Criminal Gang Leader's Spiritual Journey in Egypt
September 14, 2017
A gang leader in Egypt knows the penalty is execution for abandoning his associates. He also knows the gang's narco-trafficking overlords won't let him leave his Cairo sales territory.
Surviving the rough-and-tumble world of Egypt's dusty slums is hard enough without provoking underworld goons into using their powers of persuasion to keep you from opting out. For Odin*, the danger of going straight - in Christ - begins with his peers.
It is his fellow gang members, after all, who have kept him alive through nearly two decades of threats from rival bands, brutal security officials and thugs. Gang members have known or seen too much of the sinister life on the inside to be allowed to leave, and beyond that, the 32-year-old Odin is the gang's leader; he above all toughs is not permitted to abandon loyalties.
"He is a gang head whose body is full of the marks and scars of fights with gangs, besides his work as a drug dealer," says an indigenous ministry director who has befriended Odin. "He has gone to prison several times, and he is very well known to the security office."
"He is a gang head whose body is full of the marks and scars of fights with gangs, besides his work as a drug dealer," the ministry director said.
Such a figure turning to the Light, his gang peers fear, could bring police and other unforgiving security agents to smash their operations.
"The gangs and everyone who works with them as drug dealers will never let me leave," Odin says. "I am very much afraid about how to get out of all these networks."
The ministry worker who first made contact with Odin was not intimidated by his scars, tattoos and intense (some might say surly) manner. Instead, he saw a young man in deep need of an identity who had found an alluring one - one that would lure him closer and closer to an early grave.
Nor was Odin intimidated by the ministry worker on the street passing out tracts, Bibles and invitations to a spiritual conference. Prospects of an argument that he thought he could surely win drew him in, and beyond that Odin had a leader's instinct to push into unknown territory. By the time he finished talking with the ministry worker, he realized how unknown this territory was.
Odin's instinct to conquer - in this case, to learn enough about Christianity to know that he was above it, bigger than it and better than it - helped him accept an invitation to the conference.
At the same time, the work of the Holy Spirit cannot be discounted. Maybe Odin had a hidden hunger for something higher, even something more beautiful, than what he had seen of life. By the Spirit's work, he may have unconsciously sought not only a way out of gang life, but a way out of sin's web.
If nothing else, Odin was someone who took things seriously. He listened intently to those presenting during the course of the three-day conference. The intensity he had always directed inward was now focused on the Word of God. Jesus Christ and the Bible were richer than he had imagined. But were they true?
He didn't want the gospel to be true - which would require an impossible change of identity, not to mention losing his livelihood - but something told him it was true. Neither Christ nor his disciples would submit to death by torture for a lie. It seemed impossible, but Christ really had risen. It seemed incredible, but the path to freedom from sin really was through Jesus's death and resurrection.
But putting his faith in Christ meant getting killed.
"He was listening carefully to the Word of God, and he also expressed a desire to know what this Christian life would look like," the ministry director says. "At the last day of the conference, he spoke to me and admitted that he wanted to give his life to Jesus, but that the gangs and the drug dealers working through them would never let him."
In this seemingly impossible quest, the director and other Christian workers have come alongside Odin and encouraged him to seek the counsel of the God of the possible. Odin is repenting and trusting Christ for his salvation, and for weeks the workers have prayed with him to be shown a way through impenetrable barriers.
As Odin rids himself of the high income and high status within the lower realm of society, God has revealed ruses and ways for him to elude relationships with thugs and drug lords. Still, those who once offered protection now promise danger, and he has had to leave the area.
"The Lord has led us to a way that gradually, safely gets rid of all these networks, and we brought him out to live in a faraway area," the director says. "We also helped him to find new, clean work, and that has a great, positive effect on his life. Now he is a great believer, he is living in a totally different way, and he is walking in the Lord's plan."
Odin is just one of hundreds of Egyptians the indigenous ministry is reaching. At the same conference, 70 young adults - all addicted to various drugs - put their faith in Christ's blood for their salvation. Will you consider a gift to enable native Christian workers to bring the light of Christ to those living in darkness?
*Name changed for security reasons