Monthly Archives: February 2013

Another Friday, Another Coptic Church Attacked – While Western Christians Do Nothing

By Martin Roth

Muslims demonstrators have set fire to the Church of St. Georgas in the village of Sarsena, about 60 miles south-west of Cairo.

According to AsiaNews.it –

The local Salafist fringe led the attack against the Copts, pitting the Muslims against the community, branding the church as “illegal”, because it is close to an area inhabited by Muslims and “for this reason has to be removed.” They are imposing the demolition of the building and have prevented the priest, Father Domadios from entering. Some witnesses reported that the scene was also attended by police, who did nothing to prevent the violence.

The church of St. Georgas was built in the mid-80s and is a point of encounter and prayer for 200 Coptic families. About three months ago, some Muslims made a hole in the wall, to “monitor” the activities of Christians. Yesterday the priest’s attempts at mediation proved worthless.  He was joined by the local police chief, who arrived on site to try to find an agreement between the parties.

Firm in their positions, hundreds of Islamic extremists – in front of the police – started throwing stones at the church. The attackers injured – not seriously – some Copts and Father Domadios, who managed to flee to safety with the help of a Muslim family aboard their car.

It is little wonder that New York’s Brooklyn Daily, in a column titled “Discrimination against Christians soars around the Islamic world” wrote:

Their persecution is a forgotten epidemic. It barely registers a blip on a public radar in our nation where civil rights attorneys sue the NYPD for daring to keep an eye on Muslims as part of their counter-terrorism efforts.

…Incidents of Christian persecution in the Muslim world are staggering. But not a peep, mind you, out of Muslims who are too busy crying wolf. We don’t need Ash Wednesday to reflect on the rampant, unchecked violence directed at Christians — but it’s as good a time as any to start.

God At Work In The Midst Of The Persecution Of The Church In Egypt

By Martin Roth

Christians may despair that all the news coming out of Egypt is so bad – continual and escalating attacks on the Coptic Christian minority. Where is God, they wonder.

A long and wonderful interview in the Christian Post with Pastor Dr. Sameh Maurice of Cairo’s Al-Dubara Evangelical Church shows that God is active in the country. Read it all. Here are a few excerpts:

We were praying for Egypt for 10 years. The year before [the Arab Spring revolution] we had a clear message: “This year something unique would happen which will change the land.” We put up a banner: “What I’m going to do for you is awesome.” So when the revolution came we weren’t shocked.

Because we expected this from God, we weren’t shocked because we were looking for something special to happen that very year; it made us ready to react properly.

As well we had been very much involved in human rights. We set up an NGO as part of our church ministry to deal with human rights, plus our geographic location. We are in [Tahrir] Square where the revolution happened. We had two options: close the doors and say we aren’t here or open the doors and say we are here. Every Friday we were invited to go into the square and pray and worship the Lord as Muslims did. We were invited.

…The church reacted, led by God, to say what should be said, to do what should be done, and in the small things we did, we were thanked and praised by anyone. After the resignation of Mubarak, we held the first celebration. We invited the core people of the revolution: media, families of the martyrs, Muslim leaders, to thank them and honor them, to give them gifts. We did it spontaneously, but we believe we were led by the Spirit. We were the first to do so. So the media publicized this and since then we became close friends of the famous names of the revolution. We were the first to bring them together over coffee to discuss their future. And since we weren’t into politics, we could get them to cooperate. We did it innocently but whatever we could do we did it. We brought them together to get them to know each other. We did small things.

With the second wave of the revolution, which was the fall of 2011… we opened the church as a field hospital. Again the spot light came on us. We did it out of love and patriotism, God made something of it. It was known and appreciated by everyone…We became like a bridge builder between the Christian and Muslim community. Working and helping each other, all on a Christian basis.

We also became a prophetic voice of the church. The church became proud of what we were doing so they expected us to lead them in what to say and do. They trusted our agenda, even the Orthodox (Coptic) Church.

By the grace of God, what we did, saved the face of Christianity, in front of Christians and Muslims. In the beginning the official Orthodox stand was supporting the government, Mubarak against the revolution. To have someone else supporting the flags of the revolution, saved our face (Christianity) to the Muslim world, especially after the success of the revolution. Otherwise we would have been discredited. The Orthodox realized that and thanked us. To my surprise I thought they would resent us, but we found favor in their eyes.

…We are in a new day. As evangelicals we were the nobody person. For the first time we are seen and heard by the whole community. The church started to be seen by Muslims in a very different way. Muslims used to hate, disrespect and ignore the church. Now many of them respect the church because they can now compare between the church and what the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists (Islamists) do. They see the difference. As you read tweets you can see that. “The Muslim Brotherhood is killing us and the church is healing us.” Despised, hated, neglected, some of them, about 30% see us in a different way. There has been increased number of conversions to Christ in a big way.

