Egyptian Christian: All Believers Know Reason for Revival Is Persecution (Interview)

Bethlehem Bible College signboard.  (Photo Credit:  Wikimedia Commons) 

Recently, we were able to sit down with Michael Arteen, who is serving as Bethlehem Bible College Campus Chaplain, and hear a little bit about the Egyptian revival and his passion to see the same in Palestine; as well as the unexpected way in which the Lord provided access for him to live and minister here.

Michael and his wife, Grace Zoughbi,  the Head of the Biblical Studies Department, are a dynamic couple and a picture of the new generation of leadership arising to serve in the Arab world.  

Mercy Aiken:  You have been in Palestine for one year.  Currently, we are in the middle of what seems to be an escalating political situation…Is this similar to what you experienced in Egypt? 

Michael Arteen:  Growing up in Egypt, I was used to living in the middle of political and religious turmoil and violence.  In that sense, the things we are experiencing here are not unusual for me.  A major difference is that in Egypt, it was a “two-party” religious system, because everyone there is either Muslim or Christian.  As Christians, we were persecuted by the Muslim Brotherhood simply because of our faith.  Here in Israel/Palestine we have a “three party system” and so the dynamics are different.  The situation is much more complex.

In terms of persecution against Christians, I would say the situation was even worse in Egypt than it is here.  It was not unusual for people to be shot inside churches by Muslim extremists.

Aiken:  Wow.  How long was it like that? 

Arteen:  Persecution really began heating up in the early 1980’s. Through the years, there were times when it eased up a little and times when it was worse.  I remember it was especially dangerous when I was around 17 years old.  There had recently been a big massacre in a church in El Minya (in northern Egypt) and everyone was scared.  We always had to maintain an awareness of what was happening around us during every meeting.  We had to stay alert during the whole service. Finally, our government paid attention to what was going on and came in and put two towers with soldiers in front of every church.

But I don’t want people to hear these stories and be impressed about the persecution we endured. I want to give glory to our Lord Jesus Christ who worked all of it for our good! Living in the middle of that persecution really built our faith.  We learned to rely on Jesus for everything.  Long before the government came in with more protection, we had already learned that our true safety zone was found only in the Lord.

Aiken:  The other day, you and Grace mentioned that you both love to listen to the worship music coming out of Egypt.  You already spoke a little about this, but please tell us how the persecution has affected the Egyptian church.  

Arteen:  Well, you already mentioned the music.  There is some fresh, anointed worship that is coming out of Egypt now.  Almost all of the current praise and worship songs that the church in the Arabic-speaking world is singing are coming from there.  I would say, at least 85% of the songs.  The whole believing community is coming together to worship the Lord.  In the old days, the Orthodox kept to themselves. The Catholics and Evangelicals were separate, but this is no longer the case.  There is great unity in the church now.

In Egypt, there are now all-night prayer meetings going on.  The church is asking the Lord to continue to pour out His Spirit on our nation.  There is a fresh wave of creativity in evangelism and expressing the Lord through media. There are new evangelists and leaders being raised up.  We are even seeing changes in the government.

Aiken:  It is thrilling to hear this news.  Coming from the West, I was really not aware of the great things that are happening in the Egyptian church.  By your estimation, when did this revival begin?

Arteen:  First, let me say that all the believers know that the reason we are having this revival is because of the persecution we experienced.  The revival started around 2011 and has been gradually building ever since. Much of this is due to a huge change in the mentality of the leaders of the church; their willingness to break down the dividing walls.  God has been pouring His blessing all over it.

Aiken:  Do you know what was behind the leaders coming together like this? Were there a few who started it?

Arteen: The Lord does not leave himself without a true witness to lead the church.  He put it on the hearts of honest leaders to call other leaders to come together to come and pray.  These were known leaders of larger congregations. We would have never thought that a priest from an orthodox church would come and worship with a leader from an evangelical church…but they did. It was the beginning of many overnight prayer meetings.  And they are still doing it.

Aiken:  Michael, you have lived for some years in the United States and you also have a United States passport.  Please tell us more about this story. 

Arteen:  Well, just on a whim I entered the “green card lottery” in Egypt, thinking there would be one chance in thousands that I would be randomly picked to go to the United States.  In fact, I had pretty much forgotten about it—I was deep in my college studies in 2003, when I was informed that I won the lottery!  I was completely surprised.  But seeing that this was a unique opportunity, I knew that the Lord was opening the door for me, so I went.  I have spent the past 10 years in the United States, ministering in three different Arabic congregations.

Aiken:  And along the way, you became a United States citizen! 

Arteen:  Yes.  And it is only because I have a U.S. passport that I was able to move to Palestine after marrying Grace.  As an Egyptian citizen, I would not have been allowed to do so.  Egyptians must be over the age of 42 to visit the Holy Land, and only then with a special pass.  The Lord went ahead of me and provided a way for me to live here.

Aiken:  Isn’t it wonderful to look back on our lives and see the ways He prepares us for things to come? Since Grace is a native of Bethlehem, did you guys think about living in the United States, or did you know that Palestine is where He was calling you to settle?

