Many Egyptian Christians wear their faith on their sleeve—literally. The cross tattooed on the wrist of Coptic Orthodox believers is a public display which marks their identity for all to see.
Such a quiet witness usually avoids reproach. But recently in Libya, radical Muslim militias detained dozens of expatriate Christians in Benghazi. Amid allegations that captors seared off such tattoos with acid, one Christian died from medical complications during the ordeal, and a Libyan church was repeatedly attacked.
Accusations of evangelism have been at the heart of a series of recent incidents of violence—including the first Coptic martyrs of the modern era—against Copts in Libya, Sudan, and Egypt. Which raises the question: Are Copts starting to recover their missionary heritage?
The region-wide incidents serve as a reminder that the Coptic Orthodox Church is not limited to Egypt alone. It once represented a great missionary force, planting churches in Libya, Sudan, and Ethiopia as well as leaving imprints as far afield as Switzerland and Ireland.
Centuries of life as a tolerated minority under Muslim rule turned Copts inward, and the evangelism impulse waned. Yet this memory is retained in the liturgy, where at every mass the deacon chants, "Pray for the salvation of the world, and this city of ours."
Perhaps Copts are starting to remember as the political struggles following the Egyptian revolution continue to sharpen the lines of religious identity.
"As Islamism increases, so does the Christian commitment to religion," said Atef Gendy, president of the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Cairo. The seminary offers classes on both dialogue and evangelism. But Gendy notes that ...