So of course the church has been attacked, last September, by assailants hurling gas bombs and stones.

And Pastor Maurice ends the interview on an ominous note, looking ahead:

There are two possible scenarios.

First Islamists will take over. Freedom will be suppressed, persecution will come. Many Christians in the rural area today are being persecuted. Homes and fields and shop are being taken from them. In cities because of the population it is not that bad. Islamists take away land and shops by violence and guns and the government is not protecting Christians.

So if the Islamists take over we expect persecution and we expect the economy will collapse, people will starve.

Second scenario: liberals will win, meaning civil views, rejecting theocratic rule, as the Islamists want, and advocating instead democracy and freedom, not associating religion with political dominance.

If this side wins (and we believe they are the majority) the battle, we will have more freedom, economy will improve.

But if the first comes, the church will go underground and be oppressed. If the second comes, then we will be more seen and be able to bring truth and love to the people of Egypt. We are working to prepare ourselves for either scenario.

Out Of The Frying Pan…Egyptian Coptic Christians Seek Refuge In Russia

The excellent AsiaNews.it news service carries a sad story about persecuted Egyptian Coptic Christians fleeing their homes for refuge in Russia.

Tragically, they are not especially welcome.

The family say they fled religious persecution from Islamist groups…in Marsa Matrouh, near the border with Libya. “They threatened us with death if we didn’t convert and make our women and girls wear a veil,” Reda, 26, who fled with his 19 year old pregnant wife told AsiaNews.

“After the revolution many activists of the Muslim Brotherhood came,” added his brother Viktor, 30, “who put pressure on us Christians to convert. Our problems started already in late 2011, but are getting worse. Last year, after an argument with the principal of the school, who wanted to force my daughter to wear the hijab, we were told that the presence of Christians in the city was no longer welcome. We sought shelter with a local priest…but his church had already been burned once and so he did not want to further expose himself to attack.”

Now all 10 Egyptians, plus Iraqis and Sudanese, are forced to live in a room of 20 square meters, with only a few chairs and a table, because there is no temporary accommodation center for immigrants waiting to receive refugee status in the city.

Today we get another report of the ethnic cleansing of Christians that is taking place in Syria. Egypt has not yet reached that point. But the fact that Egyptian Christians are fleeing to Russia is evidence that conditions for many are turning desperate.

Egypt’s Maspero Massacre of Christians – Justice Still Denied

By Martin Roth

The hero of my novel “The Coptic Martyr of Cairo” is a professor whose outlook on life is changed when he hears the testimony of a young Egyptian Christian who was wounded during a deadly protest in Cairo.

I wrote:

He paused and looked around the group, before resuming. “I assume you did some reading on modern Egyptian history before coming out here, so you’ll know that the demonstrators actually succeeded in getting rid of President Mubarak. But that left the military in control, at least until elections could be held, and the military in this country is not necessarily a friend of the church. Anyway, late in 2011 a large group of Christians held a demonstration to protest against the burning of a church and of some homes and some businesses that were owned by Christians. Marco was one of the organizers. Well, the military turned up, ostensibly to ensure that things didn’t get out of control. But instead of maintaining order, which is what they were there for, some of the soldiers started opening fire on the young demonstrators. And then they began driving military vehicles straight at them as well. Marco was lucky. He only got shot in the leg. He’ll be limping for the rest of his life.”

He paused, and turned to watch as several cars suddenly arrived and stopped, right in front of them. The occupants hurried into the church.

“But about two dozen of the young people were killed,” Rafa continued. “Some from the bullets, others mangled quite dreadfully by the armored vehicles. And hundreds were injured. And while all this was occurring, an Egyptian state television program was broadcasting an appeal for people to rush to the defense of honorable soldiers who were being attacked by mobs of armed Christians. Some news reports said falsely that Christians had killed at least three soldiers. One television channel interviewed a soldier who called the Christians ‘sons of dogs.’ And quite a few news outlets reported the lie that America was planning to send troops to assist the Christians. Marco told me that it was at this point that he knew the future of Egypt was grim. Mubarak had been a greedy and unscrupulous dictator who had driven the Egyptian economy into the ground. But at least he had maintained a certain degree of control. Christians faced huge discrimination, and there were often incidents against them, but generally they could rely on the authorities to protect them. Not any longer. With Mubarak gone even the soldiers were showing their true feelings.”

Now an Egyptian court has sentenced two of the Christian protestors to three years in prison, on a charge of stealing a machine gun from a soldier during the incident.

The Coptic Solidarity website notes that none of the military leaders of the units responsible for the more than two dozen deaths has been brought to trial.

