Thursday, April 16, 2009

Standing with Egypt's converts

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Egypt to visit with several Muslim-background believers and hear their testimonies. They shared their stories of becoming disillusioned with Islam and the different ways that God had led them to Him. Many of these converts have faced great challenges as a result of deciding to follow Jesus. I heard how some were rejected by their families and friends. Others faced physical torture at the hands of authorities. Some are in fear for their lives.

But one of the hardest things I heard was how some converts were turned away by the church when they sought guidance and help. I heard of church members refusing to let converts stay with them in their homes and of church leaders who refused to baptize converts. In fear of reprisal, many Egyptian Christians turned their backs or offered inadequate assistance. One of the converts I spoke with described how he and his young family were destitute on the street with nowhere to go after they were forced to leave their home. When they reached out to a Christian and asked if they could stay in his home for the night, they were turned away. When I heard stories like this, it brought to mind James 2:15-16: "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?"

I began to feel very frustrated with how the church in Egypt was responding to those hungering for truth. I wondered how they could reject these new believers. But these stories also made me ponder what I would do in a similar situation. Would I put my own safety, or the safety of my family, on the line for the sake of another? Would my church community embrace a convert if it meant we would probably be pressured, or worse? I'm certain all of us have been guilty of well-wishing when we really should have been acting.

So it made me happy to hear this week that a convert to Christianity from Islam who is fighting for legal recognition of his faith recently received a certificate of conversion from Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church. On April 11, Maher Ahmad El-Mo'otahssem Bellah El-Gohary's lawyers submitted the certificate, which the court required as verification of his Christian faith. El-Gohary is the second Muslim-born convert to request that Christianity be reflected on his identification documents and the first to receive a conversion certificate from the Coptic Church. According to Compass Direct, "Reluctance to expose itself to possible retaliation from either the government or Islamic extremists has kept the Coptic Church from openly admitting to baptizing and welcoming converts until now."

By issuing this certificate of conversion, the Coptic Church is publically accepting a Muslim-background believer. It is my prayer that believers throughout Egypt will be encouraged by this and will actively embrace the converts in their midst. I pray that believers from Muslim backgrounds are no longer turned away but are instead gladly welcomed into Christian homes and churches, despite the risk.

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