I’m more consistent about praying for the persecuted church than I used to be, thanks to better news coverage (and WORLD). But even as I pray, thoughts are prowling in the back of my mind that would slink away in shame were they to be confronted head-on:
Coptic Christians? Don’t they have some weird beliefs? I hope those native pastors have a chance to get doctrinally grounded at a Western seminary.
Oh that poor family, whose home just got destroyed. If only I could bring them all over here and put them up in my guest house …
These thoughts don’t lack compassion, but they drip with condescension. They rise from a platform of intellectual chauvinism drawn from centuries of Western superiority, not from the Word of God. “Lo, the poor Indian,” wrote Alexander Pope, “whose untutored mind / Sees God in clouds, or hears him in the wind. …”
Pope concludes that the simple theism of the “savage” will achieve for him a “humbler heaven” than the Christian one. To the contrary—I’m convinced the reward of suffering Christians likely will be greater than mine even if they know less theology. But I can’t quite suppress a certain “Amero-centrism.”
Classical Western culture, for all its faults, and with a vital transfusion of purpose from Christianity, established the secular rationale for human worth and freedom. And gave rise to air-conditioning and flush toilets. But in the daily confrontation between third-world Christians and their persecutors, “culture” takes a back seat.
On Wednesday, Aug. 14, anti-military rioters broke into the Beni Mazar Evangelical church in Minya, Egypt. Over the next seven hours they looted, vandalized, broke windows, and burned Bibles. The church is well-established in the neighborhood; its nearby community center offers medical and financial services to anyone who needs them, regardless of faith. The rioters trashed that too, and no one tried to stop them.
On the following Sunday, the congregation gathered in their ruined sanctuary and praised God. “The ‘church’ is not walls and buildings,” exhorted their pastor, Hany Jacque. “The ‘church’ is us, the people of God. This is a small price to pay for us to speak the truth.”
A small price to pay. When incidents of church vandalism happen here, we’re immediately on the phone to our insurance agents and attorneys. Those who live in the cauldron know that earthly lifelines have been cut. Whom do they call?
In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt. … It will be a sign and a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt. When they will cry to the Lord because of oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and deliver them (Isaiah 19:19-20).
Persecuted Christians in Egypt, Syria, and other hot spots have no illusions about secular governments riding to the rescue. During the post-destruction worship service they sang, “I will rejoice in you, for you are enough for me; I will make a joyful noise, for you are protecting me.”
My Western smugness bites the dust.
Like many Americans, I’m tempted to say I’ve had it with the Muslim world: Let them blow each other up, and pray the Christians get out in time. But the church began in this part of the world. After making its way westward, stabilizing Europe, civilizing America, igniting Asia—what if God completes the circle by gathering in the nations Mohammed once subdued with the sword?
But Jesus appears in dreams to Muslims who can meet him no other way. The forbearance of Christians toward radical aggression has deeply impressed their neighbors. At the worship service in Minya, a church leader boldly claimed the land for Christ: “God’s glory in the midst of the church is a sign of what’s coming in the land of Egypt.”
Who’s at the center of God’s purpose? As always, He’s full of surprises: Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance (Isaiah 19:25).