The tragic images are almost impossible to see and process.
There on the shore of Libya stand 21 young Christian Egyptian men, each clad in an orange jumpsuit. Behind each man is a hooded radical Islamist, holding a knife.
We know what’s coming next.
If American Christians were ever tempted to believe martyrs are only people we read about in the Bible and history books, the 21 men who were brutally beheaded because they called Jesus Christ their Savior remind us nothing could be further from the truth.
Each of these men is a hero of the faith. And I believe each one is now seeing the Lord face to face.
Sami Yacoub is a dear friend and the regional director for Focus on the Family’s Middle East outreach. He’s based in Egypt. As you can imagine, this latest despicable act of barbarism has hit Sami and the team in Cairo hard. I would like to share with you some of Sami’s perspectives and insights.
Not all of these facts are being reported by news and media outlets. In fact, I read yesterday that NBC News devoted ten times more coverage to its 40th anniversary of “Saturday Night Live” than to this tragedy.
Here is what Sami shared with our team:
- These young Christians were in their early to mid-20s. They went to Libya in search of work to help feed their families living under the poverty line in Egypt.
- In the days and weeks leading up to their deaths, their ISIS captors tortured them and attempted to persuade them to deny Jesus in return for living.
- They all refused to deny Christ.
- They all died on that beach singing songs to Jesus.
Yet, from Sami’s perspective, these men were not mere victims. They are “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37) whose ultimate sacrifice is a powerful testimony to their faith in Jesus.
That’s why I echo the sentiments Sami shared with us at Focus on the Family headquarters here in Colorado Springs.
“The Gospel message of salvation rises out of this suffering and persecution. As the Middle East was the birthplace of Christianity, the torch of revival that once burned bright for Christ can once again be lit by the sparks created by ISIS.”
We’ve seen God use persecution to bring people to Him before, and we pray it happens again.
In the meanwhile, though, through all the tears and heartache, what do we do now?
I’ve previously written how Christians in the West can help their Middle East brothers and sisters and how they can talk to their children about what’s happening. I’d like to take a minute to expand on what I’ve already shared with some additional thoughts in light of the most recent situation.
1. There’s a special prayer request from Sami I want to pass along. For various historical and cultural reasons, Christians in the Middle East have placed much importance on the proper burial of their dead. But because ISIS threw the bodies of the 21 young believers into the sea, the loved ones who remain are enduring an added dimension to their grief.
Sami has been given a special opportunity to provide biblical encouragement to the grieving family members by writing a special article for a widely circulated Coptic (orthodox) newspaper in Egypt. That these editors would ask Sami, an evangelical Christian, for his insight means God is working to unite believers. That is no small thing. In light of this, please pray for wisdom for Sami, that the Holy Spirit would comfort the loved ones left behind, and that God’s people in Egypt may band together.
2. While the White House and other U.S. leaders have spoken out against these atrocities, they have also been reluctant to publicly recognize that this violence has been religiously motivated. Overall, the response has been tepid, especially when seen in contrast to the responses by the Jordanian and Egyptian governments.
Please pray for the eyes of our leaders to be opened to the danger ISIS represents for Christians around the world, and pray they would have wisdom to know how to properly respond. At a time like this, it would also be good and proper for Christians to respectfully reach out to their elected officials and make their voices heard.
Indeed, it is good to pray and hope for justice:
“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” (Revelation 6:9-10)
Finally – if you want to share prayers and words of encouragement with our brothers and sisters in the Middle East, please leave them in the comments section below. We will pass along your messages of support with Sami. During times like this, it’s important for our beleaguered fellow believers to know they are not alone.