From torture to testimony

Published 10:35 pm Thursday, May 2, 2019

Music at Suffolk Leadership Prayer Breakfast 2019 from Suffolk News-Herald on Vimeo.

Converted man speaks at prayer breakfast

An amazing story of deliverance from religious persecution was the highlight of the 35th annual Suffolk Leadership Prayer Breakfast, held Thursday morning at the Suffolk National Guard Armory on the National Day of Prayer.

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The guest speaker at the event is always highly anticipated by the hundreds-strong crowd, as the person’s identity is not announced in advance. Despite the mystery guest, the event is always a sellout, in part due to the amazing testimonies of past guest speakers.

This year was no different. Egypt native Majed El Shafie shared his story of his conversion from Islam to Christianity, his arrest and torture at the hands of the government and finally his escape.

“There is one persecuted Christian every three minutes worldwide,” El Shafie said. Last year, he said, about 165,000 Christians worldwide died after being persecuted for their faith.

“There are 200 to 300 million persecuted worldwide, and the world is silent. And our church is in a coma. And if you think that persecution is far away from you, you better wake up,” he said.

El Shafie was raised in a prominent Muslim family in Egypt. As he grew up, however, he began to be troubled by Muslim beliefs and practices, including the lack of women’s rights and persecution of other religions, he said.

When he went off to college, he met people who were Christians and was amazed by the peace that they had. One of them gave him a Bible, and he opened it to John 8, the story of the woman found in adultery whom Jesus forgave.

“That was the first time I saw the forgiveness and love of Christ,” El Shafie said.

He accepted Christ and soon became one of the leaders of a network of underground churches and publisher of a Christian newsletter. Because Islam is the official religion of Egypt, he said, they had to conduct their activities in secret to avoid persecution.

However, the government soon found him out and arrested him in 1998. He was imprisoned in the notorious Abu Zaabal and tortured there for seven days after he refused to give up the names of others in the group.

On the first day, he said, his torturers alternately dunked his head in buckets of hot and cold water, holding him underwater for up to a minute each time with little time to breathe in between. This went on all day with only 20 minutes of rest in between hours of torture, he said.

The next day, he was beaten while strung up by his feet. He recalled the smell of his own blood and having to be dragged back to his cell because he could not stand.

His captors warned him the next day’s punishment would be three vicious dogs released in his cell.

“What do you do if you’re in my place?” he asked. “You pray.”

El Shafie said he prayed to die prior to the morning. But when morning came, the three dogs were released into his cell — and did nothing.

The dogs were replaced with another set of three, and one of them approached him only to lick his face.

His captors offered to talk again, and he agreed to give up names if they would feed him. Then he said he needed some tea.

When he had been fed, El Shafie said, he told his captors he could not recall the names of anyone except the leader, and if they could catch the leader, maybe he would give up the names.

He then gave the name of the leader — Jesus Christ.

He was tied to a wooden cross for two and a half days. His captors cut his flesh and put salt and lemon juice in the wounds. He passed out and woke up later in a police hospital.

He spent three months in the hospital before being tried on charges including “attempting to change the official religion of Egypt from Islam to Christianity.” He was condemned to death but escaped the prison with the help of friends who attacked the guards. He eventually escaped to Israel on a stolen jet-ski.

El Shafie now resides in Canada, and his organization, One Free World International, has branches in 28 countries around the world, helping persecuted religious minorities.

“You do not persecute somebody, unless you are scared of the truth that they carry,” he said. “They are not persecuting us, they are persecuting Christ in us.”

Another speaker at the event stressed the importance of getting involved in a small group. Scott Strickland spoke of the blessings he has received from his involvement in small groups, including accountability and a challenge to focus on relationships rather than material things.

U.S. Navy Capt. Harold T. Cole, of Naval Information Forces in Suffolk, also urged those present to pray for their service members.

“Today, your service men and women around the world are on duty in our nation’s service,” he said. “They cannot succeed without the unwavering support of our communities.”

Musical selections were rendered by J. Vance Stallings and the Hallelujah Singers. Dalia Cohen, a Christian of Jewish heritage, was among those who gave prayers at the event.

The master of ceremonies was world news correspondent Chuck Holton, who said it was “clear God is in charge here.”

“This is His event,” he added.