Category Archives: Diaspora

Act Now to Prevent More Massacres

The 21 martyrs of Libya. Icon written by Tony Rezk.
The 21 martyrs of Libya. Icon written by Tony Rezk.

By murdering the 21 martyrs on camera, the Islamic State wanted to make us a passive audience for their theater of horrors.

But against their own intentions, in trying to tell their story, the killers presented us with a clear choice and an important opportunity to act.

We know the story they wanted to tell: “We can terrorize these Christians at will, because our strength and cleverness have brought them into our grasp.”

But the real story of what brought Copts into their grip is not one of terrorist genius. The truth is, the martyrs were snared by preventable causes: the crushing poverty and lack of jobs that drove them to Libya.

If we had addressed the root causes that pushed those fathers, sons, brothers, and uncles to leave Egypt in search of their daily bread, there would have been no massacre of Copts on that beach.

Let there be no mistake: It’s not for a lack of wanting to help that we failed to prevent what happened. Our readiness to help is immense; our Coptic generosity pours out at the first sign of a tragedy like Libya.

This tradition of giving after the tragedy is laudable; no one questions the importance of helping the victims’ families when disaster is past. But it is not the same as having a vision for the future.

In that light, here is the choice before us: Will we continue mainly to react to tragedies by aiding the victims — or will we start working together to end the causes that make Copts victims?

These are two very different approaches to dealing with poverty. One — the “charity” approach — reacts to events and relates to people as victims. The other — a “transformational” approach — is proactive and defines people as partners in transforming lives and developing communities.

What makes the second approach “transformational” is acknowledging that all true change comes from the Holy Spirit, and flows from and points to the Kingdom of God.

Put more simply, a charity approach says: “If you help people pick up the pieces after their tragedy, you’ve done your job.” In contrast, the transformational approach says, “Let’s start working side-by-side now so that we all become closer to the Kingdom of God, and are strong enough to head off tragedies.”

It might sound abstract, but I’ve seen the transformational approach make huge changes in the lives of children, adults, and their communities. Just as importantly, this way of “working together” is transformational for all of us living outside Egypt. So choosing one or the other approach has real-world consequences.

Let’s say, for example, that you’re one of the hundreds of parents I’ve met in the Saeed, where the poverty is ferocious and the jobs are scarce.

If you’re a father in a village, your work may be drying up. Your children may be getting thinner before your eyes. Going to Libya may mean death. But you’re willing to risk it for your family. So there you go, and there you die.

Suddenly, after you’re gone, there’s help for your family. Which is important, and one way we affirm that we’re all responsible for each other within the Body of Christ.

But the help doesn’t change the fact of your torture and death, nor does it restore you to your wounded family. Nor does it repair your lost contributions to your church or your community.

Wouldn’t it have been better if the flood of generosity had arrived before you were massacred?

Moreover, wouldn’t your life have been a different life, your village a different village, your Egypt a different Egypt — had that generosity had been focused on improving your family’s education, encouraging your entrepreneurial ideas, promoting job creation, and developing community resources?

Most importantly, wouldn’t that have kept you from desperately seeking bread for your children in places where the Islamic State is a threat — or is ready to hatch?

One thing is for sure: You can’t massacre someone who isn’t there. That’s a sure form of prevention.

To go back to the original thought: The Islamic State wanted us to focus on their capacity to do Copts harm. But the more important story is our capacity to do ourselves good.

This is our choice. We can still make the best outcome from the worst intentions.

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

The 21 Martyrs’ Families — More Ways You Can Help

Copts hold candlelit vigil to mourn the 21 martyrs, in Washington, DC, Feb. 18, 2015.
In one of many vigils held around the world, Copts in Washington, DC carry candles and display the names of the 21 martyrs massacred in Libya.

The martyrdom of the 21 has united Copts around the world. 

To make sure the bereaved families get the assistance they need, I wanted to share the many online channels by which you can show support:

Coptic Orthodox Church Centre UK
The Coptic Orthodox Diocese of New England and New York
CopticWorld
The Good Samaritan
H.O.P.E.
Santa Verena Charity
Coptic Orphans

Also, this Coptic archdiocese is delivering aid:

Archdiocese of North America
P.O. Box 373
Cedar Grove, NJ 07009

Another charity working in areas of need including healthcare, economic support, and social development in Egypt is St Marks Universal Coptic Care.

It is so heartening to see our community pull together and honor Isaiah’s words: “Bring justice to the orphan; plead the widow’s cause.”

Thank you for your prayers and support for the families.

Note: We’ve done our best to make this list as comprehensive as possible. If an appeal is missing, please send the link to info@copticorphans.org. We’ll do our best to make sure this blog post is updated to reflect additional efforts to aid the families of the 21.