Egypt’s Daily News newspaper comments acerbically:

The Maspero Massacre took place after a predominantly Christian peaceful march from Shubra to Maspero, the state-run Egyptian Radio and Television Union. No top-ranking military officials were held responsible for the massacre, and, to date, only three soldiers have been convicted. The families of the dead feel that they have still not seen justice.

Helping Persecuted Mideast Christians Defend Themselves

By Martin Roth

Here’s something interesting. My novel “The Coptic Martyr of Cairo,” concerns a group of warriors traveling to Egypt to help defend persecuted Christians in that country. That was fiction.

But now I learn of a group actually doing this, in real life.

A Christian guy who calls himself Molotov Mitchell, president of Illuminati Pictures, does regular video commentaries at the WND (World News Daily) website. Recently I watched one, and was intrigued to hear him state:

Christians are being terribly persecuted around the Middle East. I can’t stand it. But as a Ron Paul conservative I also don’t believe that it’s my government’s job to get involved. However, I can help. I can travel to the Middle East to help those people.

And that’s precisely what my team of instructors and I chose to do. We went to the Middle East, we trained people who had been targeted by terrorists, in counter-abduction, and now we’re back.

If you want to change the world the answer isn’t big government. The answer is self-government. The answer is never restricting freedom. The answer is always more freedom.

Absolutely fascinating. I’d love to learn more, and have tried to contact Molotov Mitchell, via his film company, but haven’t been able to elicit a response.

Canaan Hymns – The Sound of Christian China

By Martin Roth

Britain’s Daily Telegraph has reported that a man in Shenzhen, China, a member of an unofficial house church there, is suing the police for arresting him shortly before Christmas when he was singing hymns in a local park.

He told the newspaper, “We were just singing the gospel and preaching Christian principles. I think they just found an excuse to detain people, to warn and to threaten.”

The report does not tell us what hymns they were singing. But I like to think they were some of the Canaan hymns, the melodic and slightly sentimental songs that are sung at underground churches throughout the country.

Last year I wrote about them. Here is what I said:

One of the unexpected joys of doing research for my novel “Brother Half Angel” – set in China – was discovering the gorgeous and moving Canaan Hymns.

These are Christian hymns, to be sung in church – in China.

So they are somewhat different from the hymns we sing in our Western churches. Different from our traditional hymns, and different too from our modern praise-and-worship music.

How different?

The best explanation I can give is that they carry a slightly sentimental tone to them, a sense of nostalgia, with unpretentious melodies and lyrics that speak of the beauty and majesty of China and of a simple life spent in the presence of God. They are slow, melodic and a little dreamy. They are not deeply theological. They will not be to all Western tastes.

When I lived in Japan I became a big fan of the Taiwan singer Teresa Teng, who died tragically of an asthma attack at the age of 42. She specialized in folk songs and romantic ballads, with a voice that was described as conveying “seven parts sweetness and three parts tears.”

That’s what the Canaan Hymns sound like.

But just as moving as the hymns themselves is the story of how they came to be written.

One night in 1990 a young Chinese peasant girl named Xiao Min, unable to sleep, found a song flooding into her consciousness. Over ensuing weeks and months more songs arrived, unbidden, often while she was at her work in the fields picking cotton.

These were songs about God, about His great love for the Chinese people, about the Christian life of prayer, worship, joy and sacrifice.

Traveling evangelists realized the songs were a direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and began to spread them throughout the country. Soon Chinese believers everywhere, especially those in the underground home churches, were singing these songs whenever they worshipped.

Over the years Xiao Min received many more songs from God, until their number reached around one thousand. They were named the Canaan Hymns.

Go to YouTube and you can find examples, as well as some documentaries about the hymns and about the composer Xiao Min.

Here are some of the lyrics for “Dark Night,” one of my favorites:

In the dark night, flowers are more fragrant.
In the dark night, footsteps become surer.
A journey in the dark is nearing its end.
Stay true to God.

Listen to it here, and experience, as I have, the warm feelings of love and compassion that percolate from these tender and very special hymns.

Sex, Swearing and Violence – Is It Appropriate in Christian Fiction?

By Martin Roth

I’ve been a little taken aback by an interesting discussion at the local Aussie Omega Writers forum. It started as a debate on when – or whether – it is appropriate to include sex or swearing in Christian fiction. But then the question turned to violence.

In the words of one participant:

Personally I never use swear words in my fiction…Though, having said that, there are perhaps words other people would consider swear words that I am totally unaware of. Swear words are so subjective in a sense you will never please all of the people all of the time, particularly when it comes to the very mild ones.…To be honest, I have a much bigger issue with violence in Christian fiction. We’re divided over swear words, we don’t tolerate sex but it doesn’t matter how high the body count rises.

