The Western church responded in grief and solidarity when ISIS representatives beheaded 21 men on a beach in Libya several months ago. The victims were targeted for being “People of the Cross,” members of the Coptic Church.
Last month, Focus on the Family announced a project to aid the martyrs' families, building homes for them and providing job training. President Jim Daly called the outreach a “physical demonstration of unity within the worldwide body of Christ.” In a time of crisis, our prayers and support have turned to a marginalized group of Christians tucked in the Muslim world.
Eight years ago, when my husband and I moved to Cairo, I became an unlikely member of the Coptic community. We were welcomed into the largest Christian community in the Middle East and one of the oldest Christian bodies in the world. While Christians make up just 10 percent of Egypt's population, the Coptic Church’s history and unique position offers lessons for today.
There is a moment when a lie takes root in our hearts and begins to grow. We often don’t know it at the time; can only look back on the other side and see the evidence of the beginnings of our shame.
That dirty word that we believe about ourselves, that F word that we let define us – You are a failure - it always starts somewhere.
I have come to picture this progression as if I were on a boat, set out to sea.
At first I was headed to a beautiful destination but got stranded somewhere. I felt lost and alone.
Then, I felt like the boat was going under, me with it – until I was drowning.
Finally, I found a lifeline that I cling to whenever I am drifting.
Maybe your story is very different from mine. But perhaps you have felt this same way. Have you found your lifeline or are you still searching?
Some days I have to search to find it all over again. Just like it takes time for the lie to begin to grow, it takes a long time to uproot it.
I had spent six years dreaming of this. Ever since the moment I sat in that Arabic class, felt God calling me out of my safe, homogonous life – I had dreamed of moving overseas.
God finally opened the doors for my husband and I to move to Egypt and years of a nebulous dream were becoming a reality.
We were newly married so it wasn’t difficult to pack up our two-bedroom basement apartment into boxes we would store until we retuned. Leaving family and friends, the roots that went deep in our lifelong hometown, was altogether another story. Our church and family rallied around us with support, yard sales, prayers, and love.
We found our new home to be the fulfillment of dreams we imagined it would be. That isn’t to say it wasn’t difficult. Culture shock and homesickness were real. Arabic was a language difficult to acquire. Normal life was more of a chore in a land we didn’t know.
But we loved every minute of our time there…until the news came.
My father had been sitting in church when he had a massive heart attack. They called it a widow maker because most do not survive it. He actually died sitting in the church that day.
Several doctors and nurses rushed to his side and were able to resusitate him, getting him to the hospital where my mom learned he needed a quadruple bypass.
That is when a crushing weight settled in on my soul.
I wanted to run home to be with my family but had a life in Egypt, responsibilities. We had worked so hard to get there and so many people had struggled along with us, were counting on us.
I couldn’t breathe anymore in this place I loved but also couldn’t imagine giving up and going home. What would everyone think? We had only been there six months and leaving then felt like a failure.
Two months after my dad’s heart attack we unpacked those boxes back into our apartment and did what we believed was right. We felt God saying our family was the most important assignment at that moment.
But life did not go back to normal. I felt like I was floating through a shadow of the life I knew before.
It was then that I began to feel like I was stranded at sea. I was between two worlds and that crushing weight I felt back in Egypt had followed me home.
I couldn’t name it then, couldn’t understand it for years. Looking back I realize that was the moment I started believing the lie that I am a failure.
The enemy who comes to kill, steal, and destroy pounced on the confusion in my spirit and whispered to me about my failure to finish what I had started, about all the people I had let down.
I started to question my choices and God’s faithfulness. I imagined people looking at me with disapproval. Every question about why we left was an indictment. I feared their judgement. I feared I had let them down, had let God down.
I found myself drifting away from Him, distancing myself really. I was so afraid I would learn the worst about myself when I spent time with Him – that I really had failed Him.
The beginnings of my feelings of failure started seven years ago and I am still wading through this. When I felt like I should write about this, every other story I read or message I listened to spoke into this subject.
