You can’t unsee the video.
Twenty men in orange jumpsuits, hands tied behind their backs, are led single-file along the edge of the sea. Behind each man stands a knife-wielding ISIS member, clad in black. Seconds later, all 21 men have been brutally beheaded for the “crime” of confessing, even under torture, Jesus as Lord.
The video was shot over two years ago along the shores of a beach in Libya. These men, all in their 20s, had traveled from Egypt in search of work to feed their families. Instead, their families were left grieving and alone. For American Christians, it’s nearly impossible to imagine enduring something so terrible. How could it be anything but faith-crushing? And yet a team from Focus on the Family’s Egypt office reports something far different.
In a recent blog post, Focus President Jim Daly shared the following email from their Egyptian team:
“The great news about the families of the martyrs of Libya is that even after more than two years they still live in the condolences of the Holy Spirit and they stick to their faith that their martyrs showed to the whole world; how the real Christian should live and die for the glory of Christ.
We met one of the martyrs’ wives who told us: ‘Many times when I feel lonely I go to the room where I have the big picture of my husband and I pray to God while looking at the picture… I feel this prayer gives me strength and God is answering my prayers.’
One of the great impressive signs of faith we witnessed very recently in the lives of those families, after the several attacks on Christians in Cairo, Tanta, Alexandria and the most recent bus in Elminia, is that some of the families’ members went to give condolences to the new victims and share a real example of how God has been faithful to and strengthened them in such tough painful experience.”
This recent encouragement from our brothers and sisters across the globe reminds us of three things as church leaders.
First, persecution is very real and active in our world. We are told in Hebrews 13:3 to remember our suffering brothers and sisters as if “you felt their pain in your bodies.” This means as leaders in our churches we need to continually tell the stories of the persecuted church, allow our hearts to be wrecked by the tragedies and be moved to prayerful action on their behalf (see opendoorsusa.org for ways to do this).
Second, it’s a reminder that the Gospel is much bigger than America. God is at work all over the world, advancing his message in even the darkest places.
Third, this specific story is a reminder that no matter how tragic life’s circumstances are, there really is a “peace that passes understanding.” As we see through the testimony of these families, even when the worst happens, we serve a God who is with us in our pain.
Hearing the stories of martyrdom, mourning is appropriate; but as Daly said in his blog post, “while we set out to bless our brothers and sisters in their time of need, the reality is their example of steadfast, committed faith blessed us.”
Seeing the faithfulness of our Christian family in Egypt reminds us that the God we serve is powerful, loving and on the move…and He’s calling us to join Him in His work.