I was recently invited to speak at the inaugural summit of In Defense of Christians, on whose board I serve.
The Sept. 9-11 summit convened human rights experts, public officials, representatives in public office, policy makers, diplomats, and representatives from across the Middle Eastern Christian diaspora. This historic event also featured Christian leaders, religious and secular, from the region.
One of the speakers was His Grace Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom. He delivered a keynote address, and his statement on religious freedom is particularly powerful.
For my part, I spoke on a panel devoted to advocacy efforts on behalf of Christians. Here are the remarks I delivered at the summit press conference. Thank you for reading them, and for your deep concern for the safety and well-being of our brothers and sisters in Christ all over the Middle East.
— Nermien Riad
Beheadings, crucifixions, public stonings. It’s unbelievable that in 2014, Christians in the Middle East face these primitive atrocities.
Faced with such horrors, knowing that we have friends and family who are suffering, we who live abroad are always asking ourselves, “How can we defend Christians?”
As we seek answers, we can begin by looking at Christ’s era and how He lived. Christ, too, lived in a time of upheaval and war, where armies marched to conquer.
The expectation was that Christ, as the Messiah, would respond in kind. Yet instead, Christ chose to heal, to educate, and to help the most vulnerable.
I would suggest that how Christ lived defines the word “advocacy,” a life lived in response to violence, cruelty and intolerance – a life that we all strive to emulate.
Christians in the Middle East carry on Christ’s example today in their schools, hospitals, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). It’s that example which I’d like to spotlight, here at the first summit of In Defense of Christians.
In this time of incredible violence and persecution, it would be easy to dismiss the positive impact of Christian schools, hospitals, and NGOs. But imagine the region without them.
Imagine hundreds of thousands fewer people who’ve never had a Christian treat them or their children for an illness, or have never been exposed to education in a Christian setting, or received help from a Christian NGO.
Now count backwards from this year, even this terrible year of persecution, and imagine how many millions of Christians would have suffered even more had such schools, hospitals, and NGOs never existed.
It’s not too great of a leap to conceive of a Middle East where many Christian communities vanished because such schools, hospitals, and NGOs were not there to encourage tolerance.
Now let’s look to the future. How many more millions of Christians will have greater security and better relations with their neighbors if we ensure that these institutions remain steadfast in their mission?
While in some parts of the Middle East, violence prohibits such an approach, in other parts, such as Egypt, a window of opportunity exists that we need to take advantage of.
One way to do that is by devoting more resources to these efforts. Coptic Orphans, for example, is increasing the resources for our Valuable Girl Project, which creates one-on-one mentoring for over 400 Muslim and Christian girls in seven sites across Egypt.
By bringing people together so that they realize the humanity of a formerly faceless, nameless neighbor, the project topples walls of distrust in communities. Countless times we’ve heard from Muslim girls, “Why do they tell us you are bad? You’re not bad.” Or, “This is the Egypt I dream of, where we are all together.”
In doing this work, we aim to follow the wishes of His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, who told me that Egypt needs more grassroots village services like the Valuable Girl Project that nurture tolerance and trust. “We have forgotten how to love one another,” he said.
I hear His Holiness’ words, in part, as a call for Christians to continue working through our schools, hospitals, and NGOs. I’d like to leave you with this type of call to action today.
I submit to you that our shared mission is to keep our Christian schools, hospitals, and NGOs running strong, as a vital, irreplaceable, and positive force for good.
Expanding such efforts would be smart in today’s hostile landscape, and most importantly, true to how Christ lived in an era not unlike our own, one of violence and upheaval in the Middle East.
Let us continue Christ’s example of healing, educating, and helping the most vulnerable. It will be good for our Christian communities, good for our neighbors, and good for the homelands we love.
PS By the grace of God, we are celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Coptic Orphans with Galas in Australia, Canada, and the United States — and with the honored presence of His Holiness Pope Tawadros II in Canada, where he will accept the Leading by Example Award. We’re also growing and hiring — please share our job postings with all the skilled, passionate professionals you know!