What the heck is forgiveness in Libya? When persecutors dehumanized, humiliated, tortured, and killed Christians in martyrdom, can the Christians forgive?
When someone offends us, the first thing we might do is retaliate and defend ourselves, and the last thing we do is to forgive. Often we give pardon with our mouths, but our minds cannot forget. Let’s see how the Christians in Libya can give mercy and love toward their enemy.
He Gave His Forgiveness to Libya
The Open Doors World Watch list ranks Libya as the country with the 4th highest Christian persecution rate – one of the most extreme and violent territories in the world. The government declared that Libyans are Sunni Muslims. They prohibit Arabic bibles in their country and don’t allow Christians to evangelize. They allow migrant workers to have churches, but they forbid churches for Libyans. The Islamic militant group creates the biggest threat for Christians in Libya. As seen in Antonio Espares’ case, they do not spare Christian migrant workers.
Espares was from the Philippines. He had registered himself as Muslim, thinking it would make life better for him in his new home in Libya. Masked men abducted him along with his two co-workers. They spared his two co-workers, who claimed they are Muslims. Antonio, however, did not deny his Christian faith. His captors executed him that very day. Even in the face of death, he couldn’t deny his faith in Jesus Christ.
Antonio’s captors cut off his lips, then forced him to kneel, and cut off the front of his thighs. Finally, they cut off his head.Open Doors
Antonio had received God’s forgiveness and love through Jesus’ sufferings and saving grace on the cross. His faith and complete trust in the Lord, during such terrible pain and agony, sustained him and saw him through. Like Stephen, he lifted his eyes and saw the Lord, forgave them, and fell asleep.
The Christian Coptic Church’s Forgiveness and Mercy.
A story published on Christianity Today reminds of us the Coptic Orthodox Christians, who remember with honor and mercy the execution of twenty Egyptians and one Ghanaian Christian. The ISIS, Islamic State of Iraq, and Syria executed the Christians on a Libyan beach five years ago. They wore orange jumpsuits while the executioners wore black and masks.
The Coptic Christians showed peace on their faces while the executioners were about to execute them. Like the Apostle Stephen, they saw Jesus welcoming them home. They never denied Jesus, even if it meant their death.
The Christians of this Coptic church have focused on forgiveness and mercy. It allowed them to share the testimony of the dreadful execution and the powerful message of forgiveness. They have shown mercy and love to their enemies.
The Power of Forgiveness Sets Libya Free
In every place where there are persecution and martyrdom, the Christian message is one of power. Christians cannot hate and will always forgive. Jesus loves sinners, but hates sin. Jesus did not come to judge humanity, but to save it. (John 3:17)
Jesus gave up His deity and died on the cross for our sins. His Grace forgives and saves. He forgave us so we can forgive others. He loves us so we can love others too.
To the minds of the unbelievers, they cannot imagine how the Christians cannot hate and even love their enemies amid oppression. That’s why sometimes the persecutors came to have faith in Jesus, through the Christians’ testimony of forgiveness. This power of forgiveness sets Libya free.
It’s God’s Grace that we can forgive others. The only good in us is Christ. And we can only forgive because Jesus’ Spirit lives in us. And Jesus taught us to pray a different prayer.
Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.Luke 23:34 NIV
God’s grace is a gift. Christ came and died for us so we can have eternal life. It is to those who never came to know and received this Grace that our hearts should have compassion. They never knew the unmerited favor of Grace. That is why they commit such horrendous acts. Thus the Christians in Libya can forgive.