The Rev. Michel Louis and Lissa Alphonse return home after being freed from captivity in Egypt
The Rev. Michel Louis was sitting in the back of a bus, riding with church members on their way to an ancient monastery in the Sinai when their bus was surrounded by three Toyota pickup trucks carrying 10 men with machine guns.
One stormed aboard, and grabbed a woman seated up front, Lissa Alphonse, of Everett. He beat and kicked her and forced her off the bus.
Louis stood up and told the kidnapper to take him, too. The gunmen drove Louis, Alphonse, and their Egyptian translator deep into the desert, where they were held for three days. Their captors were Bedouins who demanded the release of an uncle whom they said was falsely imprisoned in Egypt.
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 on Sunday, as he recounted his kidnapping in an interview with the Globe.
Louis, pastor of the Eglise de Dieu de la Pentecote Libre, also known as the Free Pentecostal Church of God in Dorchester, was back in Boston, at the Colonnade Hotel, surrounded by family members wearing T-shirts that read, “God Made My Dad A Hero.”
A 61-year-old father of four and grandfather of four, who is originally from Haiti, Louis 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.
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 they were ambushed on Friday, July 13.
The Rev. Dieudonné Raymond, who was seated in the back of the bus, said the kidnapper took a moment before settling on Alphonse 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.”
He said the kidnapper punched Alphonse four times and then took her off the bus. That is when Louis volunteered himself as a hostage. “It was very scary,” Raymond said.
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,’” he said. “’I have to go, too.’”
After Louis, Alphonse, and their translator, identified by the Associated Press as Haytham Ragab, were placed in the back of a pickup and driven into the desert, 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 United States government to pressure Egyptian authorities to release Abu-Masuh’s uncle, whom 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, US 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. The kindappers did not beat Alphonse again, he said.
On Monday, July 16, 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,” he said he told the police inspector. “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. “We prayed a little,” Louis said, “because we knew we’re still alive today and we were coming home.”
In Jerusalem, Louis was reunited with his wife and church members.
On Sunday, he 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 their loved ones, singing in Haitian Creole.
Vsibly overwhelmed, Alphonse hugged her husband, Yves, who was holding a bouquet of flowers and was with their two young children. Yves Alphonse flashed a wide grin as he led them away from the crowd.
In a phone interview Sunday morning, Yves Alphonse said he was relieved his wife’s nightmare was coming to an end.
“Thank God,” he said. “I can’t wait for her to set foot on US soil.”
At a joyous service at Jubilee Christian Church in Mattapan on Sunday night, about a thousand worshippers burst into applause and clapped for more than a minute when 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.”Globe correspondents Travis Andersen and Colin A. Young contributed to this report. Michael Levenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Adam Sege can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamSege.
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