Arteen:  Well, normally the wife follows the husband and makes her home wherever he is living.  I was thinking that we would live in the United States, but I was willing to serve Him anywhere.  And then, Jack Sara (the president of BBC) asked me if I would be willing to take the position of campus chaplain.  This was a new thought for me —I knew nothing about Bethlehem, other than the stories in the Bible.  I had never been here before.  But I felt a peace about moving in this direction, especially after I visited and saw the need here.  So many Christians have left this area.  Many of those who remain are in a state of weakness.  I am dreaming that the same revival that happened in Egypt will happen here!

Aiken:  I see you like a burning coal that God lifted from one fire to kindle another fire in a new place.  

Arteen:  That is my desire; that the flame from Egypt will burn here. This is such an important place.  God wants to do so much here.

Aiken:  What do you see God doing here? Tell me about the sort of revival you are envisioning.

Arteen:  I have a deep desire to impart the same sense of unity in the church that we experienced in Egypt.  I know that God wants to do the same thing here in Palestine.  But honest people have to turn from their own small kingdom and “my church” and lift their eyes higher to Christ and His desire for the unity of the Body beyond our little congregations.  That is the greater vision. Local churches have often been so focused on their own “little thing,” wanting to protect it and build a wall around it.  God wants us to move out and trust Him to protect our “little thing.”  HE will increase it!  The Lord is responsible to do that, if our ways please Him.  The increase does not come through our own skills, talents or plans, but through humbling ourselves before Him.

As leaders, we need to open our hearts towards our brothers.  I cannot speak about another leader in a negative way.  I cannot put other Christians down to try to make myself look better in the eyes of my own congregation. I must encourage and support everyone.

Here of course, it is very easy to be divided over politics regarding the situation with Israel and Palestine.  This division should not be a part of the church though.  We should not divide along political lines.  Politics are important, but that is not our primary target.  Our great dream should always be to see souls come to Christ.  The Lord did not call us to be politicians, but to be servants for His kingdom.

Aiken:  What would you say to encourage the local Palestinian Christians?

Arteen:  The Lord allows things to happen within our communities and homes so that He can turn our eyes towards Him.  All our needs will be fulfilled in Him alone—there is no other source.  He can change things with one word.  We have to turn to Him with all our hearts.  We are called Christians, but often just in name. Our lives must show it.  For it to show, we must turn totally to Him.  This is the solution to the problem–when we turn our hearts to the Lord.

Let’s forget about our small plans and think about the larger plan of serving our Lord and working to extend His kingdom. Let’s begin to have prayer meetings with each other.

Aiken:  How can western Christians help the situation in the Middle East?

Arteen:  The western church should not differentiate between believers from one country or another.  We should not forget the Christians who live in nations that we might see as an enemy nation; whether they are believers in Syria, Iran, or Messianic believers in Israel—or anywhere else.  If one part of the Body is hurting, the whole Body is hurting.  We cannot afford to have a “favorite” part of the Body because of their nationalistic identity. God does not want us to play favorites.  Can I forget the brain or the hands of the Body?  Every part of the Body is useful.

The Lord came with a new message.  In Matthew 5 He said, “Love your enemy.” Now, we know that our “enemy” is not human; not flesh and blood.  But even if you see another human being as your enemy you still must love them and pray for them.  Even if they are members of ISIS we are still called to pray for them.  Remember what happened to the Apostle Paul!  He was a terrorist before he was called by the Lord.  So we need to pray for everyone—Muslims, Jews, other Christians…We have to pray for all of them, not just the ones we love.

As he was dying, Stephan prayed for those who were stoning him.  As we pray for our enemies, our own hearts are cleansed.

Aiken:  Our own hearts are cleansed….That’s so beautiful and so true!  It means a lot to me that you are not saying those words from the comfort of a Starbucks café in an insulated American town.  If you, who grew up in persecution, can preach about praying for terrorists, then surely the rest of the church can also do so.  Thank you!

Arteen:  We can’t look at anything as impossible.  We need to pray, pray and pray. Things start with us first. We must change, and only then will the community change.

Aiken:  That’s so good.  It reminds me of a something I just read by Brother Andrew:  “God’s plan to change the world is to change individuals.” 

Arteen:  Amen! When we walk by faith, the Lord surprises us with great things.  He will bless us more than we can imagine or think. The Lord is so faithful to meet all our needs in His timing!  Our human condition is to be so concerned with our own comfort and safety, but I have found that there is only one real comfort zone—and that is being in His will.

 For a small taste of the Egyptian revival, please enjoy this video clip in which thousands of Christians came together from every background and denomination to worship the Lord and declare their unity of the Spirit:


Oh God, our Father, in the name of Jesus, the righteous

Start the revival in Egypt, and spark the light

Oh God, our Father, in the name of Jesus the righteous

Place the guards on all the walls

Oh God, our Father, in the name of Jesus the righteous

Give a spirit of prayer, a prayer of Might

Oh God, our Father, in the name of Jesus the righteous

Pray without ceasing, pray day and night

Oh God, our Father, in the name of Jesus the righteous one

Fulfill your promise to us, and pour out the spirit of Fire

Oh God, our Father, in the name of Jesus the righteous

Beautify us by your talents and fruit

Oh God, our Father, in the name of Jesus the righteous

Bestow upon us tongues of fire.

Oh God, our Father, in the name of Jesus the righteous

Egypt is for Christ; let us pray, righteous ones

Take Action