The sky turned first an eerie yellow, then the color of charcoal. A gritty rain began to fall, coating windshields, sidewalks, and clothing with damp spots the color and consistency of white clay. It was Libya we were feeling, its sands swept up in a freak storm, the worst in a quarter-century, and blown across the Mediterranean to be deposited on Cyprus. I was attending a conference of Christians involved in media, and the sandstorm seemed a poignant symbol of the siege mentality of Christians in the region.
To the south and east, Cyprus faces hundreds of millions of Muslims; from the north, Turkey has invaded and now occupies a third of the island. Flags emblazoned with the Muslim crescent flap defiantly over church buildings seized from the hilltops around Nicosia. Only a thin line of un peacekeepers keeps the two sides from breaking into war again.
Christian workers at the conference had gathered to discuss new ways of reaching the Muslim world. They used pseudonyms to throw off Muslim agents who might be tailing them. In restaurants and public places they spoke in hushed tones and glanced around frequently. They left no notes lying about after their closed meetings.
Like inverted mushrooms, satellite dishes have sprouted on Arab rooftops, and Christian programs are now beaming into places like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and the slums of Cairo. Syria recently resigned itself to the inevitable, and Internet providers are now bringing Christian Web sites into private homes there. Christian ministries receive letters like this: "Should I tell my parents that I have become a Christian? It is a capital crime here to convert, and they could have me executed. What do you advise?"
The region's largest nation, Egypt, has long tolerated ...1