In January, I helped organize an Overseas Council dinner in Orlando, FL featuring as the speaker, Dr. Atef Gendy, the president of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (ETSC).
Dr. Atef spoke about the current political situation in Egypt and the role of the Egyptian church. After a brief introduction about Egypt, he gave some background on reasons behind the revolution that included lack of democracy, lack of freedom, lack of social justice, lack of dignity and widespread corruption. The results of these reasons led to hopelessness and helplessness. “People,” he said, “were led, literally, to set themselves on fire.”
THE OUTCOMES OF THE REVOLUTION
He described the positive outcomes of the revolution which included, among many, seeing a unification of the different people groups, hopes of becoming modern and democratic, and hope for a free media that would be able to speak up to injustice. But Dr. Atef also spoke of multiple negative outcomes that unfortunately outnumbered the positive. A few negatives among many he listed included the breakdown of the police and civil control, killing and injuring of hundreds of young demonstrators, the apparent rise of Islamic fundamentalists, the collapse of the Egyptian stock market and economy, dwindling tourism and a sharp rise in unemployment.
Dr. Atef then reflected about the concerns and fears of the Christians in Egypt.
- More limitation on religious freedom
- More restrictions on freedom of worship and Christian activities
- More restrictions on evangelism and banning of conversion
- Imposing Islamic dress-code on Christian women
- Harsher discrimination against women
- Banning of liberal art(s)
- Intensifying Islamic education and culture through school and media
- Restricting tourism (swimwear – alcohol – night destinations)
- More restrictions on church building, construction and renovation
- Imposing of the Jizyah and applying the law of the confines
THERE IS HOPE
Fortunately, Dr. Atef did not leave the listeners with a feeling of despair! Instead, he delivered a wonderful Gospel message of hope for the Egyptian church. He taught that the Christians in Egypt need to recall their foundational theology of a) the incarnation, b) the cross/suffering, c) the resurrection/hope, and d) the appropriate and fulfilling mission that meets Islamic needs and mind.
He explained each of these in detail and concluded the last point with a challenge to the Christians, and Muslims, in Egypt, and to us listening, to think about what is lacked in Islam that Christianity offers.
- Intimate relationship with God
- God as a loving God (not just great/akbar)
- The status of women
- The value of human beings as created in God’s image
- The concept of loving our neighbor and the Christian concept regarding “who our neighbor is”
- The inner change as a result of God’s work over against mere practiced rituals
- The hope and assurance in the eternal life
CLOSE TO HOME
While I enjoyed hearing what Dr. Atef had to say about Christianity in a far off place in the Middle East, I was reminded about our own relationship with the Muslims that live in our own country. There are Muslims in our own communities that need to hear what Christ offers them. They face the same lackings that the Muslims of Egypt face and, like them, will not find answers in Islam. But they can only find those answers in the words of the Gospel. We need to be ambassadors for Christ and help lead them to those words. Acts 13 comes to mind about Paul’s and Barnabas’ ministry to the people of Pisidian Antioch:
For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “’I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. Acts 13:47-49
I repeat the words from a previous blog of another Egyptian pastor friend when he spoke about his church. “It is not the mission of the church to save the world from Muslims, but to save the Muslims from Islam.” That is a profound statement.
Please pray for the church in Egypt and all of the Middle East.