A Poem of Hope – Two Rows by the Sea

Two rows by the sea

A little over a week ago, the world stopped for a moment on hearing the news of 21 Coptic Christians, murdered by ISIS on the shores of a beach in Tripoli. Coptic Christians don’t get much attention on the world stage, but this was different. The pictures of those orange clad men on the beach surfaced everywhere, the stories of their lives gaining more attention every day.

We are a people of short attention spans, so what has not gotten attention is how Egypt itself has responded to the killings. Coptic Christians are familiar with persecution, and often it is at the hands of their fellow Egyptians. Yesterday I received a poem forwarded to me from my husband. Egyptians at the Bible Society of Egypt wrote it to be distributed in a pamphlet, along with other verses of comfort and hope. By Thursday they had printed over one million copies ready to distribute across Egypt.

This is hope indeed. Several times I have said that the people most afraid of ISIS are those who are sitting on comfortable couches in well-designed living rooms. As I pass on this poem, my hope is that we, in the often spiritually bankrupt West, are challenged by our brothers and sisters in the East.

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 with 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, with minds evil and broken?

Two Rows by the Sea©Bible Society of Egypt


I would be remiss if I did not speak to the many others who have been brutally murdered or displaced by ISIS. In early November I sat with women and men in a refugee camp, all Yezidis, all affected by ISIS. They lost their homes and the lives they knew; many watched beloved family members killed. My husband came back from Erbil two weeks ago. He too sat with people who had to flee their homes because of ISIS. In all these places — Egypt, Turkey, Iraq — the Church is coming alongside the grieving, offering comfort and hope.

Picture Credit: Bible Society of Egypt

*You can read more about the Bible Society here and here.

And a Child Chooses….

St. Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria

Today at Abbasiya Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt a new patriarch was chosen to lead Egypt’s 8 million strong Coptic Orthodox Christians.

Three finalists were selected earlier in the year: Father Raphael Ava Mina, Bishop Tawadros, and Bishop Raphael. And while there was consensus on the three finalists the final decision was in the hands of a blindfolded child.

Only not really – because the Coptic Orthodox believe that God is sovereign and the choice is made by him. They leave it in the hands of a child so that their will does not interfere with God’s.

So amid incense and prayers, this blindfolded child walked up to a glass bowl and picked a name. Bishop Tawadros of Beheira was the winner of this unusual lottery.

While this may seem strange to western ears, this process is not random. Weeks ago a committee met and agreed on 17 potential names. This number was reduced to five and ultimately the three above were agreed on as the final candidates. A period of fasting began on Wednesday of this past week in preparation for the service held today.

An article written in Christianity Today earlier this week by Jayson Casper who blogs at A Sense of Belonging said this:

“It is easier to find biblical support for choosing by consensus than by lot,” said Atef al-Gindy, president of the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Cairo. “But I have observed the sincerity and genuine desire of Orthodox leaders to conduct a process that is clean and according to the will of God, seeking his guidance.”

This is an important decision, not just for Copts, but for all minority Christians in Egypt. The rights of minorities are a concern as Egypt continues to work out its politics internally and externally.

As for a child choosing….I like it. In fact, I wonder what it would be like if a child were to choose the November 6 election in the United States?! A Blindfolded child, free of political fray and disillusionment. 

I appreciate that the initial process included consensus, that there was fasting and prayer ahead of time, and that there was really not a preference when it came to the final three — all three of them were agreed upon as leaders who could lead with wisdom and Godliness.

So a child chose – and Bishop Tawadros is now the new patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church. May God continue to bless the country of Egypt and may Christians living throughout Egypt have opportunity for freedom and growth.

Coptic Christians & Persecution

6 days ago, Coptic Christians in Cairo experienced an attack while protesting restrictions that have been put on building churches as well as protesting an attack on a church in southern Egypt. My daughter’s friend, Sarah, a journalist, had an eye-witness account of the event as it occurred at a large building that houses Egyptian radio and television, Maspero. Her account brought tears to my eyes.

Perhaps some of you have read or seen videos from Sunday, October 9. The brutality of armored personnel carriers going at high speeds through crowds of people; the resulting deaths and crowded halls and morgue of the Coptic Hospital; the urging of restraint from political leaders. The more I read, the more it seems that one side did show restraint, while the other showed aggressive force.

From the start of the church in Egypt, Coptic Christians were aware that they could be persecuted for their faith. Alexandria, under the rule of the Roman emperor, Neru, was the home of this new faith, brought to Egypt by St. Mark, and it was not welcomed kindly. Rather, there was a bitter reaction to the point of St. Mark being brutally dragged by rope through the streets of Alexandria by Roman soldiers the Monday following Easter. He was later killed on that day in 68 AD. This was not the end of persecution. The Copts have been persecuted by many of Egypt’s political rulers, yet have clung fast to the Cross and the messages of humility and hope that come from the Cross.

In the Coptic Church, persecution is perceived as a Biblical part of living out the Christian faith. It’s not about culture wars and ideology over social issues. It’s about believing in the core of the gospel message and standing firm, though you may face imprisonment, beatings, and death.

The fact that Coptic Christians have known persecution for centuries does not exempt me or any Christian from speaking out against persecution, and the right to believe as one chooses, but it does give a perspective and raises a challenge for me. The challenge is that of sustaining a faith, and growing the church despite, and through, persecution. The words from Luke 9:23 are clear:

If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me

I have much to learn from Christians in other countries. The comfortable pews and buildings that have become a part of my days of worship have lulled me into a belief that persecution is about a colleague disagreeing with my stance on a social issue. That doesn’t seem to be the true meaning of persecution, not historically, and not in the present. I don’t think I am to chase after persecution, but I do believe I am to daily learn more of what it means to live as a Christian, so that should it come, there will be no question but to cling to the Cross with no looking back.