When an armed man intercepted a bus of Boston-area churchgoers in Egypt Friday looking for hostages, a Dorchester pastor leading the group volunteered himself, a fellow pastor told congregants at a Mattapan church Sunday.
The captor tried to seize a woman but the Rev. Michel Louis insisted he go instead, the Rev. Matthew K. Thompson, a friend of the Louis family, told worshipers at Jubilee Christian Church.
“Take me,” Louis said, according to Thompson.
In the end, the captor took both Louis and the woman, Lissa Alphonse of Everett, as well as the local guide-translator for the group of about two dozen Haitian and Haitian-American churchgoers from Greater Boston. They were in the Sinai Peninsula on their way to Israel.
The kidnapper, identified by the Associated Press as an Egyptian Bedouin named Jirmy Abu-Masuh, has said he will free them only if Egyptian authorities release his uncle, who he said has been incarcerated for failing to pay a bribe to police. The AP called Abu-Masuh the sole captor, but Louis’s family said he was accompanied by others.
Thompson said the account of Louis’s valor came from the Rev. Jean J.M. Louis, the older of the pastor’s two sons. Jean Louis was present at the Jubilee service but declined to confirm or deny what occurred on the bus, saying he wants to give his father a chance to tell his own story when released.
Earlier, Jean Louis, a youth pastor at his father’s church, led services at Dorchester’s Eglise de Dieu de la Pentecote Libre, the Free Pentecostal Church of God, rising before the packed congregation to pray in Creole and English for the release of his father and the two others.
He called their kidnapping a test of faith.
“For some reason or another, Lord, you allow it to be this way . . . . We know that it is a test, Heavenly Father,” he said, as the gathering of 150 swayed to music, joining him in prayer.
Speaking to reporters after the service, Jean Louis said he spoke early Sunday morning with his mother — the pastor’s wife, who was also on the trip — but declined to give details of what happened aboard the bus.
“We’ll allow Pastor Michel when he gets here to be able to give that testimony,” he said.
Jean Louis said his mother disputed news accounts that Louis had been given a chance to call her from captivity. He said his father, a diabetic who does not take insulin and relies on natural medicine and faith, was captured without his medication.
In Egypt, Abu-Masuh told an AP reporter that two intelligence officials had visited his home Saturday to negotiate the captives’ release. Abu-Masuh said he had relocated his captives during that meeting, and he declined to let the reporter speak with them.
Abu-Masuh described Louis as tired and sleeping a lot, and said that security officials will have to help if the pastor is to get his medication. He said his uncle also suffers from diabetes and has not been getting the medical assistance he needs while imprisoned.
Jean Louis thanked US Senator Scott Brown’s office for staying in contact with the family while the government intervenes on their behalf.
“They say that usually these cases take anywhere from 24 to 48 hours, so any minute, you never know, we could get a word that they released him and all will be well in the world,” he said.
A spokesman, John Donnelly, said by e-mail that Brown and his office “are monitoring the situation and remain in contact with both the State Department and family members here in Massachusetts.”
A State Department spokesman said he had no new information on the case Sunday, and a man who answered the phone at the Egyptian Embassy in Washington said no one was available to comment.
Prayers reverberated across Greater Boston’s Haitian and Haitian-American community Sunday for the release of Louis, 61, and Alphonse, a 39-year-old mother of two.
“We’re all praying very hard; we’re praying that she returns safe to us,” said Yves Bellevue, outside the Evangelical Haitian Church of Somerville, where Alphonse is a member.
Bellevue said his sister and Alphonse were first-time travelers on what has become an annual pilgrimage, and that his sister had called briefly to share the shocking news. “It’s horrible.”
At a nearby apartment, Alphonse’s sister-in-law, Suzette Alphonse, said the family was stunned by news of the kidnapping and would not comment.
At Alphonse’s home in Everett, an upstairs neighbor and friend described Alphonse as a quiet, devout woman who divides her time among her children, work, and prayer.
Cliford Constant, 21, said he considers Alphonse like family. He has lived upstairs since emigrating after the 2010 Haiti earthquake but had known her before that from visiting his own relatives in Everett.
Constant said Alphonse and her husband had both been planning to go on the Middle East trip, intending to leave their 6-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter with family, and that she was disappointed about having to travel alone after her husband could not go because of work.
“He’s stressed. He’s a man, and he’s trying to act like he’s OK, but he’s not,” said Constant. “He didn’t eat at all.”
Constant said Alphonse’s children were initially sheltered from the news, but that her daughter is now distraught after learning about the abductions when she answered the door for a television reporter.
Friends and family were trying to take comfort in their faith and in reports that Abu-Masuh was treating his captives like “guests,” offering tea, food, and rest.
“Now we know God is really with us,” Constant said. “It’s just a matter of time and negotiations.”
The trip was the fifth such journey to Israel that Louis has taken through his church, and he was leading a group drawn from multiple Haitian-American congregations in the area, his son said.
They were on their way to the sixth-century St. Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai when the abductions occurred.
Thompson, pastor at Jubilee Christian Church, said Louis’s apparent attempt to save a fellow traveler reflected his character.
“He’s a hero,” he said. “He’s actually practicing what he preaches.”
At Louis’s own church, worshipers such as Marie Jean-Baptiste said they could not imagine the congregation without him.
“He’s everything,” said Jean-Baptiste, 48 . “We really need him to come back to Boston.”