A day after the Rev. Michel Louis and an Everett woman were kidnapped in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Sister Irma Pasien-Joseph stood in front of Louis’ predominantly Haitian congregation in Mattapan and led a simple prayer.
“Just to release him,” she said Saturday afternoon. “That’s all.”
An Egyptian Bedouin kidnapped Louis, 61; Lisa Alphonse, 39, of Everett; and their interpreter Friday in an attempt to persuade Egyptian authorities to release his 62-year-old uncle from prison, according to the Associated Press. Jirmy Abu-Masuh, a 32-year-old truck driver, told the AP that he will keep his captives safe, but will abduct more people if his uncle is not released.
The US State Department is aware of the situation, but does not confirm the names of kidnapping victims or provide details of such events because of privacy laws, said spokesman John Echard.
“We’re in close contact with the Egyptian authorities, who are doing everything they can to bring about their safe release,” he said. “We will provide consular assistance as appropriate.”
At the pastor’s home in Dorchester, where family members gathered Saturday, the younger of his two sons, Daniel Louis Jr., said the family is hopeful for his safe return, but did not want to comment any further.
“We are in good spirits,” he said.
A woman at the residence, who identified herself as a family friend and a secretary of the church, said Louis’s wife had gone on the trip and she is safe. The AP reported that Abu-Masuh allowed Louis to call his wife after the abduction.
Louis’s older son, Jean J.M. Louis, said in a written statement that his father had stopped in Egypt as part of a mission trip to Israel with a group of 23 church members.
“We are asking for prayer for the safe return of everyone,” Jean Louis said.
Alphonse’s family could not be reached for comment.
Abu-Masuh said Louis and Alphonse were treated as guests in his home located deep in central Sinai’s rugged mountains and were given tea, coffee, and a traditional lamb dinner reserved for special occasions in Bedouin culture, according to the AP.
“I told them, ‘Nothing will happen to you. You are my guest,’” he said.
Louis and Alphonse were abducted Friday when Abu-Masuh stopped the tour bus they were in with dozens of other tourists along a major road linking Cairo to the sixth-century St. Catherine’s Monastery, located at the foot of Mount Sinai. The route to the monastery is a frequent target of Bedouins who kidnap tourists to pressure police to meet a demand, which is usually to release a relative they say was unjustly arrested.
Abu-Masuh, who was armed, said he told the pair to get off the bus and took their Egyptian tour guide with them to translate.
“The Americans with me are scared, but we were treated well,” tour guide Haytham Ragab, 28, told the AP from the captor’s phone.
“I want this solved,” Ragab said, his voice quivering. “I tried to calm them [Louis and Alphonse] and tried to calm myself, but I don’t know what’s to come next.”
Abu-Masuh said his uncle, who suffers from back and heart problems and diabetes, was arrested Sunday on his way to Alexandria after refusing to pay a bribe to police who stopped him along the way. The story could not be immediately verified.
He said his uncle called him from prison, saying he feared police might arrest his children or wife to pressure Abu-Masuh, according to the AP.
“People ask me what did these Americans do to deserve this. I ask what did my uncle do to deserve this?” he said.
Saturday’s service at the Eglise de Dieu de la Pentecote in Mattapan, which Louis founded 33 years ago, is normally reserved for praying for the poor and disadvantaged. This week, however, about 70 members crowded into the white building to pray for the safe return of their pastor and those kidnapped with him.
“I personally, I love Pastor Michel,” said Fritz Jocelyn, a church member. “I learned so much from him. . . . He’s always there to lift our spirits.”
Members said that Louis travels to the Sinai Peninsula every year to see the mountain where, according to the Old Testament, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments,. He also travels to Haiti with members of his congregation for missionary work, they said, and is very active in Mattapan’s Haitian community.
“He is a very important person in the community,” Jocelyn said. “Not just the Haitian community, but the American and Latino communities also.”
Tamisha Civil, 31, of Hyde Park, said she grew up in the church Louis founded.
“He’s the face of the church; what can you say?” she said, standing outside the church during the service Saturday. “He’s always supporting us, always right behind us.”
Though she is worried about her pastor, Civil said she believes Louis will be returned safely.
“There’s a lot of miracles that happen here,” she said, as the congregation sang at the end of the service. “A lot of miracles.”