Finding Refuge From Unrest in Egypt: A Christian Response

The New York Times has shared in raising awareness to the recent wave of immigration from Egypt, by publishing an article with the headline: “Refuge From Unrest in Egypt”. A version of this article appeared in print on April 21, 2013, on page MB1 of the New York edition.

The author of the article successfully portrayed some of the faithful efforts employed by one of the Coptic Churches in the U.S. in accommodating Arabic speakers fleeing from Egypt looking to find refuge in the U.S. The same can be said of the Coptic Churches in the area of Jersey City, Brooklyn and other neighboring cities.

In emphasizing the effort geared toward the Arabic speakers, the author overlooked the faithful effort to accommodate the English speakers as well, as in the case of St Mark Church in Jersey City, mentioned in the article.

Fr. Markos Ayoub, a priest of St Mark Church of Jersey City commented: “I believe this is not an accurate characterization of the Church of St. Mark. Our church fully caters to both English and Arabic speaking congregations, with a dedicated weekly Sunday liturgy service in English, and another one in Arabic. Most of all children activities are conducted in English. Other services for children & youth on Fridays & Saturdays are held entirely in English. Even for seasonal occasions… parallel services are held in either language.”

“Our church,” added Fr. Markos Ayoub, “has thankfully been and still is a pioneer in ministering to English speaking Copts who grew up here for many years as well as to the recent immigrants who are Arabic speakers. Moreover our church has pioneered using the internet and webcast/satellite broadcast technologies to minister to the broadest spectrum of Copts who live here and beyond.”

An English speaking congregant and servant also commented: “Many of my close friends comment on our English service and especially how we give the youth the big church upstairs and give them an all-English sermon. Add to that Bible Study, Sunday School, the Media team, the retreats, the new building, and on and on and on and I have no idea how someone could say that we are not catering to the English speakers.”

The author of the article may be excused for not being fully aware of the services of the Coptic Churches in the U.S. However; the article raises a serious question of how Christians in the U.S. should respond to what is so called in the article, “the sudden tsunami of new arrivals after the revolution.” It also raises more serious questions about the whole concept of church in the light of a diversifying congregation and how to teach our children to respond to it.

Christians of the U.S. should see the wave of the arrival of the newcomers not as “sudden of tsunami” but as “showers of blessing” (Ezekiel 34:26). They deserve such honor to be called “showers of blessing”, as many of them have lost beloved ones, suffered persecution and the confiscation of their properties for their faith in Christ (Hebrews 10:34). In church history, those who survive of persecution are called “confessors”, the saints who have suffered persecution and torture for the faith, but not to the point of death.

In the First Council of Nicaea, in 325AD, many of the assembled fathers – for instance, Paphnutius of Thebes, Potamon of Heraclea and Paul of Neocaesarea – had stood forth as confessors of the faith and came to the council with the marks of persecution on their bodies. They were greatly honored by Constantine the Great. The emperor left his seat and knelt down to kiss the wounds of Paphnutius, who had been persecuted for his Christian beliefs. The influence of these marred confessors has been substantial.

In His lengthy discourse, the Lord Jesus considered the wounds, needs and the afflictions of His people as his personal wounds, needs and afflictions. It is a wonderful opportunity for blessings to minister to the body of Christ through the wounded, needy and afflicted families coming from Egypt. The Lord Jesus said, “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’… ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40).

Those who leave the church, because of many of newcomers, do not realize what they are doing. They are missing the blessings of ministering to the body of Christ in the person of the wounded, needy and afflicted families. Instead of being hospitable and helping them, they desert them. The Christians of the U.S. should examine their ways of dealing with the newcomers and be more positive in helping them.

The opportunity to partake in the blessing of ministering to the newcomers is also missed by our children when they are taken away to churches where there are fewer newcomers. Failing to teach our children to love, communicate with, and minister to the newcomers is failing to teach them how to integrate and minister to the body of Christ, in the spirit of love. Difference of language is not an excuse. Christ’s love is stronger than the barrier of language.

Church history is rich with the stories of preachers, evangelists and missionaries who went out of their comfort zones and ministered to others in foreign countries. And even without going that far, in St Mark Church of Jersey City, we see wonderful and faithful English speaking servants helping, in amazing ways, the newcomers’ families and their children.

The Christians of US have to examine their perspective of what church is all about. The church is not a social setting for peers to hang out. It should not be culturally oriented or derived. In the biblical, theological and spiritual sense, there is neither an “English Church” nor “Arabic Church”. There is only the “One Only Holy Universal Church” as we recite in the Nicene Creed; one body of Christ.

The Church that is designed to be exclusively for English speakers, intentionally excluding newcomers, such would be a church that is shutting its doors in the face of Christ Himself as He said, “inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me” (Matthew 25:45). That would be a Christ-less church.

The Christian of the U.S. should learn how to integrate with people of other languages, in love, to portray the true image of the church in heaven. In front of the throne of the Father and the Lamb: “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).

Fr Abraam D Sleman

frsleman@copticchurch.net

732 718-4129