Egypt (MNN/IN) — Egypt is back in the headlines again. Phase One balloting for the long-delayed parliamentary elections wrapped up on Monday.
One party–the banned Muslim Brotherhood–was missing from the options on the voting forms. It’s a notable fall from grace, considering they were Egypt’s main opposition group for decades and managed to get Islamist Mohamed Morsi a short-lived presidency in 2013.
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi cracked down on the group, which included hundreds of deaths and thousands of imprisonments–numbers which included the highest-ranking Brotherhood leaders. Brother Nathan, a partner with International Needs, warns that just because you can’t see them, doesn’t mean they’re not there anymore. “The situation has improved, but not 100%. We’re still in a Muslim country. [The] Muslim Brotherhood is still active underground, and they’re still creating many problems for the whole country, especially for us as Christians.”
Egypt’s changes are ongoing. The election’s second phase concludes in early December. Still, Egypt has been without a parliament since 2012. While the military is in power, there is some order. Christians are hopeful, but the reality is they’re still second-class citizens in their homeland. “When you apply for a job, religion is very important. Even if you are more qualified [than] a Muslim person, the job will be taken by a Muslim person. It is a challenge to be surrounded by an atmosphere like this.”
Brother Nathan has spent his adult years ministering in Egypt, as well as in countless other cities and villages across Egypt and throughout the Middle East. It’s dangerous work, at times. He’s had to move at least five times because of security situations.
Due to his long-term relationship with evangelical and Coptic churches, Nathan is working to bring relief to pastors, their families, and the churches that have been targeted in the unrest. Yet, his personal journey is what keeps him coming back time and again with the same message for his countrymen. “This is our testimony and this is our message that we deliver in spite of all the persecution: [Love casts out fear].” When Brother Nathan says it, it has authority.
As a six-year-old boy in Egypt, Brother Nathan witnessed an unthinkable attack on his father, a Christian pastor in a majority-Muslim country. He remembers, “My heart was broken, full of hatred, unforgiveness. I wanted to act in violence [and] kill the people who killed my father. I had this in my heart for five years.” But his father had already provided a rich, spiritual legacy for Nathan. From his earlier memories, he shares, “I remember him helping me to try to memorize some verses from the Bible. I have his picture in my mind, standing in front of the people, preaching the Word of God. It’s a great inheritance. It’s a great seed, my father, he implanted in my heart and in my life.”
After the attack, Nathan warred with himself. He sought revenge and vowed to avenge his father. It conflicted with the life his father lived. Then, says Nathan, “When I was 11 years old, Jesus revealed Himself to me. I became a new creation in Jesus Christ. He took away all the hatred and unforgiveness, and He filled my heart with His love.”
The journey ahead was still a long one. “I think forgiveness is a decision. We have to DECIDE to forgive. This is one of the most important decisions [because] we do not have an ‘other’ choice.” Acquainted with that, he lived it out.
Brother Nathan knew it was his story to tell, but he followed other dreams for a while. He graduated from university as a veterinary surgeon but followed the call of God he felt on his life by leaving his job in 1986 to study at New Life Bible School in New Zealand. After he graduated, he returned to Egypt to tell his story. His narrative came at a time when Egypt was dealing with the aftermath of the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981, riots in 1986, the advent of strongman Hosni Mubarak, and the Revolution that followed the Arab Spring in 2011. Even in the wake of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the rise of Mohamed Morsi, Nathan’s answer to ending the chaos was the same. “Love and forgiveness: this is the answer for the struggling world around us. This is the answer for the conflict. This is the hope that we have to carry to the world around us.”
Simplistic? Perhaps, but that’s also the paradox of the Gospel.
Here’s another result: “For the first time in recent history, all the churches and all of the denominations are united together.”
In a time of uncertainty and dynamic change, Brother Nathan penned his story–part memoir, part devotional and all perspective. Titled Love Casts out Fear, he tells the joys and difficulties Christians face in the persecuted church in the Middle East. The best part is God’s ability to care for those who follow His call and to change hearts in one of the most dangerous places in the world to claim Christ as Lord.