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Over the past few years, she has been a part of prayer gatherings linking the canal cities of Port Said, Ismailia, and Suez.

“Many of us have sensed that the canal cities would become cities of refuge and safety,” she said. “This would be a major reversal from their history as places of war and bloodshed that people have fled from.”

The 70 families of her church sent food and medicine sufficient for 20 families over two weeks. But they also hear Ismailia will soon be overwhelmed if refugees increase. Their welcome may be required as the next city south.

“As tragic as these events are, I’m struck by the fact our God has gone before and prepared a safe place for these people,” she said. “I don’t think it is a coincidence that the church they fled to has been one of the centers of our prayer gatherings.”

Meanwhile, Shukrallah has been able to offer Bibles, youth counseling, and other support to the fleeing families.

“We have an open forum to serve God in meeting the spiritual needs of the people, not only the physical,” he said. “We have to encourage them and love them, and the children especially are afraid.”

Many of the adults, however, are angry. The Orthodox priest said families wonder why they are being treated this way, though they are sons of the land. Shukrallah’s colleague Michel Antoune blamed the government.

“The state allowed hate speech to flourish, and over time that has turned into action,” he toldThe New York Times. “This is the natural result of state indifference.”

The Muslim Brotherhood has speculated that the whole episode is a church-state conspiracy. And some opposition political figures accused the government of gaining legitimacy from the Coptic issue without providing sufficient protection.

But one local pastor saw instead a need to rally behind Egypt’s president. He has attempted to link families with support networks in Cairo, and says they declined as the state is providing the necessary help.

The pastor requested anonymity, fearful of terrorist targeting. Two years ago, his nephew and his Muslim colleague in the army were seized from a military canteen and killed the same day.

“I have no relation to politics, I am a man of religion,” he said. “But Sisi is the best president we have ever had. He deserves our support.”

Politics aside, many families wonder where God is in their suffering. Some who have fled are more than 70 years old, and many of the families are poor.

In 2012, Orthodox Bishop Cosman stated there were 740 Christian families in his North Sinai diocese. Reuters reported church officials stating there were now only 160, prior to the exodus.

Shukrallah has no answers, but wishes to offer hope and encourage trust.

“God has permitted this, so we want to see his will fulfilled,” he said. “We don’t know what that is, but we are sure it is something good.”

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