The Faith We Have in Common With Those About to Die

A ship overloaded with migrants drifts in the Mediterranean. Photograph: Italian Navy/AP
A ship overloaded with migrants drifts in the Mediterranean. Photo: Italian Navy/AP

Flying over the Mediterranean this week, it was hard to forget the sight of the 21 martyrs’ blood mixing with the sea as they gave up their souls to Christ.

During this Feast of the Resurrection, I was struck by another sea image. It was one of a boat, which I saw with this headline: “Record number of migrants expected to drown in Mediterranean this year.”

Nearly 500 people have drowned already, I learned, trying to reach a dream of work and safety in Europe. Thousands more will die as 2015 goes by.

Later, I came across another article — this one by a researcher who says Copts and other Christians are among the unlucky people who attempt this dangerous journey.

Reading both articles, I was struck by how the sea, already red with our blood, could turn redder. And I understood what I have in common, besides our faith, with those about to die:

My family, too, journeyed across the sea.

The journeys weren’t the same. Not at all. By God’s grace, my family didn’t travel in an overcrowded boat that capsized. We didn’t struggle with choking waves that finally closed over our mouths.

We flew. We passed over the water. Perhaps your family’s story is the same.

So when I read that a record number of precious human lives will disappear into the sea this year, and contemplate the fact that Copts may be among them, I’m haunted by this question:

Did we do everything we could to save them?

It’s not an unfamiliar question to me. In response to a deep, aching need to be able to answer such questions “yes,” I founded Coptic Orphans over 25 years ago.

And I wrote, not long ago, that desperation is driving millions of Egyptians abroad to earn a living for their loved ones. This new Exodus is born of a lack of bread to fill a hungry child’s stomach.

It’s a crime that these Egyptian men end up dead, because they aren’t lucky enough or wealthy enough to secure a visa to work abroad, and because they love their families enough to risk their lives.

I wish I had been more aware of the people who are about to drown. And I wish we could use more of God’s gifts to save them.

By that, I mean that there’s more we could do — we who live in the diaspora, surrounded by abundance and success, enjoying lives we owe to Him who spared us from the waves.

What more could we do? To begin with, we can mobilize our diaspora’s wealth. What could our collective millions do if invested wisely in Egypt’s development? We could be fueling for-profit enterprises that create jobs and non-profit projects to improve education. In the long term, our engagement would enable many fathers and sons to choose life at home, rather than death abroad.

We could also recognize that we ourselves benefit from taking part in Egypt’s development. We could be taking service trips to Egypt — trips that not only help transform communities, but also reconnect us and our children with our Church and our rich heritage.

Yet, all across Egypt, more work remains. The same people who will drown this year are the same people who await our extended hand. Will we reach out to capable, hard-working Egyptians before they’re drowning?

Or will we continue as things are now: Our brothers and sisters in Christ sinking in the water, as we watch from the safety of the shore?

“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.