CityHarvest, 2007. (Available in Australia from Koorong Books)
Father Zakaria is a modern day Apostle Paul. Like Paul, he has evangelised extensively around the world and led countless people to Christ. He is a bold apologist willing to take on all comers. And he has paid a heavy price in terms of persecution, opposition, imprisonment and hatred.
His was a story waiting to be told – and finally it has been. The 75-year-old Coptic priest has had an amazing journey, and he is still going strong. Stuart Robinson deserves a lot of credit for making his life and work accessible to us all.
Zakaria Botross was born in Islamic Egypt. In 1964 he had a powerful encounter with Christ and his ministry in and around Cairo began to bear immediate fruit. Full-blown revival is the best way to describe so much of what followed from his labours. Many people came to Christ, healings were common, and genuine discipleship was taking place on a massive scale.
He learned early on about Islamic hatred and persecution. His older half-brother was a powerful preacher as well – until a group of Muslims ambushed him, cut out his tongue, and then murdered him. Being an oppressed minority, Christians lived in constant realisation that the authorities might at any moment come knocking at the door. Zakaria would himself spend much time in prison, his longest stint lasting for 318 days.
When he was ordained as a Coptic priest, he was warned by an old priest, “Zakaria, prepare to carry your cross”. And that he did. It was not just opposition from angry Muslims, but often zealous and envious fellow Christian leaders would work against him, betray him, and seek to expel him.
He was an effective apologist because he studied hard and read extensively. Indeed, his keen desire to learn and master his topics often meant that more money was going to books each month than to food (a story I can relate to). But his disciplined study made him a very effective evangelist and apologist indeed, and his later ministry would benefit greatly from it.
But it was not just head knowledge that enabled him to have such an effective ministry. He had a real and deep love for those he served, and he was every bit the pastor, with visitation, counselling, and help to the poor and needy all part of his daily schedule. All this Christlike activity paid off very handsomely. A church he started with in Cairo grew from 15 people to 5000 in a few short years.
People from all around the country sought to hear him preach and teach, and to see the power of God at work through this man in healings, exorcisms and many mighty demonstrations of the Spirit of God. But of course all this bounty for Christ and his Kingdom was met with fierce resistance.
Robinson documents how opposition and persecution dogged his every step. So great was his impact that he was dragged away by the secret police in the middle of the night, and spent a year in most horrific prison conditions. But even there his spirits were high, and he continued the work of the ministry, seeing fellow prisoners – and even guards – touched by the love of God.
Robinson describes in detail the trying conditions in this hell-hole, and how the light of Christ shone through even the darkest moments. When Zakaria was finally released, he again went back into the work of the ministry with his usual energy, dedication and resolve.
His continued activities, including ministry to Muslims, saw him again thrown into prison, and eventually the opposition was so great that he was exiled from Egypt. His wife and youngest son went with him first to Melbourne, where he had a fruitful ministry, but again, not without its opposition and heartbreaks. Then a few years in the UK also saw much fruit, after a slow start working with Sudanese refugees.
Finally, something that he long had a vision for came to pass. For over three decades he had prayed about a specialised ministry to Muslims. He long wanted to show them the love of Christ, and help set them free from the bondage of the false religion they belonged to.
As Robinson reminds us, Islam certainly does not encourage any debate or discussion about its claims, even by its own followers. Hard questions about Islam are often met with very hard responses, including death. But many Muslims want to know the truth about what they believe, and Zakaria was just the man to help answer their longings and questions.
An opportunity arose for him to discuss and debate with Muslims through an online chat room. The work began in May of 1999, with just three hours a week of teaching and taking questions. By 2001 his site was open four days a week and often 1,000 participations at a time eagerly listened as Zakaria would debate Muslim leaders and scholars.
He not only expounded biblical doctrines, but also examined key Islamic teachings and beliefs. His painstaking research and preparation meant he could take on the best and the brightest of the Muslim leaders, and he showed time and time again the inconsistencies and discrepancies of Islam, and the attractiveness of the Christian faith.
Every listener was dealt with and followed up, and many people became believers. By July 2005 the site was receiving 64,000 visits daily. In 2006, 8,000 files were downloaded every day. In 2007 the site was getting 7 million hits per month.
An even more remarkable opportunity opened up in 2003. Al Hyatt (Life) TV started broadcasting his programs into the Middle East and Europe. By 2007 there were 250 recorded episodes of the half-hour program. Zakaria researched each one, consulting with the Koran and commentaries by leading Islamic scholars.
The program is done in Arabic, and over 50 million people are said to watch each episode. So powerful and revealing is this program that over 1,000 Muslims are coming to Christ every month.
Needless to say the Muslim leaders are furious about all this, and a fatwa has been issued against him. He is now doing this work in hiding in the US. He really is now in his own element, and all his past has been a great preparation for his current worldwide ministry. It seems that all the hardships, deprivations, persecution, tears and prayer have prepared this saint for this most important of ministries.
This is a truly amazing story about a truly amazing man of God. This book is a life changer, and I encourage everyone to have a read. Many thanks to Stuart Robinson for making this story available to all of us. It is just the shot in the arm that the church so very much needs.