What Could We Have Done to Save the 21? A Lot More

150220_Copts Vigil
Mourning the 21 martyrs at candlelit vigil, Washington, DC, Feb. 18, 2015.

What I’m about to say is not going to be popular, but it needs to be said.

The 21 martyrs died of malice, of murderousness. But they also died of neglect.

What do I mean by that?

I mean that the 21 are not the first, and far from the last. A million martyrs are marching, in desperation, in search of bread for their children. What keeps them on the move is our indifference.

Somewhere, as you read this, in a village in Egypt, someone is packing a tattered bag with threadbare clothes. He is preparing to kiss his wife and mother goodbye for the last time. With calloused hands, he’s caressing the faces of his children as he looks on them for a final moment.

He is not alone. Egyptians are going abroad in legions because they can’t find the means to survive in their poverty-hammered villages. This new Exodus is driven not by a command from God, but by a lack of the food to put in a hungry child’s stomach.

Now let us look at ourselves, so proud of our achievements as Copts living abroad. We have the material goods that (we’re told) equal status and happiness. We have the house and car. Money to store up, money to invest.

Have we — all of us in the diaspora — yet found a way to honestly translate our success and God’s gifts into a meaningful effort to prevent these martyrdoms?

Tell me, what could all of these millions — the wealth that is indisputably controlled by our Coptic diaspora — do if invested wisely in Egypt’s development? In for-profit enterprises that create jobs, keeping fathers and sons from desperately migrating in search of work? In non-profit projects that improve education? In service trips to Egypt that not only help transform communities, but also reconnect our children with our Church?

In every village, in every neighborhood of Egypt, there is more that we in the diaspora can do. There are people eager to join hands with us. There are capable, hard-working Egyptians who need only a slender lifeline — one that does not lead to execution in Libya.

The killing of the 21 is a wake-up call to the Coptic diaspora to change our ways. Where, too often, we have left our brothers and sisters in Christ to die of neglect, God is opening for us a new way. We need only courage to seize it.

May history remember the Feb. 15 massacre as the crowning futility of the Islamic State’s vain efforts to weaken the Church. May it also stand as a day on which we honor these martyrs for their incredible faith and sacrifice. Most importantly, may the martyrdom of the 21 mark a turning point — the moment when we in the diaspora fully face our responsibilities to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Before another 21 Copts are martyred, another 1,000, will we wake up? It’s up to you. There are many organizations, many projects, through which to heal and protect the families of our brothers and sisters in Christ. So what are you going to do?

“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” — I Corinthians 12: 26,27

About Nermien Riad

Nermien Riad founded Coptic Orphans in 1988 after volunteering for an orphanage in Cairo. When she saw that most of the children had living widowed mothers who simply couldn't afford to feed them, she gathered family and friends to sponsor children in Egypt. Today Coptic Orphans works through a network of 400+ church-based volunteers in Egypt, who visit fatherless families in their homes and make sure they get everything they need to unlock their full potential. That way, they don't have to get married off as child brides, work as 10-year old family breadwinners, or go to live at an institutional orphanage.