Pastor's Blog

Blood on the Sand Posted 2.20.2015

The images from the Libyan coastline were haunting.  I looked as closely as I could at the faces of the men in orange jumpsuits, about to face death.  World Magazine did some research into those faces and I learned some things this week about those brave men. 


Most of those men came from a handful of poverty-stricken villages in Egypt, where Christian communities face harassment, threats, and difficulty finding jobs to provide for growing families.


Take 40-year-old Majid Suayman Shihata: The oldest of the Coptic Christians beheaded by Islamic State terrorists had traveled to Libya to earn money to provide for his elderly mother and three children, according to Egypt’s al-Yawm al-Sabi newspaper.


Or consider 24-year-old Luqa Najati, a newlywed working in Libya to build a life for his family in Egypt. Najati didn’t know his wife was pregnant when he left to search for work. He never met his infant daughter.


Two brothers—Bishoy and Samuel Stephanos—were saving for their weddings. Samuel Wilson was working to buy a home for his wife and three children. Twenty-six-year-old Samih Salah Shawqi left behind a wife and baby daughter.


But family ties meant nothing to the black-clad Islamic State militants wielding knives at the necks of their victims that video. The terrorists killed the men because they were Christians, with a caption on the gruesome execution footage declaring: “The people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church.”


Our government offered generic condolences. A White House statement condemned the murder of the 21 “Egyptian citizens,” but never mentioned their Christian identity.  Meanwhile, thousands of Christians poured into the Coptic church in al-Our village some 125 miles south of Cairo to mourn the deaths. Thirteen of the 21 murdered Christians came from that rural village in Minya province.


By Monday, mourners filled the Church of the Virgin Mary in al-Our, streaming past photos of the village’s 13 sons cut down in their youth. The church’s pastor was blunt about the terrorists who executed the men.  “They are monsters,” he told Reuters. “They are holding unarmed people who were going to bring bread for their families.”


Over the last decade, Libya has attracted more than a million migrants seeking to provide bread for their families. Many came from Egypt, where a languishing economy sent citizens in search of jobs in oil-rich Libya.  That all changed with the fall of Qadaffi in 2011, when the country splintered. As terrorist groups gained power and territory, working in the war-torn country became a dangerous prospect. Thousands fled, but as many as 150,000 migrant workers have remained.  We may not have seen the last beheading in Libya.


This is a wake-up call for believers.  I read one report that had documented 2,123 martyrdoms in 2013 alone.  That image on the beach in Libya is the tip of the iceberg.  Wake up.  Pray for President Obama.  Pray the suffering church.


And remember these words from Revelation 20:4, “And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God.”  This life is not all there is.


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