A shepherd to his flock: Pastor risks life to stay with woman kidnapped in Egypt

By Max Perry Mueller

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Aug. 24 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

The Rev. Michel Louis, left, and his wife Gladys, join parishioners as they celebrate his safe return, Sunday, July 22, 2012, at Jubilee Christian church in the Mattapan neighborhood of Boston. The Rev. Louis, who was kidnapped and returned Monday, was on a church trip to retrace Jesus' steps through the Holy Land with 23 other members of the clergy and worshippers when he was abducted in Egypt. Along with him, a 39-year-old Boston woman, Lissa Alphonse, in the group and a tour guide were kidnapped in broad daylight Friday. (AP Photo/Bizuayehu Tesfaye)

Bizuayehu Tesfaye, ASSOCIATED PRESS

BOSTON — For the past several years, Pastor Michel Louis has been leading Boston area Haitian Christians on annual pilgrimages to the Middle East, tracing the footsteps that Jesus walked more than 2,000 years ago.

This year, during an excursion in northern Egypt, the 61-year-old Haitian-born pastor of Boston’s Free Pentecostal Church of God did more than preach in the Holy Land that Jesus Christ is the “good shepherd,” always watching over his flock. Louis got to practice Christ’s message, and he did so in what has recently become one of the most dangerous places in the Middle East.

On July 13, Louis and 23 other pilgrims were traveling on the dusty, desert road heading toward the sixth-century St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai in northern Egypt. Of the more than 2 million Christian tourists who visit Israel each year, thousands make the day’s drive, crossing over the Israeli border into Egypt to visit Mount Sinai, where it is believed that Moses received the Ten Commandments.

After passing a security checkpoint, the tour bus was stopped on an isolated stretch of the road by a dozen gun-toting men in pickups. “Two (men) and the chief got on the bus and began walking down the aisles,” explains Rev. Dieudonné Raymond, also born in Haiti, who pastors the Holy Bible Baptist Church in nearby Somerville, Mass. Raymond was sitting in the back of the bus with Pastor Louis. “The chief was walking toward me, and then lifted his head and looked me straight in the eyes.”

At first, thinking the men were part of the large police force that conducts frequent security checks in this area of northern Egypt, the group wasn’t concerned, Raymond said. But that all quickly changed when the leader of the armed men, who had been looking “straight into (Raymond’s) eyes,” suddenly shouted, “No I don’t want that one, take the girl!”

The man, later identified as an Egyptian Bedouin, Jirmy Abu-Masuh, grabbed 39-year-old, Haitian-born mother of two Lisa Alphonse of Everett, Mass., punching her several times, grabbing her by the hair and dragging her from the bus. It was then, Raymond explains, that Pastor Louis reacted, unable to sit idly by while a member of his tour was being assaulted. He quickly got up and followed Alphonse and the armed men outside. There Louis, Alphonse and their Egyptian interpreter learned this was not a security stop. It was a kidnapping, and Abu-Masuh was taking Alphonse.

Louis told the Bedouin captors that he would not simply let them take Alphonse by herself. “Take me, too,” he told them. “I have to go, too.” As a pastor and the leader of the group, Louis felt responsible for Alphonse’s safety.

A strategic kidnapping

The kidnapping wasn’t about money. On July 14, the day after he took Louis, Alphonse and their Egyptian interpreter, Abu-Masuh told the Associated Press by phone that he had taken the Americans hostage — and vowed to take more — to bargain for the release of his uncle, whom he said was being held by the Egyptian police on trumped up drug charges. “If my uncle gets 50 years, (the captives) will stay with me 50 years. If they release him, I will release them.”

Unfortunately, this was just the latest in a series of kidnappings of international tourists this year in the Sinai region. After Egypt regained complete control of Sinai in 1989, the mountainous peninsula became one of Egypt’s most popular tourist destinations, with hundreds of thousands of tourists flocking each year to Red Sea resorts and visiting ancient Egyptian and Biblical sites. But the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 has led to an escalation in tensions between the new government in Cairo and the dozens of Bedouin tribes, some of who have lived in Sinai for more than a thousand years.

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