TULSA, Okla. (BP)–For Alex Himaya, the ongoing crisis in Egypt is personal.
Himaya, whose father is Egyptian, has about a dozen relatives living on the outskirts of Cairo, where protests and violence continue to unfold each day. Some family members have armed guards protecting their businesses from looting.
The situation in Egypt reminds Himaya, pastor of The Church at Battle Creek in suburban Tulsa, Okla., and his congregation of the spiritual needs in that part of the world.
“If you just watch the people on TV, on Fox and on CNN, there is clearly a search in people’s hearts for something more and for truth,” he said. “We’re praying that God would use this desire for freedom, this desire for truth … to point to Jesus, where only true freedom can be found.”
For the past six years, The Church at Battle Creek has partnered alongside the International Mission Board (IMB) to minister to Egyptians in the Middle East — one couple from the congregation coordinates their work with IMB strategy for the region. According to reports from overseas, all Southern Baptist mission volunteers and personnel throughout the area remain safe.
Though the future of Middle Eastern countries — such as Egypt — is uncertain, Himaya is upbeat and confident that good things can still happen in that part of the world. Himaya is the pastor of a growing church of more than 4,000 people that has committed to starting churches in that area and on every continent. The church also is working in Brazil and is helping with relief efforts in Haiti.
The recent protests in places like Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen should challenge Christians, Himaya said, to continue praying for people in the Middle East.
“We’re praying for the outcome and that it would open doors,” he said. “Meanwhile, there are innocent people — and maybe those who are not so innocent — who are going to be in harm’s way.”
Among the innocent are homeless children who depend on local shops to provide them with extra food and spare change.
“There are street kids who are normally taken care of by businesses that are not open. The streets are shut down.”
Despite the dangers, Himaya said his congregation will continue to send teams and possibly partner with other churches to reach more people for Christ.
Since beginning their work in that part of the world, the church has sent out more than 20 volunteer mission teams to work specifically among Northern African and Middle Eastern peoples. A team of youth from the Battle Creek church traveled overseas two summers ago and helped lead approximately 150 people to commit their lives to Christ.
This past summer, a mission team returned to the area to check on those who had made decisions the previous year.
“All of them came back,” Himaya said. “All of them brought a friend, and most all of their friends [gave their lives to Christ.]”
“We’ve had some really great strides in the last few years,” he added. “The Lord just showed up, and it was our teenagers who were really [spreading the Gospel].”
Himaya, who was born and raised in the United States, remembers how Christ changed his life when he was a teenager. He and his brother accepted Jesus into their lives at separate summer camps. In the days and months to follow, the brothers helped lead their father, mother and 6-year-old sister to Jesus.
“We weren’t home 24 hours when my dad sat me and my brother down at the kitchen table, and he said, ‘whatever is different about you all’s lives, I want it,'” Himaya remembered.
Himaya’s father, who was raised in the Coptic (or Egyptian) Orthodox Church, moved to the United States from Egypt at the age of 19. He later met and married Himaya’s mother, who was from rural North Carolina and once attended an Episcopal church. Today, Himaya’s parents attend First Baptist Church of Bossier City, La. Himaya’s father also attends a Coptic church in Shreveport.
Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of the population in Egypt; the other 90 percent are Muslim.
In recent conversations, Himaya and his father discussed how Egypt will never be the same after the chaos and violence. Still, Himaya remains confident that good things can happen there and throughout that part of the world.
And Egypt will need to be a key part if true transformation is to happen, Himaya contends.
“If you want to reach the Middle East, you have to reach Egypt,” said Himaya, who admitted his bias toward a country he believes has some of the best and brightest minds in the world.
“We could unleash those gifts with the Gospel,” he said.
It’s an area of the world Himaya hopes more American Christians will turn their focus toward and help take the Gospel to the people there.
“I believe [God] wants to win the Middle East,” Himaya said. “I believe He wants us to be a part of it. It’s just a matter of us saying [to God], ‘What today?'”
Alan James is a writer for the International Mission Board.