By Claire Evans
11/27/2017 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – A small woman clad in black stands in front of her humble house, surrounded by her four children. “Please, pray for my children and me,” she entreats. She belongs to one of the families that lost a loved one when masked ISIS gunmen attacked a caravan of Coptic Christians traveling to St. Samuel Monastery this past May, killing dozens of Christians and injuring many more. The attack not only plunged their surviving family members into shock, but also increased the amount of hardships that they would face. Despite the uncertainty of their future, the families continue to see examples of God’s grace in their lives and to encourage their children’s faith.
Many members of the victims’ families first see God’s grace in the attack itself. One woman, Nawal, recalled, “My husband Nasef and six other workers from our village headed to the monastery to work there. At 10:00 a.m. I heard villagers saying that the pickup truck which my husband and the other workers were on had an accident during their way to the monastery. When I heard that, I thought my husband was injured in this accident. The brothers and uncles of my husband then headed to the hospital to see what happened to my husband, and when they reached there, they knew that he was martyred.”
She continued, “My husband went to Heaven, he is with Jesus now. He kept the faith, and was martyred in the name of Christ… I am proud of him, he has lifted our heads up and honored us and all Christians.”
One women, Nadeem, was on the bus and remembered, “We were singing on the bus, especially because it was a family trip and everyone on the bus were my relatives. [But then] we heard a strange sound…and thought a short circuit had happened with the bus. The bus was burning, [so] my husband Sameh and my brother Hany pushed the bus’s doors open to rescue us. After he got out of the bus, he closed its door [and] masked gunmen saw my husband and shot him in the head, instantly killing him… when they were shooting… we were praying and shouting, ‘Oh, Jesus!’”
Nadeem survived, but in the space of one day, everything changed for these families. Women, already a vulnerable demographic, lost their families’ protectors. Families lost their primary breadwinners.
At the funeral, the cry “Oh God!” was heard echoing throughout the chamber. A humble prayer left largely unspoken, silent supplications shivering with pain drifting slowly up to Heaven.
Life has been far from easy following the deaths of their loved ones. One of the martyrs, Karam, was only 21 years old when he died. Rather than completing his education, he was instead working in construction to support his family. Said his father, “Karam was our only breadwinner, after his martyrdom our life has become so difficult. I’m [a] sick man and I cannot work. None have stood with us.”
For families with young children, their situation has only become more difficult. One widow, Hanna, said, “My late husband Ayed was [a] very good man, he worked hard to meet our physical needs, he was our primary breadwinner. My children and I have suffered from the hard circumstances after the death of my husband as there was no income for us. My son Marco had to go to the monastery last period (during the school holiday before September) to work instead of his late father in making churches’ bells to earn money to meet our needs.”
Unfortunately, this is not unusual within Egypt’s Christian community. Attacks such as the one in May can affect a family for generations, forcing children to work instead of going to school, reinforcing a cycle of poverty. Rather than despair, families hold the bus attack victims as an example to their children of what it means to have faith. “I hope that the faith of my children becomes like the faith of their father,” said Nawal. Meanwhile, local priests teach their congregation to “pray for those who killed [the martyrs], may God touch their hearts, change them and show them his way”
Said another priest, “I want to say to those terrorists who killed our martyrs, we forgive you and love you because of our Lord Jesus Christ, the savior of all people who came to redeem all of mankind … Christ has planted love inside us and that is what we teach to our children in the church: to plant the love of him [Christ] from their childhood. When we plant the love and tolerance inside our children from their childhood, they will live love and tolerance when they grow up.”
Though their past is filled with heartache and their present with hardship, the families continue to keep the faith of God’s promises. They hope to impart their relatives’ legacy of faith to their children, and through their children, be a blessing to their community. Until then, they continue to rejoice and find comfort in their faith despite their current difficulties. As one widow shared, “[I am] very happy that my husband is in Heaven and he is in front of the throne of grace, with Jesus. We have rejoiced and we have been comforted. God has put comfort, peace, and great grace in our hearts. We thank God so much.”