CAIRO (BP)–As shock waves from the “Black Tuesday” attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon continue to reverberate worldwide, Christians in Egypt are grieving for America’s loss — and praying for America’s churches.
From living rooms to large congregations around Cairo, the Middle East’s largest city, two major prayers have emerged: that American leaders will respond to terror with wisdom and restraint and that American Christians will wake up and act in love and forgiveness, not anger and fear.
“I think this is a sort of shaking, a warning, a calling to the church in America,” said one Egyptian Christian physician, a leader of Egypt’s small but growing prayer movement. “I think God is saying, ‘Awake, you giant of faith, and come back to your call as an example to the other nations and to the whole world.'”
Like other Christians — and most Muslims in Egypt — he expressed sorrow for the staggering losses inflicted on American families and said he was praying for healing and restoration of broken hearts.
However, he asked American Christians not to retreat behind walls of fear or lash out at Arabs and Muslims in anger. He also challenged U.S. churches to set themselves apart from the image of decadence that America projects to the world through its media.
“God called America to be a city that is holy to the Lord,” he said. “We are indebted to you for reaching out to us in the past with the Word of God, and we need you in these days.”
In the days immediately following the attacks, Egyptians stared at TV replays in shock and horror — like Americans and others around the world. They sought out Americans on the street to offer sympathy. But confusion and frustration are rising as they hear reports — some actual, some exaggerated — of Arabs and Muslims harassed and assaulted in the United States, in addition to seeing fingers of blame pointed at the Arab world.
Foreigners can always leave the Middle East — and many are leaving on the advice of their embassies as talk of U.S. military retaliation intensifies. The real backlash from Muslim frustration will fall on Arab Christians, warned Sameh Tawfik, pastor of Kasr El-Dobara Evangelical Church, Cairo’s largest non-Orthodox congregation with some 7,000 members.
“The repercussions will be felt more and more in the next few weeks,” Tawfik said. “I’m beginning to hear it from our members: ‘Why are the Christians in America treating Arabs and Muslims this way?’ They [Muslims] are the minority there. We are the minority here. We will pay the price here as Christians for what’s happening to Arabs in the U.S.”
Tawfik is appealing to Christians everywhere — from America to his own church — to respond as Jesus would.
“This is the hour we have to demonstrate the kingdom and the fullness of the gospel,” he said. “Jesus taught us to love our enemies, to pray for them. Jesus, on the cross, blessed those who crucified him, and forgave them. I’m not speaking to the U.S. as a nation or as a government. I agree that justice has to take place. I’m speaking to the church as believers. We want to raise a movement to pray for all the Arabs and to love them.”
“Otherwise we will build walls between [Christians and Muslims]. They will not see Christ the loving Savior, but Christianity as the real enemy to hate, to fight against, to reject for the rest of their lives.”
One Christian observer, a longtime resident in the Middle East, said he believes the region — always a political powder keg — has reached a new watershed moment.
“The events of last week are going to have a huge influence on stability here,” he said. “I think it’s going to be one of those key events we’ll look back on 10 years from now and see a before and an after.”
One visiting Christian worker observed, “Will the ‘after’ see Christians retreating from the world and hiding in fear or reaching out to the world with love? Some predict a new dark age, but that depends on what believers who possess the light of the world decide to do with it.”