Saturday, April 21, 2018

A year after fleeing Egypt, she embraces the chance to practice her faith

BY ANGELINA DEVINCENZO

East Lake High

Despite our "Throw Back Thursday" photos that are only two weeks old, most of us will admit our lives are not all that different from what they were a year ago. We were in the same school, with the same group of friends, plodding through the same routine.

Ask Lilian Kobrossy about her life a little more than a year ago, however, and she will describe what seems a parallel universe.

Just 14 months ago, Kobrossy lived in a world where the threat of bombs was a daily reality, and the persecution of faith was not just a page from a history book. As a Christian Egyptian, Kobrossy lived in constant fear. She masked her faith and prayed only behind closed doors.

Then, in September 2012, Kobrossy's world turned upside down as she and her family left their lives in Egypt and started over again in the land of the free.

Shortly after her move last year, tb-two* spoke to Kobrossy, and we wanted to check in with her again to see how life has changed in a place where she can embrace her Christianity.

Following months of being the "new girl" and having to ask never-ending questions, Kobrossy said she finally got the hang of things. She joined clubs at school and found a great new group of friends. She truly settled in.

"I'm actually an 'old immigrant' to my friends who just came over," Kobrossy said with a laugh.

Kobrossy is now an officer for East Lake's Fellowship of Christian Athletes. She attends a girls' "huddle" every Monday at lunch where she talks and prays with a group of girls from FCA. On Tuesday mornings, she meets by the flag pole, visible to all who pass by, at the front of East Lake with a group of her peers to pray before school in the morning, and on Wednesdays and Thursdays at lunch she attends more FCA meetings. Thursday meetings usually welcome more than 100 East Lake students to talk and learn about their faith.

This is quite a switch from her life in Egypt, where it was unthinkable even to utter the name "Jesus" or admit to being a Christian.

"I feel blessed, so blessed," said Kobrossy. "Just the fact that we have FCA in school is a blessing, and being a part of it, that's just great to me. . . . To others, this is just something they would wish for, and I just have it ready for me every week."

As Kobrossy thrives in her new role as a faith leader for her peers, her family has learned to adjust as well. Her brother is a freshman at East Lake in the engineering program, and he has become very involved in school and sports. Her mom is enjoying her new group of friends at St. Verena Church, and although Kobrossy's dad seems to be struggling the most in his quest to find a job, Kobrossy said he maintains his faith. "My dad is very confident that God has a very good plan for him," Kobrossy said.

Although the chaos in Egypt has calmed substantially, it is growing harder and harder for Egyptians to leave. Kobrossy still has a lot of family there but her grandma is the only one who can travel back and forth.

Kobrossy is especially grateful for one new development. "My best friend just came over," and now attends East Lake, she said, her excitement evident in a wide grin.

Her classmates and teachers have learned about Egypt through Kobrossy, who is good-natured about the sometimes funny questions. Do you have jeans and boots in Egypt? Are there camels outside your schools? Yes, to the jeans and boots, no to the camels.

Kobrossy is still awaiting some "real American" high school experiences, such as eating a sub from Publix or a sandwich from Chick-fil-A.

What started out as a dangerous flight of faith turned into a transforming journey for Kobrossy and her family. "I'm just really thankful," she said. "God is helping me so much. I learn something new every day."

The biggest lesson, she said, is that with faith, anything is possible.

* * *

A flight of faith

This story was originally published April 16, 2013.

BY ANGELINA DEVINCENZO, East Lake High

As the clock struck midnight signaling the beginning of the New Year, a resounding voice of celebration rang throughout the world, including Egypt.

Just minutes later, however, another event would take place that would change the lives of Egyptians everywhere, setting a somber tone for not just for that New Year's celebration, but for months and years to come.

Around 12:03 a.m. Jan. 1, 2011, a bomb went off in a Coptic church in Alexandria, Egypt. The unmistakable sound of the explosion echoed through the early morning air, shaking the sleeping dew off the grass. Twenty-seven people died. Many more were injured. The walls of this once peaceful church were now stained red with the blood of innocents.

Just three short hours away lived Lilian Kobrossy. A Christian Egyptian, the teenager was well aware of the persecution Christians suffered at the hands of neighboring Muslims, but this bombing was by the far the worst. As usual, she says, the government did nothing about it; in the past two years, 24 more churches have been burned.

"A car parked in front of my church and it had a bomb inside it, but no one was hurt because they caught it, they were able to stop it," says Kobrossy.

Kobrossy and her family continued to attend mass as churches all around her were targeted.

"Pretty much, you have to have a strong faith. Like, 'I'm going to go to church, whatever happens. I'm just under God's protection, whatever happens, I'm just going to go to church,' Kobrossy says.

"These people are not going to stop me."

Even wearing a cross necklace —- a simple sign of faith — was dangerous, with local priests advising congregations not to wear them, or at least not in plain sight. Her grandmother was on her way to church once when a man on a motorcycle raced really close to her, Kobrossy says. "He pulled out her necklace from her neck," causing injury with the violent yank.

Although Kobrossy attended a private Catholic school in Egypt, she did have very close Muslim friends. They do not agree with what is happening in Egypt, she says.

Beginning to learn English in second grade helped prepare Kobrossy for the earth-shaking change that was about to come her way. A corrupt election put a new leader in place. Her dad received threats at work from the Muslims who worked for him, including threats against her family. He lost his job and paid money to ensure his family's safety, she says.

Kobrossy's parents decided that moving to America from their home in Heliopolis was the best option for their family's safety.

The move in September 2012 was not easy. People are not allowed to leave Egypt without visas, therefore, the Kobrossys could not let their country know they were not coming back. This meant leaving everything behind in Heliopolis: extended family, friends, school, church, cars, clothes and countless other material possessions.

Suddenly, Kobrossy found herself in Palm Harbor, in a new country, face to face with an entirely new life. Leaving "was so bad. … It was really hard," she says, thinking of things most teenagers take for granted.

"I missed my prom!" she blurts out, remembering the disappointment.

In Egypt, she would have been a senior, and her prom was two weeks ago. She is now a junior at East Lake High, so she could attend prom there.

As hard as the transition has been for Kobrossy, she knows it has been even harder on her parents, especially her dad. "I used to cry but not tell him, because he already had enough load," she says. "I didn't want to make it worse for him."

The family, including her parents and younger brother Daniel, chose Palm Harbor so they could be in a good school zone, and also to be near the St. Verina Coptic Orthodox Church in New Port Richey. They are waiting on proper paperwork to look for jobs.

Now, however, after the initial shock of leaving her homeland has worn off, Kobrossy admits she would not want to go back to live. Of course she would visit.

"I miss my church, my friends, my grandma's house, the places that are engraved in my memory, but I would go back to visit, not live."

Kobrossy says she does love much about the United States, mainly the things Americans take for granted. "What I like here the most is the freedom, the freedom of even speech," she says with a still-amazed smile.

And religious freedom. Everything was worth it for that, she says. "It's amazing. I can just walk and say 'Christian and proud' and that's it."

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