Coptic Christians are fleeing Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in unprecedented numbers.
In the last few days, more than 100 families have left their homes for the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, 125 miles west.
The reason: On February 19, the Egypt chapter of ISIS released a video calling Copts “our priority and our preferred prey.” Three days later, one man was shot and his adult son burned alive. Other killings followed.
As families flee, a Protestant church is there to receive them.
“We were the first to respond,” said Atef Samy, associate pastor at Kasr el-Dobara Evangelical Church in Cairo. “Two of those killed were very dear to our church.”
“This is sheer terrorism,” he said. “They want to embarrass the government and claim they can cleanse the Christian presence.”
In recent weeks, seven Copts have been killed. Witnesses say they were murdered in cold blood, with no negotiation, theft, or attempts to convert to Islam.
Hit lists are also reportedly being circulated, warning Christians to leave or die.
“I am not going to wait for death,” Rami Mina, who left Arish on Friday morning, told Reuters. “I shut down my restaurant and got out of there. These people are ruthless.”
Samy declined to name those killed, but identified them as born-again Christians active in ministry. His church quickly mobilized to help others leave, and provided support to the Ismailia church that has assisted dozens. Mattresses, blankets, food, and medical supplies are the most pressing needs.
Adel Shukrallah, responsible for youth ministry in the Evangelical Church of Ismailia, is heading the Protestant relief effort locally. Four compounds have been prepared to provide immediate shelter, while 28 families have been settled in furnished apartments rented by the church.
Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi ordered the government to take all necessary measures to provide assistance. Many families have been housed in local youth hostels, with food and supplies given by the state. A stipend has been authorized, and children are being processed to attend school immediately.
But Shukrallah said much burden still falls on the churches. Some have complained of mismanagement and opportunistic scams.
So Protestants have interacted with both state and Orthodox church officials to better coordinate the chaotic situation. Eva Boutros has led the effort to establish a joint central committee and storehouse to ensure accountability of donations. Kasr el-Dobara and the Orthodox diocese of Ismailia have opened the two official accounts.
“They accepted my advice by God’s grace,” Boutros said with a voice cracking from exhaustion, “and we will all work together in unity.”
One Orthodox church has given lodging to 20 families and another to 10, said a local priest who requested anonymity. Staying up past 1 a.m. every night, he has also interacted with many Muslims who have been generous with donations.
“During times of crisis, the true character of Egypt shows itself, while terrorism has neither religion nor god,” he said, noting the ongoing murder of Muslims, military, and police as well.
“They want to see Egypt become like Syria, and make an Islamic emirate without Christians or churches.”
Many aid caravans have arrived already, from the Nile Delta to Upper Egypt. But for Zoe Alexander, a trainer with the social service center of Our Savior Anglican Church in Suez, some churches have a special burden from God.