When 22 people died outside a concert hall in Manchester, England, the media coverage was wall to wall. The cry went up that something must be done! Journalists followed the investigation. Press briefings were scheduled regularly. With broken hearts, we pored over color photographs of the victims, many of them only children, and we listened to bystanders describe their horror. The world grieved as the story unfolded for a week.
Five days later, 29 Christians in Egypt died when terrorists attacked their bus. Forty-two others were seriously injured and the assassins got away. That story vanished in less than 48 hours. No color photos. No interviews with authorities. No tragic details.
Here’s what you probably never heard. The Christian group of parents, grandparents, and children were traveling in two buses to pray at a monastery. Their vehicles were stopped by terrorists outside the town of Minya. After the buses were surrounded by killers, passengers on one of the buses were forced to exit the bus one by one. As each reached the door to face masked gunmen, they were asked, “Are you Muslim?” None of them were. Each was then given a chance to renounce Jesus Christ and convert to Islam.
As each passenger confessed Christ and refused to convert, he was dragged a few feet away to be killed by either a shot in the head or a slit throat. One at a time, nineteen adults, and ten children were ordered to become Muslims or die. One by one they were instantly murdered. The criminals then fired on the group in the second bus, injuring 42, before speeding away to safety.
Why are tragedies like the one in Manchester more interesting or important than massacres like the one in Minya, Egypt? I suppose it could be racism. Or maybe we only care about tragedies that involve celebrities and beautiful people. But I seriously believe two reasons are more likely.
The media run away from Christian martyrs because they are a powerful witness to the Christian faith. When random concert-goers fall prey to terror, in the wrong place at the wrong time, it makes the rest of us feel sad but lucky. But when Christians die because they refuse to renounce their faith, it speaks to the power and the freedom ordinary people discover in Christ. No sane person willingly dies for something he knows is a lie. Historically, seeing the deaths of Christian martyrs has inspired others to follow the Savior as well. The secular media wants no part of anything like that! So a vague headline about people dying in a bus attack manages to cover the bad news without accentuating the Good News.
Christians in America turn their backs as well because stories about martyrs in other lands reflect poorly on the quality our faith here in the West. In persecution lands, believers risk their lives and the safety of their children to attend worship services and even public prayer times. They worship Christ in the open, fully aware that churches and Christian gatherings are soft targets. But in the Land of the Free, we casually skip worship on Sundays to take our kids to soccer practice or recover from a mild headache. Just imagine, if youth sports leagues existed in Minya, Egypt, those unfortunate children could have saved their lives by skipping church and going to play soccer instead!
In America, churches report that “regular worship attendance” is now defined as twice a month. Think about it: when worshipers in Egypt and China become as committed to Christ as we are, the rate of martyrdom could be slashed by half!
The most difficult question facing the American church today is not “Why do bad things happen to good people?” We already know the answer to that question: character, faith and the purposes of God. The harder question is this one: What is a Christian, anyway?
Jesus said no one can come after him without first being willing to deny self, pick up a cross, and follow. In the religious ghetto of American life, that particular Bible verse is just about as welcome as stories of Egyptian children who are willing to die violently before disappointing Jesus.
To hear the companion message, click Waging Peace
Lift up the Cross!