Tag Archives: Libya

The Libya Martyrs’ Children: An Update on the Difference You’re Making

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

I’m writing to update you on Coptic Orphans’ support for the children of the 21 martyrs in Libya.

This story actually begins 16 years ago, when we met with H.G. Bishop Pevnotios. Most of the Libya martyrs’ children weren’t even alive then. But today, you will find nearly all of them in His Grace’s diocese in Samalout.

That day 16 years ago, by God’s grace and with your partnership, a seed was planted. His Grace agreed that we would work in his diocese, and he recommended Church-based volunteers to serve as Coptic Orphans Reps.

The Reps worked hard and enrolled more kids. And so, over these past 16 years, we’ve served 1,095 children in Samalout.

Which brings us to today. We have 23 Reps in His Grace’s diocese. Each has relationships of love and mentorship with the orphans who are “their” kids. In regular face-to-face visits, they nurture the kids’ character and talents — and above all, their education.

These Reps know Samalout, they’re trained as a team, and they know that people like you are behind them with support and prayers. Their 16 years of service are just the beginning.

Promoting literacy and love of reading at a Coptic Orphans event in Samalout.
Promoting literacy and a love of reading at a Coptic Orphans event in Samalout.

In other words, the seed that was planted 16 years ago, with God’s help, has grown into a tree with branches strong enough to support the Libya martyrs’ children.

With this strong structure in place, we were able to begin investigating the kids’ needs immediately after the massacre. We learned that 10 of the martyrs had left behind a total of 19 children. Of the 19, two live in Mattay and 17 in Samalout. We decided to focus our energies on Samalout, where our strengths and nearly all the kids are.

We spent a lot of time carefully looking at the children and their situations. And because we’re committed to accountability and transparency, I’m reporting what we’ve learned to you.

We discovered that all of the families, by God’s grace, are benefitting from great generosity. Churches, businesspeople, individuals, and other services have supplemented strong support from the Egyptian government. These families now actually have a lot of resources, especially in the short term, even divided among many family members, that will help meet their day-to-day needs. Much of what has been donated from these sources must be shared among the deceased’s wife, his children, his parents, and his unmarried siblings.

We’re grateful that God touched the hearts of so many people and made this outpouring possible. We also know that these children’s needs will continue — and even grow — in the 4, 8, even 10 or more years before they reach adulthood.

That knowledge forced us to do some soul-searching. You, the Coptic Orphans family, decided to sustain the martyrs’ children by donating US$91,902. For a child who is in our program for a normal amount of time, for example, about 8 years, that’s US$676 a year — not a huge amount, but very significant, for Egypt. And clearly these kids are a special case. We couldn’t have anticipated it, but now they’re not “low income” — a prerequisite for being in our program.

We’d committed to standing with these children. But what did they need us for now, with all this money? We studied, discussed, argued, and decided on enrolling them in our program anyway.

To explain why, I need to tell you about a rich woman who approached us, years ago. She was taking care of her two orphaned nephews. She gave them everything, but something was wrong. Compared to other orphans in her area — kids in our program — her nephews were troubled and undisciplined.

She came to us and said, “I want you to enroll my nephews in your program. You don’t have to spend anything on them; I’ll pay for everything. I just want them to have what the other kids in your program are getting. I want them to have the love, the guidance, so they grow up to be healthy people.”

We’ve heard this before, and it echoes what we believe the Coptic Orphans family is really about. Meeting basic needs should be a given. With your partnership, we do that.

But what’s really valuable — and transforming — is the Reps’ work to mentor the child, promote their self-discipline and resilience, instill a strong work ethic, and support their education. That’s real long-term development, not charity.

Therefore, there is a long road ahead with the martyrs’ children in Samalout. Our Reps will give each one the love and mentoring they need. Their families will also receive the wider support we offer to all of the program’s families, such as workshops to help widows manage their finances, and to empower them to support their children. But in terms of your donations, we’ll focus on what we do best: Education.

How that looks will depend on each child. But all of them will need the tutoring that Egypt’s decaying school system has made indispensable. All will need constant guidance that education, not a pension, is the road to independence. Some will advance to university, and we’ll support them by paying tuition and fees.

We’ll only know the final results of these efforts when these children grow up. The seed planted 16 years ago, in the meeting with H.G. Bishop Pevnotios, is still growing.

But however this turns out, the Coptic Orphans family will have done everything possible to make sure that the children of the Libya martyrs are loved, supported, mentored, and educated.  Thank you for partnering with us, with God at the center.

Related Posts:

What Could We Have Done to Save the 21? A Lot More
Act Now to Prevent More Massacres
The Copts Martyred in Libya – How You Can Help
Remembering the Children Who Lost Their Fathers in Libya
Charleston and Samalout: The Connection That Surprises the World

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