One of the most frequent questions I’m faced with in advocacy and awareness raising work is: “Why?”

It can be very difficult to come up with an answer or to begin to attempt to explain how a repressive regime or a dictator “thinks”.

There is a great quote today in the Washington Post (which has been doing some fantastic coverage of Cuba recently) by Yoani Sánchez, the internationally recognized blogger responsible for Generacion Y (and long time friend of Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso and Yoaxis Marcheco, who have featured frequently on this blog). She’s talking specifically about Cuba, but her comment applies to pretty much every repressive regime I’ve come across:

Ms. Sánchez reminded us that such arbitrariness is characteristic of authoritarianism. “It is hard to think like a repressor, if you have never been one,” she said. “They have their own logic. One of the most paralyzing elements of the Cuban repression is its illogical nature.”

Click here for the full article.


Earlier this week I asked for prayer for Christians in Egypt and mentioned that some Salafi extremist clerics had declared that any Muslim who so much as offered a Christmas greeting to a Christian would be considered apostates and traitors. I also mentioned that many Muslims and some significant Muslim leaders had made a public stand against those declarations to stand in solidarity with Egyptian Christians celebrating the birth of our Savior. The video below shows that solidarity in action.

Taking a stand like this is not without its risks, especially as the citizens of Egypt face an uncertain future. Individuals of all faiths who are willing to put themselves out there, however, for the cause of unity and religious freedom, and especially leaders who know that their words and actions have the power to influence so many, give me hope for Egypt’s future.

Please continue to pray for Egypt and to lift up these men and women who are taking a very public stand against extremism and for an Egypt that derives strength and legitimacy from its own rich and diverse history and present.

ImageWould you give your life for Christ? If your answer is “no” you can skip ahead to the next paragraph. If your answer is “yes”, here’s another question for you: would you attend church if doing so put your life at risk? No? Ok, skip ahead. Yes? Here’s another: would you encourage your spouse or your children to attend church with you, if doing so put their lives at risk?

To be very honest, I am not sure what the correct answers are to the second two questions, and I’m certainly not sure what my actual, as opposed to my theoretical, response would be if I was personally faced with these choices.

What I do know is that tonight many of my brothers and sisters in Egypt will make these decisions, just as our brothers and sisters in Nigeria did thirteen days ago. Twelve Christians there were killed in attacks by extremists on two different churches.

The Nigerians didn’t unwittingly choose to put their lives at risk. Attacks on churches have become part of the regular news cycle, and they would have been very much aware that acts of violence on a significant holy day are of particular interest to extremists as they look for high profile publicity to spread their brand of terror.

Tonight, on the first Christmas Eve celebrated under a new Islamist constitution, Egyptians will also make this choice. They know the risks and are painfully aware of the threats that have already been made against them. And yet, a very great number of them will venture out of their homes and neighborhoods to join together to worship and celebrate the birth of our Saviour. They will do so with the full knowledge that the act of physically coming together in fellowship transforms them in the eyes of extremists into a high value, high profile target.

This great country, which once served as a place of refuge for the Holy Family fleeing persecution, is becoming a place where it is unsafe to celebrate the birth of their Son.

It is dark, but it is not hopeless. Each person who tonight stands in a church in faith stands against that darkness. Each one of their non-Christian Egyptian brothers and sisters who stands with them in solidarity tonight stands against that darkness. Each one of us who tonight stands with them in prayer, stands against that darkness.

John 1:1-14

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2 The same was in the beginning with God.

3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.

8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.

9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.

11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:

13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

I am excited that a friend of mine from Egypt has her own blog now and wanted to share this article she wrote. And for the record, she reports, in spite of everything, that she’s still optimistic. Please keep praying for Egypt and for our Egyptian brothers and sisters.

Thoughts & Reflections

27- January- 2011
Special to Canadian Mennonite
I am optimistic! That is what I tell myself from time to time, but it seems sometimes that my brother is the only one who shares this optimism with me. What is happening in Egypt does not herald anything good for the moment, but, in my opinion, it is very promising for the future.

For now, it is very clear to everyone that there is much chaos. Robberies have increased and thugs are the heroes of the daily stories. They break into and seize houses, kidnap women, children and girls, and rape them. Traffic is not organized and there are many accidents because of high speed. There is lack of security, which makes everybody feel worried and uncomfortable. The police have lost the respect of the people.

