Sama’an Nazmi, a Coptic Christian from the garbage slums of Manshier Nasr, jumped up off the couch and sprinted out the door upon hearing gunfire and screams in the streets outside. Coptic youth had been staging a protest, causing enough racket that village priests urged them to stop before they attracted the attention of radical mobs who may use violence to forcefully halt the demonstration. The protestors – agitated over a church that had been burned to the ground by Islamists days earlier in a nearby village – refused to back down.
Villagers knew the protests were getting out of hand once the military arrived. Still, they could not convince their sons to come home. Instead, families gathered together, locked their doors, held hands, and prayed. When gunfire was heard, no one was surprised. In fact, many, like Sama’an, had been expecting it and were waiting to respond, knowing that help would be needed.
“Don’t go!” Sama’an’s mother shouted after him as he fled out the door. “I’m not afraid,” Sama’an replied on the run. “I need to protect my church and family.”
“We didn’t want to see him go,” Sama’an’s mother told ICC. “But he wanted to help those who were injured.”
Bullets still flying, Sama’an hurriedly searched for the injured and offered whatever assistance he could give.
Sama’an’s efforts were short lived, however. His wife, Rasha (not real name), had followed closely behind him before stopping at the top of the hill where she could see the upcoming events unfold. “I saw Sama’an helping an injured youth to his feet,” Rasha explained through a translator. “And then Sama’an dropped to the ground.”
A shrill scream pierced the village. Rasha tried to go to her husband, but her legs locked and she fell desperately to her knees. Crawling toward him and toward the battle that pressed on, villagers had to grab her to hold her back.
“I couldn’t get to him,” she lamented. “But when he fell, I knew he was dead. I knew there was nothing I could do.”
“They take our children, our money, our power. They take everything,” Sama’an’s mother continued. “What do they want from us?”
Sama’an’s family lives off less than two dollars a day which is earned by collecting and recycling Cairo’s trash. With Sama’an’s death, the family lost their only provider. Sama’an’s father is also out of the picture, having been arrested a year earlier for owning a pig, which became illegal in Cairo after the swine epidemic of 2009. It will be another four years before he is released. The women and children are now left to fend for themselves.
Sipping tea with Sama’an’s family in their home, Rasha took a framed wedding photo from the wall and handed it to me. A beautiful bride and handsome groom, in love, posed confidently for the camera. I looked at the bride and hardly recognized her. Rasha’s face, though still young, had aged quickly over the past few months by the stress and hard labor that a poor widow must bear in Egypt. How could Rasha have known her life would turn out this way?
Still gazing at the photograph, Sama’an’s five-year-old son Hany and two-year-old daughter Mariam chased after baby chicks scurrying across the living room rug. Amongst the chirps and laughing children, Rasha broke down in tears. The group I was with came to her, prayed, and offered what little comfort we could. “What will she do now?” I asked myself. “How will she raise her children on her own?”
Today, ICC continues to seek a solution to these questions. Upon our visit, ICC was able to bless Rasha and eight other families who lost loved ones in the protests on March 8 with a gift to help their immediate financial needs. Now, ICC is developing a small business for Rasha and providing the support needed to ensure that her children will attend school. Lastly, we have connected these families with a local church that will visit them monthly and continue to ensure that there spiritual and physical needs are being cared for.
Please consider partnering with ICC by praying or sending a donation for families in Mokattam. If you would like to give a gift to improve the lives of our brothers and sisters in Egypt, please make a donation to our Hand of Hope Fund for the Middle East and include a note designating your gift for “Egypt.” You may also give by check or by calling us at 1-800-ICC-5441.
To learn more about families in Mokattam who lost loved ones on March 8 or about the garbage districts of Cairo, please visit ICC’s Out of Egypt blog or sign up for our newsletter to read a full article in our September edition.
“Have the Christians in America really heard about me? Yesterday, I cried out to God and said ‘Lord have I been forgotten? Is there anyone helping me?’ Then a man of God from our village prayed for me and said, ‘God will never forsake you.’ I believed that word. I was crying yesterday and here you are today with the help I needed.”
It’s not very often that we get to directly hear and experience the impact that our ministry (and your gifts!) have on our persecuted brothers and sisters, but last month one of our representatives had the chance to sit down and spend some time with the widow of an evangelist who had been martyred by Islamic radicals. Our representative in Ethiopia traveled 125 miles from the capital of Addis Ababa to reach the village where Birtukan lives in a small hut that she shares with her mother, step-father, and seven other people.
