Interview: What Do The Palm Sunday Attacks Mean For Egyptian Christians?
On Palm Sunday two Egyptian churches north of Cairo were attacked by suicide bombers. At least 44 people were killed and over 100 injured. We spoke to Arif*, the manager of an Open Doors' local partners in Egypt. He shares how this attack affected the whole Egyptian church.
How did you hear about the attacks?
"Like many other Christians in Egypt I was on my way to church. My wife and children were with me and we were really looking forward to the Palm Sunday service which is one of the main celebrations in the Egyptian church. The atmosphere was good and I was very cheerful. Then, I got a text and my mood changed instantly. I read about the first attack, in Tanta. I was angry, shocked. These people went to the church to celebrate their faith in peace and then this happens. My pain grew with every victim. During [my] Palm Sunday service I switched of my phone.
"Then, when I switched it on again, I saw another attack had taken place, this time in Alexandria. I saw the sadness on the faces of my fellow church members, of course we talked about it during coffee. We were sad about how the Christians paid the price again, but also saw that our whole country is being targeted at the moment, also the police and the military are attacked."
Is your ministry, with the help Open Doors, supporting the victims of the church attacks or will you do so?
"Of course, we contacted our partners to see if there was anything we could do. The affected are injured, sometimes swinging between life and death, others are preparing funerals... In our team we spend time praying for the victims and the persecutors. We also thought about the possible help we could give them in the future. We see that this first wave of help often stops after a certain amount of time. Our focus is a long-term one. In previous cases we have stepped in after the first wave of help stopped with more long-term help. I can see this happening in this case as well. We will start with prayer and presence ministry and then asses what is needed for the long-term."
Can we do something to prepare Christians for the things happening in Egypt now?
"Yes, even though Egypt has seen quite some persecution in the recent years, we still see that there is too little attention for persecution in Egyptian churches. In our discipleship trainings and in our talks with church leaders we try to raise awareness for the fact that persecution is part of Christian life. We want to help people to live close to God and understand that they are precious to Him, despite what might happen to them."
How do Christians in general respond to the attacks?
"It differs a lot from person to person. Some Christians are very angry. Others are at the other end and see this as something heavenly that’s happening and only close their eyes to pray. For me it is important to have some balance in this."
In light of these attacks, how do Christians prepare for Easter Sunday?
"Some are fearful to go to church this Sunday, but I’d say this is a minority. Most Christians will bravely be going to church this Sunday to celebrate the victory of Christ over death and fear. They know how important it is to live close to God in these times of unrest."
What about churches, will they adjust their services?
"I heard some churches will keep their service sober out of respect for the victims. In Egypt it is common to receive guests on Easter Sunday, officials that come to congratulate the Christians with Easter and bring presents. Some churches have cancelled this because they don’t see such joyful gathering appropriate now, they will just be in prayer.
"Other churches take another approach and will really be celebrating Easter this Sunday. They don’t want attacks like this to get their focus on something else than the resurrection of our Lord Jesus."
How can we pray for Egypt?
"We are expecting persecution to worsen. I hope I am wrong, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there will be more such attacks in the near future. Pray for protection over the church of Egypt. Really, we need a lot of prayers. But I also specifically want to ask Christians around the world to pray for the perpetrators, and those who might be planning attacks against Christians. Pray that thousands of Sauls will turn in to Pauls here in Egypt."
Our Long-Term Commitment To The Local Church In Egypt
Open Doors is working through local partners and the local church to help Egyptian Christians in the wake of this attack. We've been working in the Middle East for almost 30 years through local partners. We are committed to supporting the church long-term.