A family of Egyptian nationals who converted from Islam to Christianity have come to this city to escape religious persecution.
“You can’t move from Islam to Christianity in my country,” said Hamdy Ibrahim, who arrived May 27 with his wife and three children. “It’s against Allah, against tradition, against the culture. Usually you lose your family, your money, your job, your life.”
West Lynchburg Baptist Church, which paid for the family’s trip to the United States, recently hosted a special service for the family.
Ibrahim, 44, was a devout Muslim and even studied Islam at Cairo University. He had worked his way to a respected position in Egypt’s upper class as a lieutenant colonel in the army; owner of two homes; operator of a taxi service.
But all that changed in 1978.
Ibrahim secretly asked a fellow army officer to explain Christianity to him. The soldier initially resisted, but finally gave his colleague a copy of the Gospel of Luke that he read three times.
“My life changed 180 degrees,” he said.
Ibrahim returned to the university to study for what is the equivalent of master’s degree in religious studies and learned more about Christianity.
“I studied the (Islamic holy book) Koran to be a strong Muslim, but as I studied I doubted more of the Koran,” he said. “The word was a human word, not God’s word.”
Ibrahim questioned why the Koran was written in the second person rather than the first person.
The revelation was a traumatic one, Ibrahim said.
“I was very happy, but I was very sad,” he said. “Any person who reads the Bible will discover the truth. I wanted to know more, but I was worried. If I follow this word, where is Mohammed?”
Ibrahim said he lost plenty by converting to Christianity.
In 1981, he was arrested and tortured for adopting a “foreign ideology.”
In 1984, government officials imprisoned Ibrahim again, tortured and interrogated him in the hope that he would renounce Christianity. In the process, Ibrahim’s vision was damaged, his back was broken and his bladder injured.
The Egyptian government seized Ibrahim’s property and he became a missionary trying to convert Muslims to Christianity before eventually seeking asylum in Germany where he met the Rev. Jon Vermilion, a Lynchburg native, in December 1996.
Vermilion, a missionary pastor of East Bavaria Baptist Church in Ehenfeld, Germany, found the family of five living in a 12-by-10 foot room on a floor dominated by Asian and Bosnian Muslims who harassed the Ibrahims.
“Even though they escaped the persecution in Egypt,” he said, “they still experienced persecution from the Muslims in Germany who considered them traitors to their faith.”