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Egyptian Fields Ripe for Harvest

ICC NOTE: Good article explaining why nominal Christians in Egypt become Muslim.

by Nina Kelly

4/11/07 Egypt For the full article (Christianity Today) The spiritual fields of Egypt are clearly ripe and ready for harvest. Thousands of nominal Christians, many whom are desperate to escape from grinding poverty, are converted to Islam every year via Saudi backed initiatives. However, more than 20,000 of the most vulnerable Christians are now benefiting from Christian run initiatives such as women’s empowerment programmes and Christian educational and professional services to help them improve their quality of life and learn about a living faith in Jesus which helps them stay true to their roots.

Around ten percent of Egypt ’s 79 million population is Christian. Of these eight million Christians, 90% are Coptic Orthodox and the vast majority are nominal Christians only, with just 5% of Christians attending Church. With an average annual income of $1,300 many Egyptians find daily living a struggle and nominal Christians in particular are very susceptible to the systematic financial incentives given by Saudi backed Muslims. Their creative economic development programmes are available only on conversion to Islam, although less altruistic methods are sometimes used.

Anis*, a pastor who ministers to Christians in need, explained: “Many Christians are given loans for things like medical, wedding or funeral expenses and are then asked to sign an open debt certificate in case they need more money. However they may borrow, say, £500 but are subsequently asked to repay an impossible amount like £50,000.

“They are then taken to court and sent to prison unless they convert to Islam. Many converts to Islam are gained in that way.”

“Another way converts to Islam are gained is by systematically approaching young girls, enticing them to a better life by marrying into Muslim families; but once they leave the protection of their own families they are often sexually and physically abused and then abandoned.”

“In addition, if a Christian couple want a divorce, the only way is for one party to convert to Islam.”

However, there is a growing network of committed Christians reaching out to and strengthening nominal Christians throughout Egypt through socio-economic development and women’s empowerment programmes. However, the work is challenging and fraught with problems.

Martha, programme co-ordinator for women’s empowerment, told us of some of the obstacles they have had to overcome.

“It is a terrible shame for a girl to travel in Egypt without a man, or to come home after dark. Parents are partly worried for the safety of their daughters as many Christian girls have been abducted or seduced by Muslim boys, but also culturally, people think that a woman leaving the home by herself makes her ineligible for marriage.

“When I was at university, I had a tremendous desire to serve the Lord but my father was not happy with me going out to the villages, visiting the women. He spoke very harshly and grounded me for three days. However, my mother supported me, I kept praying that God and eventually my father changed his attitude also, which was a miracle.

“Many young women are afraid of travelling but I have no problem using public transport and going to new places.” Martha does admit to the occasional ‘adventure’ though. “Once we held a literacy event in a village but fanatics threw large stones on our cars, almost killing some team members. Another difficult time was visiting a predominantly Muslim village, nicknamed Afghanistan , which acted as an independent state and was surrounded by an armed guard throughout my visit.

“My main ministry is to the nominal Christian girls in the rural villages, many of whom never leave their homes, not even to work in the fields. A young girl is considered to be almost worthless in these villages. They say a cow is more productive than a girl. The girls have very low self-esteem and many are sexually and physically abused. This leaves many of them psychologically disturbed and suffering with depression. Marriage is an obsession with them as the daily parental message that a girl gets is that she is better off dead than unmarried. If she is still single at age 16 or 17 she is treated as a great burden on the family.

“Boys need to pay around 5,000 Egyptian pounds or maybe up to £15,000 plus furniture for their brides. In a poor village some men can’t afford to get married, and a girl can be forced to marry her cousin. Girls then go to live with their in-laws and work hard all day, taking care of the house, the family and the cattle.

“It is very hard to get these Christian girls to attend our empowerment events. We have to visit each one personally and try to persuade their parents that it will be safe and that we will look after them.

“At the events we talk about taboo subjects like sex, as well as giving them spiritual lessons. We play learning games such as getting a girl to walk on a thin beam with the other girls on either side encouraging her all the time and catching her if she falls. This helps them to understand the importance of encouraging each other during the difficult times in life.

“We also hold events at the villages over a ten-week period and teach them sewing, craftwork, cooking and hairdressing skills. This really helps them feel good about themselves and also enables them to run their own small business using these skills if they wish. Only a few set up their own businesses but those who do make a great success of it, and we help them sell their products. It will perhaps take time before this really catches on.

“It often takes a long time before the girls can receive God’s love and respond to the gospel message; but at other times, the Lord’s presence is very strong and many receive the Lord. The girls have often experienced so much abuse that they need lots of inner healing. It is almost unheard of for girls to talk about the abuse they endure at home, but many will confide in us as time goes by.”