Terror By The Sea
On Feb 15, the video titled “A Message Signed with Blood to the Nations of the Cross” went viral. 21 Coptic Christian migrant workers from Egypt were led like sheep along the Mediterranean coast of Libya by masked terrorists. They lined them up along the beach, forced them on their knees, and beheaded them. This was supposedly IS’ revenge for the alleged kidnap and torture by the Coptic Church of two Egyptian Christian women who had converted to Islam, a claim denied by those involved in the story.
The night of the video’s release, there was wailing in every street and alleyway of Al-Aour, home to 14 of the 21 migrant workers. Life was hard in this village, so the young and able bodied risked their lives to work abroad.
As Egyptian citizens applauded their government’s air strikes against IS targets in Libya, “We forgive the killers” was the response of many bereaved family members.
Bishop Feloubes Fawzy, who lost a nephew and four cousins, said, “I was very sad when I heard the news of the air strikes... God asked us to even love our enemies.” We are reminded of the revolutionary alternative God offers our world for justice and peace.
A Different Message Signed in Blood
Within weeks of the slaughter, the Bible Society of Egypt distributed 1.65 million copies of a leaflet in Arabic entitled "Two Rows By The Sea", with Scripture verses that speak to faith in adversity and affirm God’s enduring love—a different message signed in blood. It features a poem. The English translation reads (used by permission):
Two rows of men walked the shore of the sea,
On a day when the world’s tears
would run free.
One a row of assassins, who thought they did right,
The other of innocents,
true sons of the light.
One holding knives in hands held high,
The other hands empty,
defenseless and tied.
One row of slits to conceal glaring-dead eyes,
The other with living eyes
raised to the skies.
One row stood steady, pall-bearers of death,
The other knelt ready,
welcoming heaven’s breath.
One row spewed wretched, contemptible threats,
The other spread God-given
peace and rest.
A Question… Who fears the other?
The row in orange, watching paradise open?
Or the row in black, minds evil and broken?
A Christian teacher in Upper Egypt was given the tract by a Muslim colleague he had never spoken with before. The man said, “Have you seen this? You can read it, but please give it back, because I only have one and am sharing it with all my friends. I’ve never read such beautiful verses, and need it back because I am trying to memorize it!”
It became the most widely circulated piece of Christian writing in Egypt’s history, apart from the Bible itself. Many lives, both Christian and Muslim, have been touched. When violence intended to instill fear is met with the far greater power of forgiveness, there is hope for reconciliation between unlikely neighbors.
2015: A TIME TO REMEMBER
2015 is the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. But sadly, Sino-Japanese relations are at an all-time low due to territorial dispute over the Diaoyu-Senkaku Islands. Every time a Japanese leader visits the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in the service of their country, tensions would escalate in Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul. Over the years, efforts made by the Japanese Ministry of Education to revise history textbooks to downplay war crimes such as biological warfare and the exploitation of “comfort women” have been met by widespread protests in China, Korea, and even within Japan. The heartfelt apologies by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoheii Kono and Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama in the 90s have since been eviscerated by the current cabinet’s aggressive stance. Mending fence between these neighbors would be a long time coming.
2015 also marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. In 1915, the pogrom against Christian Armenians in the Ottoman Empire began. By the early 1920s, when the massacres and deportations finally ended, some 1.5 million of Turkey’s 2 million Armenians were dead. The Turkish government consistently denies that genocide took place. They argue that Armenians were an enemy force, and their slaughter was a necessary war measure.
Turkey is the largest among the Turkic states after the dissolution of the USSR. If she aspires to leadership in the Turkic world, which is comprised of different peoples and cultures, she needs moral fortitude to face the facts of history and emerge from the past, in order to achieve collaboration based on respect for others in the region.
