Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ wake up to daily threats of intimidation, violence, and hardship. During my recent trip to Egypt, there were moments where I was able to see first-hand and up close the results of anti-Christian violence and persecution.
El-Diabiyya is a small Egyptian village that sits on the banks of the river Nile. The vibrant river and constant sun turn Egypt’s desert into some of the most fertile lands on earth, making lush the simple farms that surround the village.
In many ways, arriving at El-Diabiyya seemed to take me back in time, a far cry from the frenzied pace of American life. After countless turns and delicate maneuvers, our taxi navigated the village’s narrow alleys and dirt roads to arrive at the Church gate marked by the cross of Christ. We entered the Church quickly, along the way passing a picture of the great warrior angel Michael. It was fitting, given the tense yet quiet struggle that wages for the soul of this village.
In August 2013, El-Diabiyya was the site of a violent attack on Christians. A dispute between neighbors quickly escalated into violent conflict.
Extremist Muslims in the village banded together. They blocked the streets to prevent police and fire fighting vehicles from entering the village and began throwing Molotov cocktails at Christian homes and businesses. Six homes of Christian families were burned, and soon, the attention of the attackers turned to the village church.
An angry and violent mob reigned Molotov cocktails down on the simple structure of St. Michael’s Church. Two out of three altars were burned, and paintings of Christ and his apostles were quickly marred by black smoke and fire.
The only thing that saved the church from further destruction was when one of the firebombs hit the incense that was used in the church’s worship. An overwhelming cloud of sweet-smelling incense engulfed the church. This incense cloud was so thick and the fragrance so powerful, the attackers could no longer breathe and abandoned their efforts.
In evangelical America, the structure of a church building is often insignificant. Increasingly, services are held in school cafeterias or empty warehouses.
In Egypt, it’s different. The church building is very significant. Since Christianity is the minority faith, churches signify the presence of Christ and His active work of the Gospel in the community. It is a place where God is worshiped and Christ is lifted up. It is a place for refuge from the intense pressures many believers face, a place to come together with fellow Christians to receive love, encouragement, and to have fellowship with one another.
I met Father Rizkalla, the priest of the church in El-Diabiyya. Despite carrying the burdens of pressure as a peacemaker in the village, the joy of Christ radiates from him. As I listened to him share about the attack of last August, my heart was burdened and blessed at the same time.
I was burdened because I could see a man who was carrying the weight of an entire community on his shoulders.
I was blessed because I could tell he didn’t carry the burden alone: Christ was walking with Father Rizkalla.
I asked him what my friends and I back home could do to help him and his community. I wanted to do something, and I was quite sure I had friends who would want to do something too. Without blinking an eye and with a joyful nod of his head, he said, “Pray.”
His wife joined in. “And please, share our story.”
Pray. And share their story. That’s it.
As I have considered these requests many times over since, I’ve come to conclude that Father Rizkalla knows something that I struggle at times to fully understand.
Father Rizkalla knows the power of prayer.
He knows that prayer is a direct line of communication to the God of the universe. He knows prayer changes the events of history, that prayer opens a door that no man, no persecutor, or any force is able to shut.
In the great heavenly scene as depicted in Revelation 5, incense signifies “the prayers of the saints.”
Father Rizkalla understands the incense that miraculously forced the attackers to flee is the same incense that God will respond to and give protection to him and his community. It is the prayers of the saints.
Please join The St. Charles Institute in prayer for Father Rizkalla and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in Diabiyya, in Egypt, and throughout the Middle East.