An Egyptian teen embraced Christianity after witnessing the faith of his father, who was brutally murdered by Muslim extremists for refusing to convert to Islam.
Seventeen-year-old Marqos told persecution watchdog Open Doors USA that just a few years ago, his family lived at peace with their Muslim neighbors in El-Arish, a small city on Egypt's Mediterranean coast. Marquos' father, Baghat, was a veterinarian who had good relations with his Muslim colleagues and friends.
However, everything changed when Palestinian immigrants with a very strict view on Islam moved to the village. Marqos' mother, Fawziya, recounted how the Muslims began threatening believers by spreading leaflets warning Christians to leave the city or die. In the beginning of 2017, they began to carry out their threats.
One Sunday morning, Baghat woke up early to go to church, and then went to work at the veterinarian clinic of one of his Muslim friends. While Marqos and Fawziya weren't present at the tragedy that followed, Marqos spoke with a Muslim friend of his father who witnessed the event.
"He told me that two young masked men entered the pharmacy and dragged my father outside," Marqos said. "They told him to kneel in the street. They put two guns at my father's head and told him to convert to Islam. But he shook his head. Then they shot him. When I heard he'd died, I couldn't walk to the morgue."
Prior to his father's death, Marquos cared little about Christianity. But Baghat's unflinching faith in the face of death made him want to know more about Jesus Christ.
"I was proud of my father, for standing by his faith until the last moment," he said. "It made me curious. When my father was still alive, he woke up every morning at 5 am to study the Bible and pray. Apparently, that helped him become a strong believer. My father's death for Christ has made me search for Jesus."
Fawziya said she's seen a noticeable change in her son's heart and habits since embracing Christianity.
"You know, Marqos used to be a difficult teenager," she said. "But after the murder, all of the sudden, I found him reading his Bible and praying. He started going to church often, studied harder. He really changed as a person. If he doesn't understand a verse, he asks me about it. And we pray together.
"This is what my husband and I have always prayed for together: that the Lord would touch our son's heart and pull him closer to Him," she added.
Egypt is No. 17 on Open Doors' World Watch List and continues to be a country that poses extreme danger and violence for Christians, according to the persecution watchdog. In 2017 alone, 128 Christians were killed for their faith and more than 200 were driven out of their homes.
Egyp's Coptic Christians in particular, who account for around 10 percent of the population, have experienced a wave of attacks at the hands of Muslim extremists. Last year, the Islamic State group vowed to "wipe" Christians "out."
Despite the persecution they face, followers of Christ are winning new converts in the Muslim-majority country.
"The mood is very, very good amongst Christians who are living in Egypt. Not because the situation is good or bad — that is not the reason. We have two kinds of news — earthly news, which is very ugly, very discouraging and I think in the West, you get only the earthly news — a bombing here or there," Rev. Sameh Hanna, associate pastor at the Evangelical Church in Cairo, told Premier in April.
"But there is heavenly news. We know what is going on spiritually. We see things that not everybody is seeing. We see things you are not hearing. We see the multitude coming to the knowledge of Christ from every background, so this brings joy to us."