As news headlines these days are dominated by conflicts in the Middle East, a former UN diplomat writing for Al Jazeera in March 2015 offers this perspective: “The problem of Israel-Palestine is the unresolved business of colonial emancipations of the mid-20th century. In a tragic collision of history, the flight of one people from a tortured history in Europe led to the colonization of another… Today, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dwarfed by forces hard to tame in the midst of a greater chaos in the Middle East. States from Beirut to Baghdad are dissolving, and the Sunni-Shia confrontation could bring the region to a boiling point.” With the rise of IS, violence and terror are taken to a new level and spreading from the region to other parts of the world.
What is the Christian message to a world in flames? None other than the Message of the Cross.
Reconciliation and peace are attainable only through forgiveness and repentance. It is peace that comes with justice. But it is justice based on reconciliation, not retribution.
FORGIVENESS & REPENTANCE: A PATH LESS TRODDEN
To end violence and keep peace, some resort to military force, others to diplomacy. But the path less trodden is forgiveness and repentance.
Jan 7, 2015, two gunmen stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo and killed five of France’s top cartoonists to avenge their satire of Prophet Mohammed. As four million people marched through the streets of Paris in protest, one of the magazine staff said: “We feel at the Charlie Hebdo team that we need to forgive… The mobilization that happened in France after this horrible crime must open the door to forgiveness.”
A few years ago, Wu Hailong, Chinese diplomat and former ambassador to the EU, visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. He was overwhelmed at the sight of 2,711 concrete slabs, Germany’s reminder to all that the Nazi history must never be repeated.
Wu noted that in 1970 Chancellor Willy Brandt knelt down at the Monument to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Successive German governments have not only admitted to German war crimes and apologized to Nazi victims, but have educated their young people of these atrocities so that this dark chapter of history would not be forgotten.
He concluded in his article for China Daily that Germany’s honest and genuine efforts towards reconciliation by seeking forgiveness from her victims has made her a responsible leader in Europe and the wider world.
BEACON OF HOPE: THE MIRACLE OF SOUTH AFRICA
The rebirth of South Africa after over 300 years of racial segregation and apartheid was a miracle. In the 1980s, observers of South African affairs predicted a devastating nationwide bloodbath. Instead, South Africans of all races cast their votes in 1994, and Nelson Mandela became the first democratically elected president—a peaceful, bloodless transition from injustice and oppression to freedom and democracy.
A final decisive move that made the apartheid government willing to give up power was the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that gave perpetrators of the most gruesome atrocities amnesty in exchange for full disclosure of the facts of the offence. A white woman was gravely injured in a hand-grenade attack by a black man of the liberation movement. When they met at the TRC, she expressed forgiveness. Then she added, “And I hope he forgives me.”
Instead of revenge and retribution, the South African people chose the path of confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation that made healing and rebirth possible for their nation. In the process, justice was served.
Retributive justice is not the only kind of justice. There is restorative justice. People’s pains heal in the story-telling.
When festering wounds could be opened for cleansing and anointing with ointment, restoration is possible, freeing both the victim and the victimizer. A young black man blinded by police brutality was asked how he felt after telling his story at the TRC. He said, “You have given me back my eyes.”
In 1986, Archbishop Desmond Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end apartheid. He said: “God wants us to succeed for the sake of God’s world. We will succeed despite ourselves because we are such an unlikely bunch. Who could have thought we would ever be an example, except of awfulness? Who could ever have thought we would be held up as a model to the rest of the world?
“God wants to say to the world—to Bosnia, to Northern Ireland, etc., ‘Look at them! They had a nightmare called apartheid. It has ended. Your nightmare too will end. They had what was called an intractable problem. They are solving it. No one anywhere can any longer say their problem is intractable.’ We are a beacon of hope for God’s world and we will succeed.”
By the grace of God, truth, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation brought about the miracle of South Africa’s rebirth.
MAKE PEACE: ONE PERSON AT A TIME
There is no question that the world will become more chaotic when peoples and nations choose to address their grievances with violence and retribution.
Jesus said, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom… All these are the beginning of birth pains.” But he holds out a beacon of hope for “this Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come” (Matt 24:14).
The Gospel of the Kingdom is Christ on the cross, the embodiment of forgiveness and reconciliation for the world. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Golgotha, the executioner’s mound, is the trysting place where divine justice and mercy meet to bring peace—peace with God and then peace with men.
