pretending to be George Bush, he just thought that this letter was probably going to get to him. You know because all Americans know him.
This was a serious letter given to me a 21 year old college student to make sure I got it back to the “film board of America.” And the sitting President of the United States. The man who gave it to me told me that he could never be a Christian because he believed that sex was meant only for marriage and shouldn’t be degraded the way he saw on the imported television shows and songs from the West.
I’m telling this story because in the land of the free, we are often unaware of how the rest of the religious world perceives us, when we refer to America as a “Christian Nation” that actually hurts the Church’s credibility across the world. Because they see what kind of stories and music and movies that America produces.
Notice that ISIS says, “this letter is signed in blood to the nation of the Cross” Before others weigh in on the “nation” part, I’d like to speak about the Cross part. Don’t make the same mistake ISIS has assuming that the way of Jesus is embodied by American culture/politics/territory.
The People of the Cross
I’m a part of this “Nation of the Cross” and it doesn’t have a nation, it is an international, world-wide community of people who believe that this is actually not the worst thing you can do to us. Terrorism and acts that are designed as symbolic fear-driven aggressive acts of bullying only strengthen our resolve to lay down our lives. You may denounce some of our culture, and there are plenty of us that wish that the Christians in America didn’t participate as readily in consuming some of the same culture you denounce, but you have woefully misunderstood who you are talking to.
If you want to talk to America than call it by it’s proper name, if you want to talk to the Church than this is our response for over 2000 years.
You can’t kill people who have already died. That’s who you are talking about and who you are talking to when you address “the people of the Cross”
The people of God have faced worse things than this before and we actually have a bit of historical perspective on what God does with our spilled blood. “The blood of Christians is the seed of Christianity” one early Jesus follower wrote during a much scarier time than this. And he was right, you have no idea the sleeping giant that you are waking with this challenge, and it’s not the West. It’s the power of the redeemed suffering of the people of God.
It’s what Revelation calls “the power of the Lamb”
Now If you want to write in blood, write in your own blood, that seems like it would be a bit more congruent with the faith you baptize your blood lust with.
If you want war, you will probably get it, that’s the same tired story that has been going on for thousands of years, nations will fight and evil will be restrained, and your movement is making no pains to hide its evil.
But you have no idea how foolish what you have done is.
In the Bible, murder doesn’t silence the voices of the slain. In the Bible, the blood cries out to God, in the Bible murder only amplifies to God the sound, and I’ll bet that God’s ears are ringing.
Your attempt as symbolically killing people can not frighten disciples of a man who died by the very kind of propaganda you are trying to create.
So back to Jasar, my Coptic Christian friend in Egypt, after visiting with him for a few minutes, I asked him to read me John 16:33 from his translation.
The verse I asked him to read is translated in English versions like this:
“In this world you will have troubles, but take heart I have overcome the world.”
But Jasar’s rough translation was this:
“This life and the world you live in will be hard, but don’t be anxious. I win.”
I feel great sorrow and solidarity with these Christians and would like to join with my Egyptian brothers and sisters as they have declared the next 7 days of mourning. May we join in the voices of the saints in Heaven looking on asking, “How long O Lord?”
May their families receive the comfort of God and may these martyrs rest in peace and rise in glory.
Come soon LORD Jesus.