By Grayson Hester
What do the far-flung countries of Egypt, Sweden and Belgium have in common?
A man named John.
John, who attends Christus Voor Alle Naties (Christ for All Nations), a church planted by Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel Janée Angel and her husband, Hary, in Antwerp, Belgium, feels called to minister to the Muslim population there. It is a call so persistent and so keenly heard that it led him across years, continents and countries, and helped him endure months in a camp he called prison.
John came to know Christ in 1991 because of a man named Ashraf. “He talked to me about hell and then I started thinking about how I once feared death so much and how I should take Christ as a guide to lead me to heaven,” John said. “So, I decided to follow Christ and, since that day, I became solely dedicated to the Lord.”
It is at this point that John received his call to minister to people of the Islamic faith, which initially led him to Sweden in 2015. The country and climate, when compared to the heat of Egypt, could not have been more different. Struggling to adjust and to find his people, John remembered having a “gloomy heart” and longing for home.
God had different plans. “The Lord then talked to me and ordered me to come to Belgium,” John said. “At first, I was stubborn, and I thought it was not a real vision. And I didn’t want to go to Belgium, I wanted to go to Egypt again.
But, faithful and receptive as ever, in February 2015, John made the nearly 1,000-mile journey to Antwerp. What he encountered there revealed that homesickness was to be the least of his worries.
For the first six months, his limited visa assured his stay in Belgium. He was able to reunite with his sister and even twice renew his papers. On that second attempt, however, the brunt of the bureaucracy came to his door. “Suddenly, they came to my house and told me, ‘You need to come with us to the police station; you have to be transferred to Egypt,’” John explained. “Then they sent me to a closed camp which was really a prison.”
There, John languished while the wheels of international relations ground with painful slowness. In order to send him back to Egypt, he needed some travel documents of which he was not in possession. This meant the authorities had to appeal to the Egyptian embassy in Belgium to receive a permit. After a week, he was told, with devastating frankness, that he would definitely be going back to Egypt. But John didn’t believe it.
At first, he tried (and failed) to secure a lawyer. But, as it turned out, John had something better. He had an advocate.
“The Lord talked to me and told me, ‘Don’t be afraid. Nothing will harm you. I will not send you back to Egypt. I brought you here, and I want you in this country,’” John said. “Once, when I was terribly scared, the Lord talked to me in a vision and said, ‘Didn’t I ask you not to worry about the embassy? I control the embassy with my hand.’”
Although it was not easy—John likened the struggle to a psychological war in which he managed to maintain faith that he would be able to remain in Belgium and pursue his call. Whether or not he would leave the camp’s walls, he would be free to follow his God.
And so, John began busying himself by talking to his fellow campmates. The camp represented a cross-section of the world, containing Arabs, Europeans and all sorts of people, he said. Here he spoke of the God who steadied him and loved him. “It was like a fire inside me; I could not keep it inside. I was unable to keep the word of Jesus to myself, and I talked to many people about Jesus,” John said. “Many people heard me, and many felt it in their hearts.”
Months went by, and the Belgian authorities were persistent in their efforts to deport John to Egypt. It was like a game of diplomatic chess, with the state making one move and John always trying to stay one step ahead. He would hire lawyers; then they wouldn’t be able to help. He would try to arrange reunions with his sisters to no avail. He even got a six-month release paper drafted; but it was summarily rejected. Any one of these should have secured John’s release and guaranteed his ability to stay in Belgium. But none of them materialized and no reasons were given. “They tried everything to send me back, but they couldn’t, because the Lord said his command for me was to stay,” John said.
At this point, John had been interned for nearly five months. While his own liberation seemed unreachable, he nonetheless fought for the liberation of others.
John distributed to the campmates a cartload of Bibles provided to him by Janée and Hary, who also supported John by way of intercessory prayer and visits. “Most people took the Holy Book, thanks to the Lord,” John said. “It was like a new era in the camp.”
While it might have been a new era for his fellow campmates, John’s status remained unchanged. As did his faith. Each time his papers were rejected, or his release forestalled, John moved into deeper and deeper faith. “Every time my papers were rejected, I would say, ‘Oh, Lord, you are good.’”
Matched only by the Belgian authorities’ resolve, John’s faith persisted even until the very last week of his internment. The authorities became insistent upon his deportation and once again requested his travel documents from the Egyptian embassy. His social worker informed John that, by the end of the week, they would meet with the Egyptian embassy, receive his documents and send him back to a home to which he did not want to return. This time, it seemed, they would win.
“The last day of the last week I was in the camp, a Thursday, I faced my hardest challenge,” John said. “I was supposed to be released then, and the Lord had shown me a vision that day.”
Despite the difficult circumstances, John said he felt a peace in his soul. Affirming this peace was the social worker’s report on Friday that nobody could get in touch with the Egyptians, and that the embassy was mysteriously closed. They would have to try again on Monday. On Monday, the embassy told the officials they could not retrieve the papers. John’s peace persisted.
The next day, John’s social worker told him the news that should have sealed his fate. They had purchased his ticket. He was going home. “I went to my room with the ticket in my hand,” John said. “In my room, the Lord spoke to me and said, ‘John, are you going to trust my word or the paper in your hand?’ I said, ‘Your word.’”
With deep and unshakeable assurance, he placed the ticket in his closet. The social worker called at sunrise to inform him that a mistake had been made and the ticket would be cancelled. And more than that, John would be released. On the last day of October, after 150 days of uncertainty and waiting, testing, praying and internment, John would finally see his sister. He would finally be free.
“I really thanked the Lord then and stood in the social worker’s room and said, ‘Hallelujah!’”
Janée and Hary were the first to pick him up from the camp. And their relationship, forged in struggle and pain, continued far beyond its walls and into the halls of a church.
Since his release, John has been attending one of the few churches in Antwerp for Arabic people like him. “This church is like my home and the Lord is my identity in his body in which I am a member. Being a member in this church is not a coincidence. Meeting Janée and Hary as guardians of this church—I am thankful to the Lord.”
Watch a video story about Christus Voor Alle Naties and Janee Angel’s ministry below:
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This article appeared in the Winter 2020-21 issue of fellowship! magazine, the quarterly publication of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Read online here and subscribe for free to fellowship! and CBF’s weekly e-newsletter fellowship! weekly at www.cbf.net/subscribe.