CAIRO, Egypt (BP)–Next time you think of Egypt, don’t think about King Tut and the pyramids. Instead, imagine you are:
— A university student, one of more than 2 million in Cairo alone. You’re intelligent and ambitious, but what’s the point of studying hard with so many graduates competing for so few career opportunities? So you hang out late in coffee shops with your friends. Last year you saw “The Passion of The Christ” when it played in local theaters. You’ve also heard about Jesus on satellite TV and the Internet. You want to know more, but whom do you ask?
— A Bedouin shepherd from the Sinai. Proud of your identity as a true Arab and “defender of Islam,” you’ve been pushed out of your tribe’s traditional desert home by development and tourism. Now you scrabble for a living in a grimy suburb on the edge of Alexandria. At night you look out into the silent desert, wondering if your children will ever return there.
— A Domari Gypsy woman, despised by most other Egyptians. So you hide your ethnic background, try to blend into society -– and struggle to feed your children. Will anyone ever respect you for who you are?
— A Copt from Egypt’s age-old traditional Christian community. As a young man you encountered Jesus personally and now follow Him as Lord. You want to share Him with others -– even Muslims –- but they often reject you. Even more painful: Your own family angrily denounces your vision for reaching beyond its ethnic enclave with the Good News. You struggle with discouragement, but the vision won’t die.
Modern Egyptians are proud of their 5,000-year-old culture. But Egypt is so much more than the remains of its past.
It is a kaleidoscope of peoples loved by the Lord, and He wants them to know Him.
As Isaiah prophesies, “The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people’” (Isaiah 19:25a). He longs for them to experience His love and salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ -– who found sanctuary in Egypt from Herod’s wrath 2,000 years ago. Above all, the Lord is worthy of their worship and adoration.
That’s why the peoples of Egypt -– all of them -– are the focus of this year’s Day of Prayer and Fasting for World Evangelization set for June 4. On that day, Southern Baptists and other Great Commission Christians will focus on loving the peoples of Egypt through prayer, uniting their hearts and voices before God’s throne of grace.
You can use this article as you pray. You also can order a new video/DVD from the International Mission Board: “Blessed be Egypt: From Desert to Delta.” It contains multiple resources for use by churches, small groups and children. To order the DVD and other free Day of Prayer resources, visit ime.imb.org or call 1-800-999-3113.
Egyptian Muslims comprise the vast majority of the nation’s more than 76 million people. But the Copts, Egypt’s traditional Orthodox Christians, number at least 8 million -– more than 10 percent of the national population. Millions of Bedouin, successors of the Arab conquerors who brought Islam to Egypt, still wander the desert. The Nubians and the Beja dwell in the south. The Berbers occupy the oases of the west. The Domari Gypsies (ethnic cousins to the Romani in Europe) live throughout Egypt.
“God is so full of passion for these people,” a Christian believer in Egypt says. “He so wants them to come to Him. I picture in my mind a father who so desperately wants to hug his children that he gets down on the floor and puts out his arms -– but they don’t want to come. They don’t know him.”
They never will, except through prayer.
Egypt is a collection of contradictions:
— It’s by far the most populous country in the Middle East. Big and lumbering as it may seem, however, the nation sets the pace for the region. It projects a moderate image and was the first Arab nation to make peace with Israel. Yet it continues to struggle with extremist factions that demand a return to strict Muslim rule.
— Egypt is one of the world’s oldest cultures, but at least a third of all Egyptians are under age 15. Two-thirds are under 35.
— Cairo is one of the world’s largest megacities with at least 20 million people. Yet more than 28 million Egyptians live in the towns and rural villages of the Nile Delta. One of every three Egyptians still farms for a living.
— Egypt boasts more highly trained professionals and white-collar workers than any other Arab country. Some 800,000 graduates flood the job market each year. But nearly half its adult population is illiterate.
— Nearly nine out of 10 Egyptians are Sunni Muslims. Yet the Copts, descendants of the ancient Egyptians, are the largest traditional Christian minority in the Middle East.
— Egyptians are renowned for their hospitality and lively debate over any issue, yet their society remains tightly controlled by government, family, religion and the manacles of history.
“It’s hard for Americans to understand how hard it is to bring change to the Middle East,” a longtime worker in the region observes. That goes double in Egypt.
Change may come slowly, but something is happening in Egypt.
A spiritual revival broke out among Coptic Christians several years ago. The small community of Egyptian Protestant and evangelical believers (estimated at about half a million) is growing. An increasing number of Muslims are risking everything to follow Christ as Lord. And a powerful spirit of prayer, uniting believers from throughout the land, gains momentum each year.
“We have a tremendous, lay-led prayer movement in Egypt right now that has just exploded over the last five to seven years,” a Christian worker reports. “Our goal now is to have a grassroots movement, with grassroots leaders, that becomes a church-planting movement.”
Many strongholds -– spiritual, social and cultural — stand between current reality and that future, however.
The dead hand of the pharaohs still reaches into modern Egypt. Magic and witchcraft, talismans and spells, superstition and the “evil eye” all still influence and oppress Egyptians.
Long domination by Islam remains a huge and ongoing stronghold. Many Egyptian Muslims simply cannot imagine a life apart from what they have always known. Those who do imagine it -– and act on it -– face rejection by family, persecution or worse. The growing Islamic militant movement poses even greater challenges. Attacks on Coptic churches have increased in recent years, as evidenced by the recent Muslim-Christian riots in Alexandria.
The biggest stronghold of all is fear. Fear among Christians of change, of persecution, of government crackdowns. Fear among Muslims of acting on their deep hunger to know God personally. Fear among Muslims who secretly follow Jesus of revealing their faith to someone else (see WorldView in today’s edition of Baptist Press: “Fear factor slows the Gospel in Egypt”).
What will break the stronghold of fear? Prayer. A mighty, unseen wave of prayer will wash over the dams that prevent the Gospel from flowing through Egypt. Like the Nile in flood, it will bless a dry and weary land with life. Will you be a part of the wave?
Pray that fear among Egyptian believers and seekers will be replaced by holy boldness.
Pray for streams of light to wash across Egypt’s ancient deserts of darkness.
Pray that every believer will become a disciple-maker and that Egyptian followers of Jesus will unite to spread the Gospel throughout every community.