I am optimistic, however, because now I can see that people have started to rethink the…

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For anyone looking for things to do this weekend, the Guardian has published a couple of great articles on a couple of countries where I work – all worth reading and situations definitely worth praying for:

On questions of justice, stolen land, NGOs and the importance of long-term solidarity in Colombia, specifically Uraba which was one of the regions I visited in August, and where the Church has suffered enormously but continues to carry out important prophetic work despite the risks: As Colombia Jails Army General, NGO’s Combating Land Grabs Should Take Note

On the insanity of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan (as a rule, blasphemy laws are nuts, even in countries in Europe where many are still shockingly on the books, but Pakistan has made their prosecution and implementation a special art form) and their impact on religious minorities, including Christians but also on non-Sunni Muslims and others: How to Commit Blasphemy in Pakistan

On the real impact of the drug war in Mexico (and other countries, including Colombia and Peru, though Mexico is the focus of this article), touching upon the actual real life effects of the North American and European recreational drug habit and political policies on actual real life people in those South American countries. For those wondering what this has to do with religious freedom – consider that in 2010 over 1000 Catholic priests in Mexico reported being under threat from organized crime involved in the drug trade; rates are probably similar for the Protestant churches though no comprehensive study has been possible, mostly because people are so afraid of the consequences of speaking out: Breaking Bad Doesn’t Show You the Real Drug War Drama

The increasing marginalization of women from the political transition and reform in Egypt. This is particularly on my heart as one year ago I was in Egypt running a training on human rights advocacy to a large group of young Christians, the majority of whom were young women, who love their country and were so hopeful for a future that included inclusion and the active participation of women and religious minorities: From Virginity Test to Power

Egyptian Worship

Isaiah 19:19-21 In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the heart of Egypt, and a monument to the LORD at its border. It will be a sign and witness to the LORD Almighty in the land of Egypt. When they cry out to the LORD because of their oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and he will rescue them. So the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and in that day they will acknowledge the LORD. They will worship with sacrifices and grain offerings; they will make vows to the LORD and keep them

Four years ago I stood in a dark corner of an ancient Egyptian temple. There, carved into the wall, were a cross and other Christian motifs. Our guide told us that during periods of intense persecution in Roman times, Christians in Egypt met secretly in the ancient temples, which were avoided by others who feared that evil spirits lurked there.

Fifth Century Carving of a Cross in an ancient Egyptian Temple

I was struck by the beautiful carvings and the way the early Christians had reclaimed something seen by others as evil and frightening, making it into a place of worship and light.

Earlier this year I stood with those men and women’s descendants. Little it seems has changed. They may not have to meet in secret places but they still often struggle to meet legally; they face discrimination and sometimes outright violent persecution on a regular basis. One young woman told of how she was turned away when she went to take her final exams at university because the exam monitor noticed her Christian name and her lack of headscarf. Another young woman expressed her fears after a local religious leader had publicly stated that any woman not wearing a headscarf was “asking to be raped”. Would it then be her fault, she asked, if she was sexually assaulted on her way to attend church? A third young woman shared the horror of witnessing the bombing at an Alexandria church last New Year, and the subsequent injustices she personally experienced in the following weeks.

This is a Church that has been tempered and refined by more than 1500 years of persecution. It is a Church that God has preserved and upheld through dark and darker times. It is a Church that is “hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”

Far from it in fact. This Church continues to venture into those frightening and dark places, where others show more hesitation. The young men and women we met have been involved, from the beginning, in the movement for democracy, challenging the dictatorship from the inception of the “Arab Spring”.  They continue to lead, courageously stepping out into the more and more hostile streets in peaceful protest, and have succeeded in unmasking for all Egyptians the true nature of the military junta that now holds power. In response to the horrendous October massacres, when military trucks mowed down peaceful protestors calling for religious freedom and respect for diversity, they called a three day worldwide fast, looking to God to protect and guide them and their country. These past few weeks, they have headed to the front once again in peaceful demonstrations in remembrance of those killed in the October Maspero massacre. Many have been deeply involved in the most recent protests demanding a true democracy which have been met with a violent response.

Many young Christians have given (Mina Daniel) or have expressed their willingness to give (Michael Nabil Sahad) their lives. With the way things have gone this week, it seems likely that more will do so, and this is something that should deeply challenge every one of us.

Many well-meaning but misguided people in the West have expressed the belief that life under dictatorship was “better” for the Egyptian Church. Many, with some valid reasons, are worried that the downfall of the Arab dictatorships will lead to the destruction of the Church in those countries. But now is not the time to give up hope. For over 1500 years, our Egyptian brothers and sisters have kept the flame of faith burning in that part of the world. Those I met this year, tell me that they continue to believe that there can be a democratic and free Egypt where everyone will be free to worship as they please, without fear of persecution.  Not one expressed a desire to return to the days of Mubarak.

This month they go to the ballot boxes in elections that will help to determine the direction Egypt will go. To my Egyptian brothers and sisters, I say, get out and vote. Do not lose hope. We have not forgotten you, and we will not.

To those of us who cannot vote, pray. Pray for this country, beloved of God, home of an ancient and towering Church. Pray for our brothers and sisters there, for their future as Egyptian Christians.