Glass crunched beneath our feet. White soot drifted through the sunlight and the smell of fresh fire filled the air. A carpet of ash lay wall to wall. We walked gingerly through what remained of the once grand Amos Tadros church in Minya, Egypt. The fire burned so hot engineers say the 100-year-old church would have to be razed and rebuilt. The altar singed, seared and charred sat as a silent witness to what one Egyptian expert called the worst violence against the church in Egypt in nearly seven centuries.
Days earlier in August's heat, the full-throated cry of "Allahu Akbar" filled the streets of Minya and a number of other Egyptian towns and cities. Muslim mobs burned dozens of Coptic, Evangelical and Catholic churches; destroyed many Christian businesses and targeted Christian cars, schools, even a Christian orphanage. The rampage began after Muslim Brotherhood supporters targeted Christians as the scapegoats for the army's decision to break up two Brotherhood protest camps in Cairo and for participating in the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. A local official told us "to be sure that everything is burned, they put fire in every place."
"Before this time they make a sign for Christian places or cars or houses or buildings. And if the place has an X on it, they burned the place," he explained. "And that shows that they planned this before."
August's litany of Muslim violence against Christians in Egypt bled into September when Islamic radicals struck in Peshawar, Pakistan. This time the "All Saints Church" bore the deadly brunt. More than 80 died in the suicide bomb assault, including 34 women and seven children. Christians also suffered and died along with all other "non-Muslims" in the lethal attack on Nairobi's Westgate Mall.
Yet Christians face their greatest crucible today in Syria, with the Christian town of Ma’loula as ground zero.
Patriarch Kirill, the primate of the Russian Church, wrote a letter to President Obama and stated, “The [Syrian] war has become an everyday Golgotha for millions of civilians … Our special concern is for the fate of the Christian population of Syria, which in that case will come under the threat of total extermination or banishment. It has already happened in the regions of the country seized by militants.”
He added, “I am deeply convinced that the countries which belong to the Christian civilization bear a special responsibility for the fate of Christians in the Middle East.”
It’s these Christian countries some say need to find their voice from a largely muted media and a strangely silent Western church.
Recently, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Muslim, spoke out against the pervasive and ongoing persecution against Christians in the Middle East and beyond and warned about the silence in the West: "… The conspiracy of silence surrounding this violent expression of religious intolerance has to stop. Nothing less than the fate of Christianity – and ultimately of all religious minorities – in the Islamic world is at stake."
Back in Minya, many Christians pointed out that many of their Muslim neighbors defended and protected them. They didn’t see this as a Muslim against Christian issue, but as the Muslim Brotherhood against Christians.
They also turned the other cheek.
Muslim Brotherhood supporters destroyed two of the stores of the evangelical Bible Society of Egypt, one in Minya, the other in nearby Azuit. Ehad Tadros of the Bible Society told us "We respond as every other Christian has responded. We are in Egypt to serve. We are in Egypt to demonstrate the Christian love.”
The “Christ Soldiers” Coptic orphanage marked the most shocking destruction and the most inspiring story. Muslim mobs attacked and destroyed the orphanage, forcing 200 children to find shelter elsewhere. Yet the leaders of the orphanage wanted to leave a message for their attackers. Following the assault, they wrote the following on the exterior walls: "Love your enemies. You meant to hurt us, but we forgive you. God is love. Everything works out for good."
The “good” may be hard to find in the ashes now, but many Christians in the Middle East are holding onto the biblical promise “that weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”