'We Never Fear Bombs or Death': Church in Egypt Grows Despite Jihadist Threats

Egyptian Christians shout slogans as ambulances transport the bodies of victims killed in the bombing of Cairo's main Coptic cathedral after the funeral.
Egyptian Christians shout slogans as ambulances transport the bodies of victims killed in the bombing of Cairo's main Coptic cathedral after the funeral. (REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

It was a year ago this week that twin suicide bombings struck two churches in Egypt, killing 45 people.

On April 9, 2017, ISIS militants detonated the first bomb inside St. George's Church in the northern city of Tanta while worshippers were celebrating Palm Sunday. A few hours later, a second bomb hit Saint Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria. More than 125 people were injured in both attacks.

A year on, Egypt's Coptic Christians know the threats against them are still very real.

"When security knows I'm going to a certain church there will be double security, but you never know," Andrea Zaki Stephanous, a prominent Egyptian Christian, told Premier. "You can expect at any moment that someone will come with a bomb and create a massacre. So every day we trust God and we go."

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The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, claimed responsibility for both attacks. Despite the risks, Stephanous says the church in Egypt continues to grow.

"The good news is we never fear bombs or death," Stephanous said. "As long as we're committed to Jesus, every time they bomb the church, we have doubled the number of people in church."

Egypt has the largest Christian community in the Middle East. Officially, Coptic Christians comprise about 10 percent of Egypt's 96 million population. About one million are members of the evangelical community. According to Open Doors, Christians are facing "unprecedented" levels of persecution.

"The rise of radical Islamist groups has only exacerbated Christian persecution, affecting believers in their villages, neighborhoods and workplaces," said Open Doors on its website.

Each year, Open Doors publishes a list of countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian. Egypt ranked 17th on this year's list.

"Believers from a Muslim background, as in many countries, bear the brunt of persecution, often from their families who may punish them for abandoning the Islamic faith," said Open Doors in a statement. "However, the Coptic church, which in the past has been tolerated because of its size and historical presence, is now being targeted, too."

Some experts say that since Egypt's president Abdel-Fattah el Sisi came to power in 2014, the conditions for Coptic Christians have improved.

"He has done some things that no leader in Egypt has ever done in all 1,400 years of Islamic rule in Egypt," claimed Dr. Michael Youssef, founder of Leading the Way ministry.

Youssef and several other prominent American evangelical leaders met with Egypt's president last year in what was described by some attendees as a "historic" meeting.

"He [Sisi] has warmed up to Christians," Youssef told CBN News. "He has appeared for Christmas celebrations at the Coptic Cathedral and in every way, he has reached out to the Christian community."

Earlier this year, Sisi told Coptic Christians that Egypt would prevail over Islamic extremism.

"You are our family, you are from us, we are one and no one will divide us," the president said.

Four Islamic jihadists were killed on Sunday in Egypt's Sinai peninsula as part of the government's ongoing campaign to rid the region of terrorists. In addition to targeting Egyptian soldiers, police officers and civilians, jihadists have also killed scores of Christians in church bombings and shootings.

Facing little contest, president Sisi won a second term in office this month after winning 97 percent of the vote in a presidential contest. Many Coptic Christians, who remember what life was like under the Muslim Brotherhood, voted for him.

Youssef told CBN News that he believes Sisi is the best man to rule Egypt at the moment.

"He literally is trying to break down all these barriers that were created through the years," said Youssef, author of the new book, The Hidden Enemy. "I really believe he is God's man, God raised him up {because} people will say that if it wasn't for Sisi, you would have had 15 million Christian refugees from Egypt and they look at the neighboring countries and they would say, 'Thank God for Sisi' and the Christians particularly are very grateful."

An Egyptian military court sentenced 36 ISIS suspects to death this week for their roles in the 2017 Palm Sunday attacks.

"The mood is very, very good amongst Christians who are living in Egypt. Not because the situation is good or bad—that is not the reason," Sameh Hanna, pastor of an evangelical church in Cairo, told Premier."We have two kinds of news—earthly news, which is very ugly, very discouraging and I think in the West, you get only the earthly news—a bombing here or there."

"But there is heavenly news," added Hanna. "We know what is going on spiritually. We see things that not everybody is seeing. We see things you are not hearing. We see the multitude coming to the knowledge of Christ from every background, so this brings joy to us."

Copyright The Christian Broadcasting Network, Inc., All rights reserved.

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