Human history is riddled with genocides, holocausts, slavery, racism, wars, oppression and injustice. But that is not the only story. By embracing the Spirit of Christ, and committing to forgive, many testify to how the cycle of hatred and violence can be broken. Forgiveness is effective disarmament that makes reconciliation and peace possible.
Its beginnings will be humble. One individual forgives another. The widows of the Coptic martyrs choose not to hate their husbands’ executioners. Wailing in Al Aour gives way to worship. The soft power of forgiveness awakens a God-shaped yearning for peace. The Spirit will move entire communities, connect Christians and Muslims, all who long for a life-giving alternative, for hope in a dark world.
The world needs to discover that the lasting peace we seek lies in Christ alone, the Prince of Peace, in whose love and sacrifice we can forgive. For an individual or for a people, the tragedies of life and history can open the way to such discovery.
LONG ROAD TO RECONCILIATION: LOVE IN ACTION
In 2006, Fawaz A. Gerges, renowned Middle Eastern expert at the London School of Economics, published the New York Times bestseller Journey of the Jihadist after spending 18 months in the Middle East to interview hundreds of people from all walks of life, not only jihadists, but government and business people, among them fluent English speakers educated in the West. His alarming conclusion was that there is widespread consensus in the Muslim world that the West is on a new crusade against Islam.
Given the history of the Crusades and western colonization of the Arab Peninsula and North Africa, Muslim sentiments towards the West may be analogous to the fundamental distrust towards the West and Japan among Chinese people from their corporate memory of the past 175 years. While the Diaoyu/Senkaku Island dispute is like a tinderbox between China and Japan, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has far wider and graver impact in the Muslim world. The road to reaching 1.5 billion Muslims in the world with God’s love will be a long one.
The Great Commandment from our Lord is twofold: to love God wholeheartedly and our neighbor as ourselves (Mk 12:30-31). The integrity of our faith hinges on both. Sincere and earnest love wipes away many sins (1 Pet 4:8). Love for the neighbor should go beyond words to actions in truth (1 Jn 3:18). This love considers seriously the interest and needs of others (Phil 2:3-4). So what would loving our Muslim neighbor look like? What are the needs of Muslim communities? How can we love in practical ways to make a difference in their lives?
Today, many Christian aid workers risk their lives to work in dangerous places like Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and Sudan. The majority of the millions of displaced people due to wars and tribal conflicts are Muslims. Aid workers in refugee camps provide food, supplies, and medical assistance. They lend their ears to stories about the abduction of children and women and the slaughter of men. They share the tears of widows and orphans. Muslim refugees asking why these tragedies have happened are often moved by their love. And some are coming to faith.
But even in relatively stable areas like post-Soviet Central Asia where 80% of the population are Muslims, life for many remains difficult due to institutionalized corruption and systemic poverty. What they need is not just relief but economic development and job creation.
A Christian foundation headquartered in Europe has been working in several developing countries. They offer low interest loans and training for entrepreneurs to help develop the small medium enterprises sector, which is the backbone of any economy. In one Muslim country, this organization has helped 600 businesses over a fifteen-year period; 80% of them have survived. Year-round seminars for the loan recipients provide a context for peer learning and friendship between Christian and Muslim business owners. This is love in action that creates jobs, contributes to economic development, and builds goodwill in the community. In tandem with this foundation, Go Live Serve will soon start a business skills training center to reach young people in this country.
The acts of terrorism committed by jihadist groups in the name of Islam have challenged some Muslims to re-examine their religion, just as the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Incident prompted many adherents of communism in China to reconsider their beliefs. When they see genuine, persistent love and service in Christians, Muslims begin to respond to the Gospel.
2015, our world is in chaos. Hope for reconciliation among men will be wishful thinking without God. It is for reconciliation between God and man, and among men that Christ came to the world to die and rise from the dead. Shortly before he went on the cross, Jesus spoke of the chaos in the end times. But he also said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)" “He himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility… that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.(Eph 2:14-16)”