Recently some of the Open Doors Australia and New Zealand team travelled to Egypt to meet local Christians. Dave Miers joined the organisation in 2022 and shares his first experience of meeting persecuted Christians in the field.
“Dave, prepare to pack your bags; we’re heading out on a field trip.”
At the end of my third day on the job, these were the words left ringing in my ears from Gabriel Billich-Neville, my new boss. Now he wasn’t sure which country we’d be visiting but those details would be worked out.
Fast-forward a few weeks and we were waking up to our first full day in Cairo, Egypt. The smog was out, our hearts were open, and we were ready to hit the ground running. Our itinerary, was deftly designed to squeeze in as much as possible whilst on the ground in Egypt.
Following a hotel breakfast by the River Nile and a brief time in God’s word and prayer, we were ready for our first meeting. Straight away, there was an element of secrecy and danger involved as we met with Christian leader Matta*. Our group split up into twos, and we arrived at staggered times at the hotel room. This was to avoid the constant surveillance of authorities (and nosey hotel housekeepers!).
While there was a slight risk for our team, there was a significant threat for Matta in associating with us. He later told us that government officials would have interrogated him if they knew the nature of our meetings. As a trailblazer working across denominations in Egypt, his steadfast devotion to the Lord inspired me. Matta personally knows the constant pressure that the church is under. The day before we arrived, 41 Christians were killed in a fire in a Cairo church. While the media reports quickly labelled it as an accident caused by an electrical fault, Matta said that local Christians fear that there is more behind it. Perhaps the incident was an attack.
Standing by the Nile and with a mix of brutal honesty and everyday composure, Matta spoke about the expectation of suffering. He quoted 2 Timothy 3:12, saying persecution is the normal expectation of Godly living and that the church has been under pressure from the book of Acts onwards. He said, “The Bible says it; don’t complain about it.”
I felt rebuked. If I’m honest, it’s easy to complain about the circumstances within which I find myself.
Don’t mishear what Matta is communicating; he’s not glamorising persecution. Far from it. He says that believers agonise over it and grieve every time a brother or sister suffers for the sake of Christ. He says emphatically, “We’re not here to sell persecution; we’re here to talk about the victory in Christ.”
Victory in Christ – what a wonderful perspective! It’s the perspective of the Apostle Paul when he writes from prison (Philippians 3:10, 20). It’s the perspective of the exiled Apostle John when he writes to persecuted believers at the end of the first century (Revelation 1:17-18). And it’s the type of perspective that equips all believers throughout the ages to deal with whatever adversity lies before us.
*Names changed for security purposes.