Egyptian Christians' 'Radical' Response to Islamists

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MINYA, Egypt -- The city of Minya sits at the epicenter of the persecution against the Christian Church in Egypt.

During the past several weeks, Christians have suffered the worst attacks in centuries.

Radical Islam spurred the violence, but the onslaught is being met with the love of Christ.

Worst Violence in Centuries

The Amir Tadros Church in Minya is just one of dozens of churches that have been burned down throughout the country.

The interior of the century-old church was completely destroyed.

One expert told CBN News the violence against Christian churches in Egypt is the worst in nearly 700 years. 

Exclusive video shows that the inside of the sanctuary is completely gutted and the altar destroyed.

Now the church is holding its services at 6:30 a.m., using a makeshift altar erected outside. Engineers say the church would need to be torn down before it could be rebuilt.

"To be sure that everything is burned, they put fire in every place," Ezzrat, a U.N. human rights officer, said.

"Before this time they make a sign for Christian places or cars or houses or buildings. And if the place has an X on it, they burned the place," he explained. "And that shows that they planned this before."

Loving Your Enemies

The churches weren't the only targets. Cars, schools, and businesses owned by Christians were also destroyed. Muslim radicals marked Christian businesses with a black X before torching them.

Perhaps most shocking was the destruction of a Christian orphanage.

Muslim mobs attacked and destroyed a Coptic Christian orphanage called Christ Soldiers, leaving about 200 children without shelter.

The Christians who run the orphanage left a message for the attackers on the building's exterior wall: "You meant to hurt us, but we forgive you. God is love. Everything works out for good."

They also wrote, "Love your enemies."

Evangelical ministries bore the brunt of many of the attacks. There's not much left of the Bible Society of Egypt's bookstore in Minya. Their store in nearby Azuit was also destroyed.

Those bookstores used to look like the Bible Society's main bookstore in Cairo. Now the Bibles, books, and children's materials are in shambles.

"For the last 130 years we have been operating," Bible Society of Egypt Vice President Ehad Tanas told CBN News. "We have bookshops in the streets and the main cities in Cairo and Alexandria, Tantur, Upper Egypt and it [the destruction] has never happened before in the history of the Bible Society."

According to one Egyptian website, angry mobs attacked more than 60 churches from Minya to Alexandria to Giza and Suez and throughout Egypt.

Muslim Brotherhood vs. Christians

The rampage began after Muslim Brotherhood supporters targeted the churches as scapegoats for the army's decision to break up two Brotherhood protest camps in Cairo.

They also blamed the church for allegedly participating in the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

Yet Christians point out many of their Muslim neighbors defended and protected them.

They don't see this as a Muslim against Christian issue, but as the Muslim Brotherhood against the Christians. And even though they've been targeted, they're responding with forgiveness and pressing on in the face of persecution.

A Sunday school class at the Amir Tadros Church now meets in an alcove off the main building. They're learning about the namesake of the church, who was a Christian martyr. It's not your typical Sunday school lesson.

"This day I think the children have a life experience," Sunday school teacher Marka William told CBN News. "They see their church burned. They see how they are treated all the day. They see us forgive our enemies."

"We respond as every other Christian has responded," Tanas said. "We are in Egypt to serve. We are in Egypt to demonstrate the Christian love. We do every effort to be self-restrained and to show the Christian love that the Lord has taught us to show."

'Pray for Us'

The churches are asking for prayer and support from the Church worldwide. 

"They can pray for us all the time [and] ask Jesus to save us," William said.

"What happens in Egypt affects the Middle East, so we ask them to pray for the country," Tanas said. "We ask them to pray for Christians. We ask them to pray for the Middle East."

"We also ask them to pray for the government, the existing government that the Lord will give them wisdom and guidance in every decision they make," he added.

While living under threats, they vow to continue their ministries. They say the buildings have been destroyed, but the Church goes on and their faith remains in Jesus Christ who promised He would build His church.

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Chris Mitchell

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