A little over three years ago, in February of 2015, 21 Christian men were martyred by ISIS on a beach in Libya. Their story captured the world’s attention for a brief time, but soon other stories, both important and trivial, stepped in to grab the spotlight. Such is the nature of the news cycle.
On occasion, I have used this blog to bring updates on what is happening in the area where those brave men sacrificed their lives in Christ’s name.
First, I shared an update from Sami Yacoub, the head of Focus on the Family’s Middle East outreach, explaining how our team there was directly involved in ministering to the families of the martyrs in the days following the tragedy.
A few days later, I was able to give another astonishing update describing how even in their grief, the martyrs’ families were rejoicing in the knowledge that their husbands and fathers had been united with Christ in their deaths. Not only that, but these families were praying for the souls of the ISIS terrorists who had murdered their family members!
Later that year, I also brought you information on how the Focus Middle East office was working to build homes for the martyrs’ families. Thanks to the generosity of Focus donors and others who got involved, those homes are now completed.
But God is still moving in this troubled region! On February 15, 2018—three years to the day after the 21 men were martyred—a new church was dedicated in their honor. The Church of the Martyrs of Faith and Homeland is a beautiful new structure located in al-Our, Egypt, near Samalut, the home town of 13 of the martyred believers. This is the same town where Focus helped build houses for the families of the men who were killed. Amazingly, approval for construction of the new church was granted by the Egyptian president himself, Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi.
Focus on the Family’s Vice President of Global Outreach and Development, John Bethany, has spent a great deal of time in Egypt working with our Focus Middle East office, and he told me that the construction of this new church is a significant development for the region.
“I had the chance to see this church before the foundations were laid for it,” he told me. “How amazing to see it now, full of worshippers. This area is a hot bed of Islamic fanaticism, and here is a church rising up in the middle of it all, honoring those who died refusing to deny Christ.”
In fact, Focus on the Family’s Middle East office bought the sound system for the new church.
More than 500 Coptic Christians traveled from across the region for the dedication service, which was led by Coptic Bishop Bevnotious. All told, there are a reported 2,500 believers in this village of 6,000.
During the dedication service, Bishop Bevnotious said, “Today we remember our martyrs who were killed in Libya three years ago. Knives were held to their throats to force them to deny their faith after forty days of being kidnapped, insulted, and threatened. But like the martyrs of every era in the history of our church, they held on to Christ. They are an example for us to hold on to our faith and to Christ regardless of circumstances.”
We rejoice over the testimony of our Christian brothers and sisters in Egypt, and throughout the Middle East, who continue to stand firm in their faith despite facing deep opposition from the Islamic State and others who are hostile to Christianity. I hope you will join me in praying that they would continue to stand firm under trial. The Church of the Martyrs of Faith and Homeland is a powerful illustration of the words of the prophet Isaiah: “to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3 ESV).