The haunting image of 21 men kneeling in the surf of the Mediterranean Sea as their Islamic State captors wield knives above their heads before beheading them has become emblematic of ISIS savagery.
The deaths of those 21 Christians on Feb. 15, 2015—all Copts from Egypt except for one man from Chad who reportedly identified with Jesus Christ in his dying words—remains sobering and inspirational for millions of believers. For 41-year-old Matta and 32-year-old Nabih (pseudonyms are being used for security reasons), their deaths both sting and comfort almost daily.
Each man lost a brother among the 21, as well as cousins, uncles and friends. Both men hail from a small village in northern Egypt where many of the 6,000 people, a mix of Copts and Muslims, have known each other’s families for generations. Many of the Copts are related.
Decision interviewed Matta and Nabih on May 12 through an Arabic interpreter during the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians in Washington, D.C. They were among about 150 guests who had endured persecution or had close family members murdered for their Christian faith.
The two men agreed that the painful deaths of their brothers are eased by the manner in which they died.
The men are not fixated on the gruesomeness of the killings of the 21 men who died proclaiming their faith in Jesus Christ.
“We could see that right before they died, they were calling out the Name of Jesus,” Matta said. “They all refused adamantly to deny the cross.”
In a propaganda video announcing the murders, ISIS referred to “people of the cross.”
More than two years later, Nabih believes God is working on the hearts of unbelievers in his village.
Asked how Christians elsewhere should pray for their village, Matta responded: “Pray for people who want to hurt Christians, that God would put His light in their hearts. And that they would find the peace of God and give up the ways of Satan.”