What is this? This past weekend I was driver, manager, host, and all-around handler for an Egyptian evangelist, Fawzi Khalil. Through a mutual friend and fellow pastor, we arranged for Pastor Fawzi to spend three days with our church and we, especially me, were blessed. I arranged for him to speak in a couple different venues to small groups. From the time I met Fawzi at baggage claim, I knew he had a heart for the gospel, a humble spirit, and a fiery faith in Jesus. Being the same age, same vocation, and and having the same slapstick sense of humor, we connected immediately. Fawzi grew up in Egypt in a nominal Christian family, was entrenched in the communist party until he came to faith in Christ while studying at the university. His church, Kasr el-Dobara, in Cairo worships 10,000 with eight services on a weekend. The church leadership sent him as a missionary to Morocco to start-up, develop, and lead underground churches in a Muslim nation. He was imprisoned at one point and eventually exiled to Spain. With the ongoing refugee crisis of the Syrian War, in 2015 Fawzi’s church sent him to Iraq to oversee the mission work in the refugee camps. There Fawzi met his wife, Haydy, a missionary to young girls who escaped captivity (yes, sex trafficking and outright slavery) from Isis.
What does this mean? Now Fawzi, Haydy, and incoming baby John (Haydy is nine+ months pregnant) will share this ministry. Yes, the plan is to take the baby with them to the refugee camps. They supervise 35 missionaries from their congregation in places like Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Jordan, and Turkey. The miraculous stories Fawzi shared of Muslims converting to Christ were like something out of the Book of Acts. He says Haydy has this gift with the young girls, who have escaped their enslavement (often when the guards get drunk) and find their way to the camp. With the burden of family shame, the parents will often refuse to receive them back. The cultural context is so different. These girls are the age of my own 15-year-old daughter or younger. They have been through violence, trauma, and degradation we cannot even imagine, and now have no home. Not even Jesus can restore these girls?! Not so fast. Haydy and her team welcome these lost girls, spend the first 30 minutes simply holding them, no talking. Then they start the long road of recovery. Along the way, they share the gospel with them. Fawzi will work with the families, prodding and persuading them, these are your children, they did not choose this. Fawzi claims that when the violence and vindictiveness of Islam is exposed, specifically during a war, there is an authentic often anguished opening for the gospel. So he reports there are fifty converts per day, being baptized and connected with a local congregation. They are in these refugee camps because that is where the harvest is.
What is the takeaway? In the wake of our Fawzi weekend, I am still processing all that I heard and experienced. My sense is God had a hand in bringing Fawzi to us, but I am not exactly sure why it would be a good thing for an Egyptian evangelist to encounter an older Lutheran congregation. A couple of things I can say for sure. One, it is always a joy and a jolt to hear first-hand what God is doing and how the church is thriving in unlikely places. Especially, when we are saddened by the decline of the North American Church. Muslims conversions, underground churches, traumatized girls restored! Two, Fawzi’s take on Islam is sobering. When I say that, I deplore the tragic American label that every Muslim is possibly part of a sleeper cell. This is not what Fawzi is saying. Even when you figure that he is ministering to the victims and violence from Isis, Fawzi makes a point that the God of Islam is not the God of Judaism and Christianity. Yes, we share historical roots, Abraham is a father figure in each tradition. But, when you look at the character of Allah, see the impact on the people, Fawzi calls him distant, unpredictable, and demanding, it is far from the grace of God and forgiveness of the cross. Three, I will have to see Fawzi’s mission field for myself. It won’t be this year or next, but I will go to the front lines. Don’t tell Elizabth! Believe it or not, Fawzi takes small mission teams to Lebanon to work hands-on with the people, play with the kids, and see evangelism to Muslims at work. This is not a delegation that stays at the Ritz Carlton and drives through the camp waving to the refugees. You sleep in a sandy refugee tent, you are there to work, and they have translators all around. Fawzi prefers this to financial support, although he doesn’t discount economic help. Nothing challenges and nourishes my faith like hearing the gospel preached and seeing the church minister in unexpected places. Such glimpses of God at work keep your faith going until you meet Jesus face-to-face.