Two months earlier, Birtukan and her husband, evangelist Abraham, were living as missionaries in the city of Worabe, in southern Ethiopia, ministering among Muslims in the community. Their home was constantly attacked by Muslims who were enraged by their work as missionaries, and they had received numerous threats on their lives. On April 21, Birtukan, then six-months pregnant, and her husband were assaulted by Muslims. Her husband didn’t survive the attack. Birtukan told us what happened:
On that day, my husband and I were getting back to our home after visiting a sick person. A group of Muslims stopped us and said they wanted to talk to my husband. They started to assault him and forcefully took him away. I followed them. Then they turned on me. They beat me unconscious. I was taken to a hospital. After ten days, I was told that the Muslims beat my husband to death.
Our representative told us, “Her story broke my heart. I comforted her and told her how the gospel of Jesus Christ was passed from one generation to the next generation through the sacrifices of martyrs. I also encouraged her by telling her that the Lord will never leave her.”
Greatly encouraged by our visit as an answer to her prayers, Birtukan affirmed that she was sure the Lord would never leave her and thanked and blessed all those who had a role in helping her, saying, “May the Lord remember you at the times of your needs!”
ICC provided Birtukan with funds to help meet her immediate needs and is also helping her to start a small business where she will work to earn a sustainable income to support her family.
P.S. — At the time of our visit, Birtukan was nine-months pregnant. On July 6, just a few days later, she gave birth to a baby girl.
“It’s not everybody who gets to be called a martyr’s wife,” Pauline Ayyad told ICC on a solemn afternoon after much reflection. “That’s a great honor.”
Pauline’s husband, Rami worked for the Palestinian Bible Society and ran a Christian bookshop in Gaza. While Rami was locking up his shop after a normal day of work one afternoon in October 2007, a vehicle pulled alongside him, and several men forced him in the backseat. Rami, remaining calm and trusting in the Lord, was allowed to call his wife. “I’m going with some young men somewhere, but I’ll be home soon,” he tried to reassure her. That was the last time Pauline would hear her husband’s voice.
Hours later, Rami’s body was found. He had been brutally tortured and shot twice, a bullet in the chest, and one in the head. “We don’t know the scenarios that took place with him or what they had done to him, but we believe there was an attempt to force him into something that he didn’t want to be, maybe into the religion of Islam,” the head of the Palestinian Bible Society told ICC. “He’s a martyr for Christ.”
I was moved deeply after contemplating Pauline’s words that it’s a ‘great honor’ to be the wife of a martyr. That statement did not come easy, but carried great wisdom and could only be said after Pauline had fully come to grips with her husband’s murder by forgiving his persecutors and surrendering the burden of his death completely to Christ. Her loss great and her suffering severe, Pauline was forced to embrace a cross unfamiliar to those of us who have never experienced a close family member paying the ultimate price for their faith – martyrdom.
The Road to Forgiveness
“I was so broken after the death of my husband, and I hated the people who did it,” Pauline said. “Why did this happen to Rami? Why would God allow it?” Pauline began working at the only job she was able to receive employment. It was part-time and paid little, but provided health care for her family. Still, Pauline was not able to earn enough to care for her children. Bitterness consumed her, and she felt lonely, lost and helpless.
But slowly Pauline became attentive to God’s purpose and realized that there was nothing she could have done, but that her husband’s death had been God’s plan all along. “God wanted Rami home,” she said. “He didn’t want anybody to interfere. God wanted Rami to be with Him that day and called him home. That was the bottom line. It was then that the Lord poured over me forgiveness for those who killed Rami and those who I used to blame.”
“After that, I totally became a new person, a positive person full of forgiveness. It was a gradual process where Jesus had to touch my heart and heal me. Now, even in my weak moments, the Lord closes the door and removes my doubts. ‘That’s it,’ He says. ‘You are forgiven and you have forgiven.’ After that, I started thanking the Lord for the cross that he gave me. I started feeling that His yoke is light, and God gave me the strength to carry it.”
“It was like a divine healing,” said a close friend of Pauline’s. “The Lord touched her heart so she was able to forgive, and after that, to live. Her life turned 180 degrees after she released those people.”
Rebuilding Her Life
Having been “tested in the furnace of affliction,” (Isaiah 48:10) Pauline victoriously overcame great loss and hardships by obeying and trusting in Christ. She now finds joy and purpose by fulfilling God’s plan for her husband’s life as a living testimony of God building His kingdom through the blood of the martyrs. Unlike her husband, Pauline realized that her greatest impact in this life would not have come as a martyr, but by exemplifying Christ as a martyr’s wife.
Please remember Pauline and her children in prayer. Pauline still tackles the challenges of being a single mother in a Muslim male dominated society. Three years after her husband’s murder, Pauline has been unable to find employment that fully supports her family. ICC is developing a small business that will provide a sustainable livelihood for Pauline and her family. Please consider partnering with us by donating* to this business and blessing this great woman of faith.
*please include Pauline’s name in the donation form note.