Everywhere I turn, God is still speaking to me and helping to dislodge this age-old feeling that found it’s way into a new heart.
In April, the world watched as a massive earthquake in Nepal killed more than 9,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless. Recovering from this recent disaster, however, is not the only struggle this country faces.
Around 1 million Christians live in this nation of 28 million. The growing church now faces increased persecution and their religious freedom is at risk.
After nine years with an interim government, Nepal is now just days away from the finalization of a new constitution. A group of political leaders, the Constitutional Assembly, rushed the draft through while most people's attention was on the reconstruction efforts. This rough draft, submitted to the public on June 31, has raised concerns with the Christian minority in the majority Hindu nation and has church leaders calling for action from the international community.
As the collective Body of Christ, those of us in the Western church should be concerned about what their Nepali brothers and sisters are facing. The Bible tells us as one Body “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). While the situation in Nepal may not affect the daily lives of Christians in the West, as followers of Christ, it should affect our hearts and prayers for the people of Nepal.
In 2006, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the communist Maoists and the government of Nepal ended the 10-year civil war. Nepal became a secular nation, no longer the world’s only Hindu Kingdom, and the lack of government brought new freedom to groups previously restricted in meeting together and sharing their faith.
Nepali Christian leaders had been working with the government on changes in the constitution that would bring full freedom of religion to Nepal. They were encouraged with progress until leaders from the major political parties met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July.
Summer has officially come to an end.
I mean, you still break out in a sweat just walking out to the car in the afternoon and the first official day of fall is still a month and a half away. But we are back into our fall routines and the time of staying up late and no homework is over.
As a mom who works full-time and is also a writer, summer doesn’t mean much change for me. The kids still go to “school,” the amazing kids camp offered to staff kids at the church where I work. My hours don’t change, so I have to make an intentional effort for summer to feel different.
It is also hard for me as someone who struggles with perfectionism and striving to make myself unwind. I knew going into this summer, though, that I needed a different kind of season. My life couldn’t keep going at the velocity that had become normal.
It wasn’t even a number of events or the two jobs that had become the problem. It was an attitude of my heart.
I entered summer just trying to make it through the week, counting down the days until the next family getaway or fun event. But my daily life needed a serious injection of the lazy days of summer.
I avoided social media because if I saw one more mom who had the summer off with her kids talking about how good life was by the pool I was going to throw my computer across the room.
Can you tell I needed a break?
There is this one thing we do every summer as a family that I begin counting down to in January.
When I was young my grandma called it, “going home.” We would pile books and our pillows into the backseat and watch cities and farms go by on our nine hour drive from Georgia to the small-town in Indiana where my grandparents grew up. I visited cousins and went from house to house in this foreign world where doors were left unlocked because everyone was related or knew each other.
As my mom, sister, aunt and I embarked on the journey – my first time in eight years since my grandma’s death – I couldn’t help but feel a part of me was going home. I never lived there and didn’t have many ties left except a few aunts, uncles and cousins. But as cornfields made way to coal mines, I realized this place was a kind of home to me.
This Midwest small-town held all of the stories that shaped the life of my family. As a child I played down by the creek but was oblivious to the living history all around me. On this particular homecoming, I started to listen.
I watched my great uncle, now in his nineties, smile the same smile I saw as a ten year old child on the face of my granddad. I held back tears as I watched familiar eyes looking back on me, imagining granddad would have looked much like this now.
I listened to his stories of the 13 siblings growing up and fighting, of how my granddad went to World War II to avoid life in the mines. He told us about generations I didn’t know existed that bootlegged during prohibition as we looked through boxes of faded photos.
I also stood beside graves and learned about my great grandmother who married three times and the miscarriage I didn’t know my grandmother had in her first marriage. I heard the tales of divorce, abuse, addiction in my family tree.
I realized there was so much pain I missed looking at my family as a child, hurt and sin under the surface that I never knew.
I also realized there was healing and hope, a God who saw all of the pain and was with my family generations before me.