At a joyous service at Jubilee Christian Church in Mattapan on Sunday night, about 1,000 worshipers burst into applause and clapped for more than a minute when the Rev. Michel Louis appeared at the front of the sanctuary. Louis’s son, Daniel, led the church in singing “Freedom,” by Eddie James. He thrust the microphone out toward the audience as he sang.
“No more shackles, no more chains,” they sang, holding their arms skyward. “No more bondage, I am free.”
Louis was free on Sunday, back in Boston for the first time since he, an Everett woman, and their translator were held for three days in the Egyptian desert by armed Bedouins. The captors were demanding the release of an uncle who they said was falsely imprisoned by the Egyptian government. Throughout the ordeal, Louis said, he never feared for his life. “I just sat quietly and looked at them because I knew God wasn’t going to let me down,” he said.
Louis, pastor of the Eglise de Dieu de la Pentecote Libre, also known as the Free Pentecostal Church of God in Dorchester, recounted his kidnapping in an interview earlier Sunday at the Colonnade Hotel.
He was surrounded by family members wearing T-shirts that read, “God Made My Dad A Hero.”
Louis, a 61-year-old father of four and grandfather of four who is originally from Haiti, had traveled on July 10 to the Middle East with about two dozen members of Boston-area churches as part of a tour of holy sites in Egypt, Jordan, and Israel.
On July 13, the group had just passed a police checkpoint on its way to the sixth-century St. Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai when the bus was by surrounded three pickup trucks carrying 10 men with machine guns. One stormed aboard.
The Rev. Dieudonné Raymond, who was seated in the back of the bus, said the kidnapper took a moment before settling on Lissa Alphonse of Everett, who was seated up front, as his hostage.
“He lifted his head and looked at me straight in the eyes,” said Raymond, who is pastor of the Holy Bible Baptist Church in Somerville.
“And that’s when all of a sudden [he said], ‘it’s not the one I want,’ and then he turned around and grabbed that girl.”
Raymond said the kidnapper punched Alphonse four times and forced her off the bus. “It was very scary,” he said.
Louis then volunteered himself as a hostage. Louis said he felt he, as a leader of the group, had a responsibility not to let Alphonse be taken alone. “I said, ‘Take me, too,’ ” Louis said. “ ‘I have to go, too.’ ”
The kidnappers drove Louis, Alphonse, and their translator, identified by the Associated Press as Haytham Ragab, deep into the desert. Once there, Louis said he was allowed to call the US Embassy in Cairo.
He said his chief captor, later identified as Jirmy Abu-Masuh, demanded that he tell the US government to pressure Egyptian authorities to release Abu-Masuh’s uncle, who Abu-Masuh said was in prison for refusing to pay a bribe.
By that time, the rest of the tour group had reported the kidnapping to Egyptian police. In Boston, Senators Scott Brown and John F. Kerry, among others, were seeking the release of the hostages.
Louis said that each night, his captors brought him, Alphonse, and Ragab to a new location in the open desert. They fed them pita bread and vegetables, he said, and they slept on the ground. Louis said he would gaze up at the night sky and pray.
He was without his diabetes medication, but he said he never asked his captors to release him. He said the kidnappers did not beat Alphonse again.
After that, he said, “Those guys were, to tell you the truth, very nice with us.”
The captors invited the three to a barbecue, and brought them on a tour of the area, he said. They were never handcuffed.
Last Monday, the three hostages were driven to meet a police inspector, who conferred privately with the kidnappers and then let them go. Louis was astounded. He thought to himself, “This is a game,” and the police are part of it.
“I’m not going to spend even a minute in Cairo because I don’t trust you guys,” Louis said he told the police. “You have to send me to Israel.”
Ragab was freed in Egypt, and Louis and Alphonse were driven under heavy guard to the Israeli border.
In Jerusalem, Louis was reunited with his wife and church members.
On Sunday, Louis and Alphonse flew home to Boston, where dozens of family members and friends greeted them at Logan International Airport.
Many held balloons, flowers, and signs, including one that read, “Welcome Home From All Of Us.”
When Alphonse and Louis cleared customs, the group broke into cheers and embraced loved ones, singing in Haitian Creole.
Visibly overwhelmed, Alphonse hugged her husband, who was holding a bouquet of flowers and was with their two young children. Yves Donald Alphonse flashed a wide grin as he led them away from the crowd.