It’s Father’s Day.
For many, this day settles like an elephant—an immovable weight that steals the air from our lungs. The sorrow of having lost a father, whether by his absence or by his death, is the greatest sorrow I’ve known in my own life. And yet, I keep thinking about Christian children in other parts of the world who have lost their fathers to the sword of Islam. Do they share my sorrow?
Time and again, I read stories of Christians whose communities and lives have been targeted and attacked by radical Islamic groups. While I think it is normal to be shocked or to grieve in the wake of such circumstances, what we learn is that the Christians left behind mourn, but are not paralyzed by grief.
In February 2015, twenty-one Coptic Christian men were beheaded by ISIS-affiliated extremists in Libya. I’m sure you remember the image of those men. Clad in orange jumpsuits, they had been marched along the beach near Tripoli by men in black, forced to their knees, and beheaded.
It’s appropriate, I think, for Americans—and Christians, in particular—to think about the families of these men today. They left behind wives, parents, siblings, children, and friends. Their deaths were no small detriment to their communities.
Last week, I read an excellent piece from Christian Post about where those families are today and how they are faring. I was surprised and encouraged to read the report—that the children of those twenty-one men are proud today of their fathers for choosing their faith in Jesus over their very lives, and the families reportedly, “…have been visiting and providing comfort to the Coptic families who have lost loved ones due to separate terrorist attacks… this year.”
It makes me proud to think of those young, mourning Christians doing exactly what Christians ought to be doing— grieving with one another, comforting one another. It also makes me sad, though, because we have something of a fatherless epidemic here in America. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a good friend years ago. His own father had passed away, and he was looking for a man to father him spiritually. He reached out to several Christian men he felt were a good fit, and while I don’t remember how they responded (whether they did not respond, did not feel they had time to invest, or agreed and failed to follow through), but I remember the result: My friend was left even more hurt, more alienated, and more lost in a world where he simply needed a father figure. It saddens me to think that if he were a Coptic Christian whose father had been killed, a community of others who had known the sorrow of loss would have gathered around him, spoken words of life and hope and courage to him. In America, we often lack that kind of love for one another. We desperately need it.
We are—in so many ways—the Fatherless Church. The antidote is simple: The Copts know it. Can we dare to know it as well?
This Father’s Day, take a moment to remember the Coptic children of Egypt. Stand with them in spirit by remembering their fathers. Pray for them, not only for peace but for continued comfort as they comfort those around them who grieve. Perhaps we can even offer a bit of gratitude while we’re at it—thank the Almighty for men who have left the best legacy any man could leave, not only for his childre but for us all. And today, let us take up the example of their families: If you know someone who is mourning, struggling through the day for any reason—reach out. Offer comfort. Offer encouragement. Offer something that is far more lasting than a five-dollar Father’s Day card.