Horrific torture spurred young lawyer to campaign for all to hear the truth about Easter
From a prominent Muslim family in Cairo, religious freedom activist Majed El Shafir strongly believed in freedom, human rights and justice as he followed in the footsteps of his law-practising father and brother, and of his uncle who was a supreme court judge.
Yet, as he began his university law studies, Majed recalls feeling puzzled.
"There were six to seven thousand Christian activists in prison just because they are Christians and not for any other reason. As a Muslim young man, I wondered why there was persecution happening to the Christians at this time. In my opinion, you don't persecute somebody unless you are scared of the truth that they carry," Majed explains.
While studying law in Alexandria, Majed asked a Christian friend, "Why is persecution happening to your community?"
Afraid to change their friendship, Majed's friend gave him a book, the Bible, saying, "You'll find answers on your own in this book."
Opening it to John chapter eight, the story of the woman caught in adultery, Majed recalls, "This was the first time I met Jesus and His forgiveness."
Studying the Bible in comparison to the Qur'an, Majed says he discovered that the Bible "not only contained judgments, laws and regulations, it was also about love and forgiveness and sacrifice."
Nine months later he says he became a Christian and accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior of his life.
Two years after Majed co-founded an underground church, attendance grew from nine to 24,000 in two underground buildings, plus a Bible school and medical clinic.
"I established a newspaper asking the Egyptian government to give us equal rights, Christians and Muslims alike.
"I also wrote a book about the difference between Islam and Christianity," Majed says.
Early one morning in 1998, the Egyptian authorities arrested Majed. When he refused to inform on other members, they took him to Abu Saabal Jail near Cairo to be tortured in an underground section, which was a quarter of the prison.
Over the next seven days, Majed says his head was held in scalding hot then freezing cold water, hung upside down and beaten with belts, burned by cigarettes, and had his toenails ripped out. Two teams of German shepherd dogs were set on him, but after praying to Jesus, Majed says the dogs refused to attack him. Finally, he was tied to a cross for two days.
“I will help anyone facing persecution; even if he is not Christian I will help him. I will not just help him in the name of human rights, I will help him in Jesus name, because Jesus told me to help everybody”"They test you to see how far you can take it," he explains. "There is a military doctor behind you whose mission is not to stop your pain, but to make sure that you are conscious."
Instead of making him willing to give up faith in Christ, he says, "The torture made my faith stronger. I tell you, Christians are like a bag of tea. You don't know how strong they are until you put them in the hot water. This is the reality."
After nearly dying in hospital, he was charged with starting a revolution against the government and changing the official religion of Egypt from Islam to Christianity.
"Believe it or not," Majed adds, "because I worship and I love Jesus I received the death penalty."
Waking up in a hospital bed from unconsciousness, Majed fled his impending execution by jumping out of the back window, hiding out for months, jet-skiing across the Dead Sea between Egyptian and Israeli police, crossing the Sinai Desert and turning himself in to the Israeli government where he remained in custody for 16 months while the United Nations and Amnesty International investigated his story. Ultimately, he was given political-refugee status and immigrated to Canada.
In 2002, he founded One Free World International, an international human rights organization.
Eleven years later, the organization has 28 branches and, according to Majed, has taken over 300 refugee cases and never lost one of them.
"When I go to these countries and I face the extremists and I go to mosques.
"I tell them about the Lord [Jesus], I am not scared of them. I believe that they are scared of me," he shares.
"When the day comes that a bullet will finish my life, this will mean that my mission is over. I'm not scared of this. It will come. God gave me life and He will take it back in His time."
Majed believes that by speaking the truth in love, people will listen.
"When they see you resisting, not giving up, and loving everybody, people will listen. And I do love everybody, not just the Christians. I will help anyone facing persecution, even if he is not Christian I will help him. I will not just help him in the name of human rights, I will help him in Jesus name, because Jesus told me to help everybody."
In 2012, Majed received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for his efforts to uphold human rights.
To all governments that persecute Christians, Majed offers this message: "The persecuted Christians are dying, but they're still smiling. They're in a deep mine, but they're holding the light of the Lord. You can kill the dreamer, but you can't kill the dream."