Egypt (MNN) — A report Friday indicated Egyptian Christians in border towns are getting threats of violence if they don't leave. One church leader suspects the threats are connected to the anti-Islam film which has angered Muslims throughout the Middle East.
In other parts of the country, the pressure has increased to the point where people are fleeing in droves. They represent an increasing number of the country's 8 million Coptic Christians were already feeling increasingly cornered.
The atmosphere chilled quickly in the wake of Hosni Mubarak's ouster and the Muslim Brotherhood's meteoric rise to power. Already subjected to anti-Christian discrimination and attacks for years under Mubarak, his fall meant no one was there to suppress the hard-liner Islamists.
The nation's Christians saw an uptick in violence against them alongside an overall rise in crime since Egypt's 2011 revolution. There are heightened concerns now that believers might face backlash amid outrage over the film, says Rody Rodeheaver with IN Network.
It's not something that dies down quickly. "Each subsequent conversation about that continues to elevate the emotional level in countries like Egypt and others." As a result, Rodeheaver says their team is very concerned about exodus of believers.
There's also the danger of the mass hysteria driving a rumor mill that comes back on the believers. For example, one of the rumors on the street is that there were six Egyptian Christians that participated in the making of the video. "There is no way of knowing whether that is true or false, but that is the word on the street, according to our staff. What that then does is just escalates the emotional extreme reaction to this whole situation."
Meanwhile, Christian leaders are trying to distance any connection–perceived or otherwise. Compass Direct News cited Rev. Dr. Andrea Zaki, Vice President of the Evangelical denomination in Egypt, who said that "the film insulting Islam is a criminal act, and should not be tolerated. It must be prosecuted, and they who produced and published it are criminals."
In his statement, Zaki stressed that the Egyptian Evangelical Church "not only condemned the film, but is communicating with several American institutions to stop such films depicting the sacred, because they represent a crime against human rights."
IN Network Egypt has a team in place, committed to ministering the Gospel. On one hand, says Rodeheaver, there's the human reality of working and being part of the pressure of this kind of situation. But, "On the other, they're seeing that the God who called them is also there, working beside them, providing fruit for their efforts."
That's why Rodeheaver doesn't foresee them leaving. Practically speaking, abandoned property is often stolen or vandalized. But the other reason has staying power. "This is their home, and they need to be there as a voice for the Lord to the people to whom they serve." Plus, Rodeheaver adds, "I think what our staff is seeing is that they are experiencing a real outpouring of God's Spirit as it relates to the programs that they're conducting."
The team works through Bible correspondence courses offered to men and women across the country, encouraging them in the study of Scripture. A Bible school program equips pastors with all they need to serve their communities for God. Finally, leadership conferences bring in hundreds of people every year to be empowered to lead others to Christ.
Pray that things would not escalate. IN Network's team is now asking themselves how they can continue to minister to the people God has called them to. The threats are not taken lightly, but continued work "takes a great amount of wisdom, and courage. That becomes a real focus for the prayers of God's people."