A four-year-old Egyptian boy sits in a funeral service. The Eastern Orthodox priest speaks in Coptic, and he can hear his relatives crying. He’s cried a lot as well, painful sobs. His sister passed away, then his father, and then his other sister immediately afterward. He feels sad, lonely, and scared. He’s also confused. Why did this happen? Over time, anger begins to fester in his heart. God is now his enemy, and he hates Him.
From Empty to Saved
Wagih Boutrus was born in Egypt in 1960 to a Coptic family. Copts are an ethnoreligious group, indigenous to Egypt and typically a part of the Coptic Orthodox Church. His father was a rich man. As a child, Wagih was able to take whatever he wanted in the market, knowing the seller would get the money from his father for it later. That changed after he passed away.
The loss of so many family members created a gaping hole inside Wagih. As he grew older, he was desperate to fill it. He had many friends and romantic relationships in college. He pursued fame in martial arts. At one point, he became a coach at a university. But still, the emptiness inside haunted him. Despite his animosity towards God, he found himself confessing the same sins to a priest every week.
Then in 1979, his life changed. A Presbyterian math teacher arrived to work in his village and rented a room from his family. The teacher told Wagih the gospel, and he accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior.
Leaving Earthly Success for God
Wagih’s life immediately changed after he was saved. He worked in Jordan during a summer break, and he found that his co-workers’ ungodly interests were no longer appealing to him. While they were getting intoxicated and watching adult films in one room, Wagih was in another reading his bible.
He went ten years with the bible being his only disciple. But when he moved to Saudi Arabia to own a Wendy’s restaurant, he met a missionary couple from Kansas. They discipled him, and God put on Wagih’s heart to enter ministry. Wagih had found success in the hotel industry but decided to leave it behind and obey God’s calling.
Wagih traveled to the United States to train with Campus Crusade for Christ. He was ordained as a minister in Kansas City, Missouri in 1997. After that, he moved back to Egypt to start CCC in his home country.
Through CCC, the Lord gave him disciples from different backgrounds, both Eastern Orthodox and Muslim. Eventually, he and the disciples needed a place to worship together. In Egypt, government permission is needed to plant a church. But a pastor friend encouraged Wagih to plant one without permission. He bought a property and built a house to serve as a secret, underground church. Their church had a strong testimony of serving the community, even amongst Muslims. But after four years, Wagih received a phone call that sank his stomach.
The secret police wanted to meet with him. Wagih asked his friends to pray for him, but he could barely sleep that night. When he met with the police, they interrogated him and brought up several Muslims by name that Wagih evangelized to. But Wagih trusted in the Lord who spoke through him. Miraculously, the cop let him go, and now the church functions legally.
Starting an Arabic Seminary
While Wagih was getting his Master of Divinity, the Lord put starting a seminary in the Middle East on his heart and his friend’s heart who was also getting his MDiv. Together, they started Middle East Baptist Seminary in Egypt, where there wasn’t a Baptist school, and got their doctorates. They’ve trained pastors all the way from Iraq and Turkey. In 2017, he traveled to South Sudan and discovered a deep need for biblical education. There were many false teachings like the prosperity gospel and present-day prophets and apostles. Because many South Sudanese are unable to afford to travel to Egypt to study, he started a branch in their country for both undergraduates and graduates. There are around eighty students, comprised of pastors and ministry leaders. In January, they will have their first graduating class!
Seven years ago, Wagih moved to the states to be closer to his grandchildren and to have an American passport that would allow him to travel to closed countries. He worked with a church in Colorado to minister to American Muslims, and it was through that church that he joined Missions Door. He later moved to a church in Missouri that was planted by the church he was ordained in. At that church, he started reaching out to Arabic-speaking people to plant a church in Kansas City. He won and discipled three plus families. They met as a Sunday school class until they start planting a church for Arabic-English speaking people so that their English-speaking children could join them. The church has members from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia
Many of the people Wagih works with come from traditional churches, like Catholics and Orthodox. “A traditional church is one that goes after extrabiblical traditions inherited from church history,” Wagih explains. Traditional churches believe Jesus is Savior, but they also believe salvation is earned by good works like infant baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and that salvation can be lost. They also magnify Mary and the saints. In the Orthodox church, the priest’s words are like scripture. While it’s difficult to evangelize to someone who may think they’re a Christian, Wagih is able to because of his own Coptic Orthodox background. In Egypt, many in his church came from this background.
Witnessing to Muslims
Wagih had to learn Islamic theology because of all the Muslims he witnessed to. When witnessing to Muslims, Wagih recommends disproving these four misconceptions Muslims have in order:
- Christians have a corrupt bible.
- Christians believe in three gods.
- Jesus is a prophet, not God the Son.
- Jesus wasn’t crucified.
The first point is the most important to disprove because once it can be proven that the bible isn’t corrupt, Muslims can trust the bible when it says there is one God, Jesus is the Son of God, and that He was crucified. He recommends asking Muslims when they believe the bible became corrupt. They often won’t have an answer because they’re just repeating what their imams and sheiks have taught them. Wagih also shows Muslims that one of their holy books, the Hadith, shows that Muhmmad trusted the Torah. Muslims will often point to the false gospel of Barnabas which claims Jesus said there would be a prophet after Him named Ahmed. Wagih shows them that verses in that false gospel contradict their own teachings.
Wagih says that he’s always learning Islamic theology. It can be a difficult religion to study, not only because the Quran is written in archaic Arabic, but because the Muslim Allah often changes his mind from verse to verse. Muslims that don’t speak Arabic natively are easily deceived because they often don’t understand the Quran; they just repeat prayers mindlessly and chant verses during mosque.
Because of persecution, it’s extremely dangerous for a Muslim to convert to Christianity. Wagih pastored a Muslim background believer in the Middle East who was once reported to the police for his conversion to Christianity. They took his car and drained the money in his bank. His family abandoned him. He even lost his job.
How to Support Wagih
Perhaps knowing the cost Muslims who become Christians face is the reason Wagih doesn’t complain about his own situation. Because he must travel to the Middle East three times a year, two to three weeks at a time, it can be incredibly difficult to hold a full-time job in the states. He could easily enter the hotel industry again, but he’s not willing his ministry work to suffer. In between travels and pastoring, Wagih makes money by driving for Lyft. He used to work at Walmart and took advantage of opportunities to minister to customers. He only has a fraction of the financial support he needs, but he completely trusts in God. He remembers how God provided for his family when they lost his father. He understands he has a good Father, not an evil God like he once thought.
“It’s by God’s grace we’re serving,” he says. Not only he is planting a church for Arabic-English speaking people in Kansas City, but he also wants to plant a church in South Sudan to oversee the seminary in South Sudan and asks for prayer for that. He invites anyone to contact him to view the seminary’s upcoming graduation. We are encouraged by Wagih and all of God’s servants who are working in His kingdom and in regular jobs. If you’d like to support Wagih’s work both in the Middle East and in America, you can do so here.
How Can You Help
The Great Commission is what spurs us to do indigenous ministry. Around the world, Christians are bringing the Gospel to their people and making disciples in their hometowns. How will you be a part of this?