Month of prayer for Christians in Egypt
Christians in the Middle East and North Africa are facing increasing insecurity as their countries undergo huge changes in their political structures.
It's a time of great opportunity for all those nations caught up in the Arab Spring, and as Andrew Boyd, press officer for "Release International" says, "nobody is going to stand up and say three cheers for hardline dictators who've kept their countries repressed for years. It's fundamental that there should be a move towards democracy in these nations, but at the same time, because the lid has been taken off - nation after nation - in that world, what we are seeing is an increasing tension beteween secular factions who want democracy, and islamist factions who want to see in one form or another, a form of islamic law brought into these nations".
Speaking to Linda Bordoni, Boyd first explains that Release is an international network of missions that serve persecuted Christians in 30 countries.
They do this by supporting pastors and Christian prisoners and their families, by supplying Christian literature and Bibles, by working for justice, and by launching campaigns, such as the current one, asking for prayer and raising awareness.
Release has produced a prayer guide, focusing prayer throughout May on Egypt, Libya, Syria, Morocco, Yemen, Tunisia and Bahrain. Right now, the greatest concern is Egypt, where Christians are worried that persecution will increase following the presidential elections on May 23-24.
Boyd says that up to 100,000 Christians have already left the country since last year’s uprising, and persecution has increased as Islamist groups have grown in influence over the past two decades.
And he talks of Egypt's Christian roots and heritage. Egypt in fact was a majority Christian country for more than 1,000 years. Last year’s parliamentary elections led to a huge victory for the Islamist parties, especially the Muslim Brotherhood and the hard-line Salafist Nour. Extremist groups want to introduce strict Sharia (Islamic) law across Egypt and have launched attacks on Christians, public officials and foreigners.
Those who argue that Sharia affects only the muslims, Boyd says, are wrong: Sharia affects Christians as well as it will not allow them to share their faith. Sometimes with tragic consequences.
And Boyd mentions the current situation in Nigeria where Christians are undergoing bloody attacks that are forcing many to flee their homes.
He also talks of the initiative in the latest edition of the "Release" magazine which is available for download. In it, are the stories of Egyptian Christians who have had to face intimidation and sometimes persecution.
And speaking of the campaign for prayer, Boyd says Release is asking people to pray that Christians under threat will continue to be stong in the Lord; that God would give them wisdom to realte to the authorities and they would respond with grace to those who oppose them. And also; pray for the new President,that he will uphold and champion religious freedom and work hard to encourage religious tolerance in Egypt.
"The more people I meet during my travels across the world for Release who are suffering persecution for their faith", says Boyd, "the more I realise that they have an overcoming joy-filled faith and a love of freedom which we need to tak hold of. We need them more than they need us. They need us to stand with them to share our freedom and to share our resources, We need to capture thier overcoming spirit and their determination to make a stand and to be joyful witnesses to the Gospel of Christ. That's their gift to us".