Christians in the UK and Ireland are being urged to stand with Egyptian Christians in prayer this week. The aim is to support the suffering church and halt the exodus of Christians from Egypt. A Christian leader in Egypt says the church in his country is holding the line against extremism spreading to Europe. UK Christians are being urged to sign a petition calling for greater religious freedom in the last major enclave of Christianity in the Middle East.
Egyptian Christians have called for three days of prayer for the church and for their nation. Release International, which supports persecuted Christians worldwide, is urging Christians in the UK to support them. And the Release #everyright campaign is pressing Egypt to guarantee full religious freedom for its dwindling Christian minority.
A recent Release fact-finding team found Egyptian Christians are still being attacked and driven out of their homes because of their Christian faith.
"One of the families we met was forced to flee after the father had been brutally gunned down in front of his teenage son. The pretext for the violence? A dispute over shop prices," said Release Chief Executive, Paul Robinson.
"Another man we met was thrown into prison for trying to create a room for his Sunday school, which had been meeting in the open air. He and his children received death threats - and still are - and his father was detained and tortured. Despite changes to the constitution, freedom of religion is still way beyond the grasp of many Egyptians - especially in remote areas away from Cairo.
"What we're seeing today is a modern day exodus from Egypt, as Christians are leaving the Middle East in droves. Yet Egypt's Coptic community is still the largest Christian presence in the Middle East. It would be a tragedy if they felt compelled to leave. Release is calling on Christians everywhere to stand with them this week in prayer."
Fouad Youssef is the former secretary general of the Evangelical Fellowship of Egypt. In the face of pressure, persecution and terrorism, many of Egypt's brightest and best have quit the country. He said: "Many families and educated people in the churches have left, escaping an unknown future for their children - especially after the period of burning churches and killing Christians in 2013. We have lost many of our good leaders, fleeing to the States, Canada and Europe. And this affects our ministry, our population and our leadership capabilities in Egypt.'
Paul Robinson added: "Today, despite the changes in the constitution, Christians still face persecution from militants, and pressure from the state. Christians are still being jailed for blasphemy, and that has to end. While the focus of world attention has shifted to Syria, we must continue to uphold the suffering church in Egypt."
Fouad Youssef believes the future freedom of Europe depends on it.
"The church in Egypt is facing fanatics. We are the first line of defence. We are not defending ourselves, we are defending the whole world. In whatever way you support the church in Egypt and the Arab world you are supporting yourselves. What will be stopped here will be stopped in Europe. And what will be loosed here will be loosed in Europe. Wherever there is a voice for the church, we need to hear that voice."
Release International is pressing Egypt to make good its new constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion in practice.
The Release campaign #everyright includes an online petition, which can be signed at: www.releaseinternational.org
Through its international network of missions Release International serves persecuted Christians in more than 30 countries around the world, by: supporting pastors and Christian prisoners, and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles; and working for justice.
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