A few years ago Baher, a Christian from Egypt, had turned 20 and was trying to run a small business to support his family, since his parents were too ill to work. “I began to transport gravel, sand and other light building supplies,” he says. “Yet no one wanted to hire me, and I was rejected.” Baher felt shunned, overlooked and despised.
There are two reasons for that rejection. The first? Because he is a Christian.
“Christians here suffer humiliation and oppression.” It was clear that people in Baher’s community didn’t want to hire him because he has chosen to follow Jesus.
The persecution that believers face in his village is sometimes quite subtle, like this refusal to use Christian-owned small businesses. At other times it is much more overt. The homes of Christians have been looted and burned down. A local church leader received death threats when he decided to renovate the church building. The victims of persecution have no legal rights, and they live in a climate of fear. Across Egypt and Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and North Africa, this is a common story. Christians can be victims of violent attacks – but they can also be ground down by everyday discrimination.
But that wasn’t the only reason that Baher’s business was scorned: the other was his disability. And even this links back to his faith.
Baher was only 13 when he started working in the local quarry. Almost all the young Christian men in the village end up working there – since, because of their faith, they aren’t offered any better, safer work. He hadn’t been working at the quarry for very long when a tragic incident happened.
“We work with old and badly maintained machinery, without safety precautions,” says Baher. “It is common for a worker in the quarry to lose a limb.” One day, Baher’s arm was severed by the quarry’s cutting machine. He passed out from the pain, and woke up later in hospital with the prospect of a very different future.
The family faced even worse a few years later. Tragically, Baher’s brother was killed at work in the quarry.
“My brother had an electric shock,” remembers Baher. “His employer did not want to let him leave the job. But my brother was not able to stand the pain, and his heartbeat accelerated; he could not take a breath. His lungs were filled with the fine dust.
“We tried to save him and rushed him to the closest medical centre. However, the closest hospital was not equipped to deal with emergencies. The doctor brought the stethoscope to examine him but realised that my brother had died. We were unable to determine the exact cause of his death. My heart was torn apart, and I lost all hope in life.”
So many things in Baher’s life came together to make him feel hopeless. The loss of his brother. His disability. The pressure of being sole breadwinner to support his parents, his sisters (who aren’t allowed to work in their strict Islamic culture), and his brother’s wife and children. The way that he saw Christians being treated all around him. And his story is one that is repeated by many young Christians throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
“Most young people here don’t have a bright future and they know that,” says Thomas*, Open Doors director for the region. “Most of those who remained have no option. They stay because Europe closed the borders, because they have no money to travel, or they have responsibilities to their parents. We need to invest in those who stay. They need to grow in their faith, to survive hopelessness. The youth is the church of today and the future. If the youth leaves, the church will, humanly speaking, diminish to almost zero.”
Baher didn’t just feel hopeless in the wake of all these sad events. He felt angry – with God: “I hated myself and I hated God because I thought He was the reason of all that happened to me,” he says. “I blamed God. ‘Why did you do that to me? I did not do anything wrong! I just wanted to help my family!’”
Baher was despairing when Fady* visited him. Fady – a local Open Doors partner – remembers that day well.
“Baher looked miserable and anxious,” Fady says. “His heart was full of resentment and bitterness towards God. When I entered the room, Baher didn’t want to talk with me at first, and it was really challenging to start building a conversation with him.
“Suddenly, Baher exploded with anger, bombarding us with questions: ‘Does God exist? Where is God in my life? If God is in control, as you say, and works everything for the good, why has He forsaken me?’”
“That’s really horrible,” Fady replied. “I understand your feelings, but please, don’t lose hope. God is not far away from our troubles. Believe me, God never leaves us because He is our Heavenly Father and the Father never forsakes His children.”
Fady also shared the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, praying that God would use the verse to speak to Baher’s troubled heart: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12).
This visit was just the first step in the relationship that Fady and his team have with Baher. They are keen to show Baher that he is part of a wider community of Christians who will stand with and support vulnerable believers like him.
“I have seen God’s practical love through your love, care and presence.”
“We are showing our heavenly Father’s love to him and his family in a practical way,” shares Fady. “First, we helped him to set up a microproject to start sheep breeding, so that he can have a regular source of income for his family.”
Having researched the area, they knew this small business would have a better chance of success – and a microloan from Open Doors partners made it a possibility. Last year, these partners provided 969 microloans in Egypt, each one often supporting entire families of Christians. Baher’s sheep business is pictured (right).
“I am blessed with the microproject the ministry provided me,” says Baher. “It is now working very well, and I can provide for my parents and for my brother’s wife and children. If you had not helped me with it, I would not have had any income.”
Alongside this, Fady helped Baher enrol in a local discipleship group where he is deepening his faith and learning more about God, particularly His presence amidst troubles. Last year, almost 270,000 Christians in Egypt were able to enrol on discipleship programmes run by Open Doors partners, thanks to the gifts and prayers of Open Doors supporters.
“My whole family shifted our focus from blaming God to praising Him and now we go to church on a regular basis,” says Baher. “I have seen God’s practical love through your love, care and presence.”
“He is not far away; He is very near to me”
Most of all, Baher knows that God has not abandoned him: “I believe in God’s sovereignty, and that He is not far away in the sky, but He is very near to me. When I was searching for my own solutions, God was preparing and making a way to reach out to me through your ministry team.”
It’s clear that Baher’s life is being transformed. He is able to raise money for his family through a much safer job, he knows he is not alone, and he knows God’s closeness. “If you had not backed me, I would not have changed,” he says. “You lifted my morale and helped me to restore my relationship with God.
For all young Christians in the Middle East and North Africa who feel abandoned and hopeless to receive God’s hope
That Fady and other Open Doors local partners will receive God’s wisdom and provision.
For protection and opportunities for Egypt’s marginalised Christian communities
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