For Fawzy, police interrogations have become such a common part of his ministry work that he hardly notices them. As an evangelist and church planter in North Africa, he spends his time meeting with new Christian converts and others interested in learning more about Jesus. But his activities are viewed as a threat by Islamic leaders and government officials afraid of civil unrest.
His first visit with government authorities was in the late 1980s, just three months after he had become a believer. After police arrested Fawzy, then 17, at his home, they took him to the police station and interrogated him for more than six hours, asking him if he had become a Christian. Although frightened, his faith held strong. “l felt like there was a power or a hope in my heart,” Fawzy said. He boldly told the police that he had left Islam for Christianity after studying the Bible through a correspondence course.
Three months later, the authorities returned for another lengthy interrogation, telling Fawzy the only reason they didn’t arrest him was that he was still 17. They warned him that if he remained a Christian after turning 18, he would spend the next two years in prison.
Much to Fawzy’s relief, the authorities left him alone for the next 14 years. And while his family members were observant Muslims, they, too, allowed him to practice his faith without harassment. Even his brother, who was a member of an extremist Muslim organization, told Fawzy that he was the best of his brothers. “I am good because I don’t believe in Islam,” Fawzy told him.
During this reprieve from government interference, Fawzy grew in faith, obtained his first full Bible and received discipleship training from an older believer. Then, in 2004, he and another believer founded a church that grew to 20 members, and the police soon began to call him in for periodic “meetings.” Fawzy said they were monitoring his phone calls and watching him closely but were unable to charge him with anything.
A few years later, the government began to systematically expel foreigners from the country, some of whom were Christians. As believers in North Africa grew anxious, the number attending his house church declined to five people. It was a difficult time in the life of the local church, but for Fawzy it was also a time of refinement and growth. He realized that he and other local Christians should not depend solely on Christians from other countries for support and encouragement. The government had inadvertently pushed them to mature in faith.
After the expulsion of most foreign-born Christians, Fawzy became more visible as a church planter in the region. The police frequently called him in for questioning, but he viewed every interrogation as a chance to share his faith. And when authorities asked him how he came to know Christ, he shared his testimony with them, including the vision he had seen as a new believer in which Jesus told him to walk the narrow path. Once, one of his investigators told him he was the first “true believer” he had ever met.
Fawzy was asked repeatedly about his relationship with foreigners. Muslims commonly believe that foreigners pay people to convert to Christianity, so his interrogators wanted to know how much money and other benefits he had received from foreign Christians. Fawzy reassured them by saying, “I get to know the faith directly from Jesus Christ, not from any foreigner.”
As a believer, Fawzy is known as someone who is trustworthy, and his reputation extends even to the security forces. “They sit with me in the coffee shop,” Fawzy said. “They … know everything, every detail. [They say,] ‘We know that you are a Christian for more than 20 years. We know that you attend church. … We know you are a true believer in Christ. But at the same time, I understand that you have a good relationship and you behave in a good way with respect toward people.’”
Fawzy tells them his honesty is a result of his faith in Christ. Although they respect him, they continue to ask him whether he works with foreigners or believers in other cities, and they continue to worry that his work might have a political motive.
One of Fawzy’s recent visits with authorities occurred just weeks before he attended a VOM-supported training conference for North African leaders. The police know he will not stop evangelizing, so they urge him to share wisely.
The ongoing problems with police do not worry Fawzy, however. “Even when the authorities are against you, God is with you,” he said. “My main concern is not what is going to happen to us. My main concern is how I can testify to God’s work.”