That struck a nerve. I never include swearing in my fiction, even though I think the context – I write mysteries and action thrillers – would at times justify it. Nor do I include sex scenes, even though my first novel, “Prophets and Loss,” involved the murder of a man in a brothel, and included scenes with the hero visiting the premises to interview one of the prostitutes there.

But violence? I have lots of that. My Johnny Ravine private detective mysteries have a hero who killed innumerable people as a freedom fighter in East Timor, and, even though he came to Australia to escape his past, he keeps finding himself in brawls.

My Brother Half Angel international thrillers have as a theme the persecuted church, with a team of  fighters helping to defend churches from attack. Here’s a very brief excerpt from one of them, “Festival in the Desert:”

Bobby was not sure what happened next. It was all instinct. In one swift movement he dived to the ground and seized his father’ gun. Then from his position on the ground he pointed the weapon straight at the gunman and fired. He fired again. And again. And again and again.

The gunman slumped forward, hitting his head on the windscreen, and leaving behind a smear of blood. For an instant it seemed that the steering wheel was supporting him, but then his body twisted sideways and he tumbled out of the vehicle to the ground, right in front of Bobby and his father.

Bobby sprang to his feet and aimed his gun squarely at the man’s head. But he lay inert, blood streaming from his body.

Bobby helped his father to his feet. Then John cried out from inside the SUV, “Dad, is that you?” Brother Half Angel had removed John’s blindfold and was cutting away his bindings.

“It’s me,” said Harry. Blood stained his shirt, and his left arm hung limply.

I do not include swear words because I believe we are saturated with them – just turn on the television – and they degrade our culture. I do not include sex scenes because I believe that they provide stimulation and temptation to weaker members of our society, whom we as Christians should be protecting.

But violence? I lived in Tokyo for 17 years, the most peaceful of major cities, even though television, books and manga (comics, read, it seemed, by at least half the men on the trains each day) were full of the most graphic violence, far more gory than anything I had seen before my arrival in the city. So I don’t have an issue with violence in Christian fiction.

But I’ll leave the final words to a couple of participants at the Omega Writers forum:

Justice without mercy leads to violence in a broken world, as by the way, does mercy without justice. Righteousness without peace leads to violence too. Peace without righteousness leads to tolerance. (Which I do not see as a good thing, since it leads to toleration of evil.) I already think Christianity has too much of a warrior mindset. When that unbalance happens, the default filter has a tendency to move towards violence and a warfare model.

I agree that the warrior mindset can be taken too far….But by the same token, men are called to be courageous, and if anything, passivity is a bigger problem among us men than it has ever been. We are told to stand firm. If having a warrior mindset encourages more men (and women) to have the courage to stand up for the truths of the bible rather than conforming to this world, then I would suggest that is a good thing. We seem to agree though, it is about balance, and anything we do needs to be motivated by love for God and love for people, particularly their eternal destination.

Islamists Move In – Christians In Libya Forced Out

By Martin Roth

Conditions for Christians in Libya were bad enough while Colonel Gaddafi was in power. Now that he’s gone things are getting worse. Possibly the only consolation is that there are so few Christians in the country to be persecuted.

At the end of 2012 a bomb attack on a Coptic church in the town of Dafniya killed two worshippers. According to a report:

Since most of Libya’s Christians are not only a religious minority but also of foreign origin, they are doubly threatened by this rise of militant extremism in the country. Karim Bitar, a Paris-based analyst, told Agence France-Presse that the latest attack in Dafniya has given Libya’s Christians an “existential crisis.” “The worry is that Christians in Libya … will be but the first to suffer from the Libyan central government’s endemic weakness [and] the proliferation of armed militias,” he said.

Now comes news that other religious communities are under attack:

The situation was “critical” and the “atmosphere very tense” in the Cyrenaica region, the Apostolic Vicar of Tripoli Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli said in the interview on Thursday. He said two religious communities are leaving “after being pressured by fundamentalists”, adding that the Apostolic Vicar of Benghazi was cautioned to take shelter ahead of a large-scale demonstration on 20 February.

“In past days, the Congregation of the Holy Family of Spoleto who had been there for nearly 100 years were forced to abandon Derna,” east of the main eastern city of Benghazi, he said. “In Barce [located between Benghazi and Derna] the Franciscan Sisters of the Child Jesus will leave their home in coming days.”

On Friday, Martinelli told Vatican Radio that for some time now fundamentalism has governed decisions in Libya. Christians have voiced fear of a rise in sectarian sentiment in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation following the 2011 revolt that toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi and in which hard-line Islamists played a major part.

Before the uprising, 3% of Libya’s population of around 6.3 million were Christian. Now only a couple thousand of them remain, with the majority of them expatriates.