Three years ago, this month marks the third anniversary of the shocking and gruesome beheading of the 21 Egyptian Christian Copts by ISIS. It's appropriate that we stop, honor and pray for these brave Christians who refused to deny their unshakeable faith in Jesus Christ. Would we possess the courage and faith to seal our own fate and death sentence, like these men did, by uttering the words, "Lord Jesus Christ?"
The long, sharpened blades were out and poised at the throats of these young men, many who had wives and children. Yet, despite their terror, despite the realization that their young lives would soon be cut short, they refused to deny their belief in Jesus Christ. Who can forget the terrifying image of the executioners posed with knives at the necks of the Egyptian Copts by the Mediterranean Sea? Who can forget?
It seems that the West has moved on, inured to the stories of ISIS' countless beheadings and abject brutality. Shockingly, the genocide of Christians in the Middle East rages on with little acknowledgement from the world. Yet, on this sad anniversary, the left behind families of these men speak of a depth of love and pride for their loved ones slaughtered by the sea by ISIS. Americans can learn an important lesson about the cost of faith and the price of martyrdom.
Father Makar Issa, the parish priest of The Virgin Mary Coptic Orthodox Church in the village of Al-Our, described the initial scene when the families were informed of the ISIS massacre this way: "There was wailing in every street, every alleyway. People were shocked." But within a matter of days, sadness turned to joy and acceptance as the simple villagers understood one of the most important lessons of Christianity. As the early Church theologian, Tertullian, observed, "the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church."
Vice News went to the poor farming village Al-Our, outside of Cairo, where many of the relatives of the slaughtered men lived. As the reporters interviewed the family members about the horrible murders, there emerged a serene sense of pride and happiness that the men did not deny their faith. The villagers recognized that these tragic deaths represented a scene of modern martyrdom, and their dead loved ones are martyrs for the faith, stating that "they died for their faith and they died for Christianity." One mother echoed a common refrain, "We thank ISIS. Now more people believe in Christianity because of them. ISIS showed what Christianity is. We thank God that our relatives are in heaven. He chose them."
Since the slaughter by the sea, ISIS has continued its bloody rampage against the Egyptian Christian Copts and other religious minorities, targeting them in churches, on bus pilgrimages, in their homes and at mass. Nevertheless, these besieged Christians carry on bravely despite the enormity of the relentless ISIS genocide. In this small, poor village with dirt roads and homes with mud floors, the faith flourishes despite the slaughter of 21 young men.
Is anyone paying attention to the genocide of Christians throughout the world? The Bible verses comfort the Christians of Al-Our as they struggle against this vicious enemy. They gather in the church courtyard and listen to their pastor remind them that the Bible says, "The life we live is but numbered days that will quickly pass."
Still, the genocide and persecution rages on, and the world seems oblivious of the suffering of these faithful Christians. North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and Pakistan have in common an appalling attribute: they are ranked as the world's top five countries perpetrating "extreme persecution" of Christians according to the recent World Watch List from Open Doors USA. The list annually ranks the worst 50 countries when it comes to persecution.
Such persecution currently occurs so routinely that it rarely makes headlines. According to Open Doors, 255 Christians are killed worldwide every month; 104 Christians are abducted; 180 Christian women are raped, sexually assaulted or forced into marriage; 160 Christians are detained or imprisoned without trial; and 66 churches are attacked, every month.
Seemingly, another verse from the Bible (Mark 4:38) appropriately captures and echoes the suffering throughout the persecuted Christian world, "Do you care that we are perishing?"
The West does not seem to care.
Yet, a coalition of Christian faith groups has formed a movement called Save the Persecuted Christians (STPC) to awaken the West about the ongoing genocide and plight of Christians around the world. Drawing from the successful Save the Soviet Jewry campaign of the 1970s, this initiative is asking churches to place SavethePersecutedChristians.org banners in front of their houses of worship as a Christian call to action. The banner features the "nun" letter, which has become an international symbol for the oppression of Christians ever since the Islamic State used this first letter of the Arabic word for "Nazarene" to designate homes of followers of Christ targeted for persecution.
The banner and supporting materials can be viewed and downloaded at www.SaveThePersecutedChristians.org. Other information includes details about the Coalition and a resource toolkit to help save the persecuted Christians.
These banners will send a message of hope to the persecuted Christians that the West has not forgotten and, more importantly, the martyrs by the sea did not die in vain.