The land of Egypt is a powerful symbol in the Bible of the liberation of God’s people from slavery and the journey to the Promised Land, in what we call the Exodus.
Egypt also has its place in the Christmas story. To escape the murderous intent of Herod, the family of Jesus fled to Egypt where, according to tradition, he may have spent his first month and even years.
Egypt’s role in the story of God’s people is therefore both a place of freedom from oppression and a place of refuge from persecution.
Last month, the European Baptist Federation (EBF) President Jenni Entrican and I visited Egypt and the teeming city of Cairo, which, with 22 million people in the city and its metropolitan area, is the third largest urban area in the Muslim world.
We were there to be with Egypt’s Protestants, who were remembering the Protestant Reformation.
With other Protestant leaders from Europe and the Middle East, we visited the Coptic Pope Tawadros II and the government minister for religious affairs.
It was a privilege for Jenni and myself, along with the Baptist World Alliance President Paul Msiza, to be part of a smaller group that had a two-hour meeting with Egypt’s head of state, President Abdel Fattal el-Sisi.
He shared his own conviction that Egypt should continue to be a place of refuge for people of all faiths and none, and that all should enjoy what he called equal citizenship.
It was just a week later when that conviction, that is so close to our Baptist understanding of religious freedom for all, was threatened by the terrible terrorist attack on the mosque in Sinai, which killed so many people.
As well as being with other Protestant leaders, we visited some of the churches of the Egyptian Baptist Convention.
Amid poverty and many other challenges, Baptist churches in Egypt are growing, and men and women are discovering the freedom that comes from knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
In a community that exists to sort out some of the garbage of the city, we found a new Baptist church building nearing completion; it was a place of worship, a center for medical care, a program for adult literacy and a preschool for young children.
The liberating power of God is once more being seen as Jesus is “born” in the hearts and lives of the people who live there.
I find such encounters truly inspirational for my own life and ministry. They illustrate for me the true meaning of Christmas: Immanuel, God with us, God with his people wherever they are in the world, in Christ to save and set free, now and always.
Tony Peck is general secretary of the European Baptist Federation. A version of this article first appeared on the EBF news page and is used with permission. His writings can also be found on his blog, and you can follow him on Twitter @EBFGS.