Undaunted by the slaughter of 21 Christians in Libya, the director of the Bible Society of Egypt saw a golden gospel opportunity.
“We must have a Scripture tract ready to distribute to the nation as soon as possible,” Ramez Atallah told his staff the evening an ISIS-linked group released its gruesome propaganda video. Less than 36 hours later, Two Rows by the Sea was sent to the printer.
One week later, 1.65 million copies have been distributed in the Bible Society’s largest campaign ever. It eclipses even the 1 million tracts distributed after the 2012 death of Shenouda, the Coptic "Pope of the Bible." [A full English translation is posted at bottom.]
The tract contains biblical quotations about the promise of blessing amid suffering, alongside a poignant poem in colloquial Arabic:
Who fears the other?
The row in orange, watching paradise open?
Or the row in black, with minds evil and broken?
“The design is meant so that it can be given to any Egyptian without causing offense,” said Atallah. “To comfort the mourning and challenge people to commit to Christ.”
The Bible Society distributed the tract through Egypt’s churches, but one congregation went a step further.
Isaaf Evangelical Church, located on one of downtown Cairo’s busiest streets, hung a poster on its wall at eye-level with pedestrians. “We learn from what the Messiah has said,” it read over the background of an Egyptian flag. “‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you….’”
Pastor Francis Fahim said the poster was meant to express comfort to all Egyptians, Muslim and Christian.
As CT reported on Thursday, the beheadings by the Islamic State in Libya have resulted in unprecedented sympathy for Egypt’s Christians, who are increasingly finding common identity across denominational lines. The martyrdoms have also allowed Copts a platform to witness to the realities of their faith, as they publicly forgave the terrorists.
But their testimony may come with risk. Prior to the beheadings, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party speculated on its website that the Copts may have been abducted because they were evangelizing.
The claim was baseless, but CT examined similar 2013 accusations leveled against Christians in Libya in the wake of the first modern-day Coptic martyrdoms outside of Egypt. In the detainees' possession was devotional material meant for the substantial community of Coptic migrant workers.
The new Two Rows by the Sea tract underscores how openly Christian material circulates in today's Egypt. Consider what can be found at the Arab world’s largest book fair, which draws 2 million visitors each year.
Amid the hundreds of booths at the 46th Cairo International Book Fair, held January 28 to February 12, the call of the gospel resounded from two microphoned sideshow barkers.
“The Injeel for a pound,” one announced, advertising the cut-rate price of the Arabic New Testament for the equivalent of 13 cents.
“And a free gift for every visitor,” cried the other, offering a DVD of the Jesus film to every curious observer.
The booth belonged to Spiritual Service for Publishing (SSP), a Cru affiliate and one of two authorized distributors of the Jesus film in Egypt. They occupied a prominent central wing of the fair, alongside at least a dozen other Christian publishers.
“There has been a great response to our presence at the fair,” said Henain Ibrahim, SSP's administrative director. “Though we do not target Muslims, as the great majority in Egypt it is natural they have been the majority of our customers as well.”