Egyptian pastor turns from foe to friend

Despite prior education, Emil Boutros teaches coexistence between Christians and Jews.

egyptian pastor 88 (photo credit: )
egyptian pastor 88
(photo credit: )
He is not your run-of-the-mill Israel supporter. In school Emil Boutros was taught that the Jews were the enemy. The 64-year-old Egyptian pastor was brought up in an Evangelical Christian household in Cairo and his first encounter with Israelis - after being filled with years of hatred for Israel in government schools - was on the battlefield in the 1967 Six Day War, and later in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Now he is preaching peace and coexistence between Christians and Jews, but, citing the Bible and the Koran, he warns that peace is impossible between Israelis and Palestinians. Boutros was born in Cairo in 1941, and from a young age, was subject to the vehemently anti-Israel teachings in Egyptian government schools. His father, an Evangelical pastor, who sought to counter the negative propaganda the teen was getting at schools during the heydays of Egyptian nationalism told his son that one day he would surely visit the Holy Land. After university, Boutros was conscripted into the Egyptian Army, and in 1967, found himself face to face with the carnage of the Six Day War. "The Egyptian planes were burning like hell and the phone started to ring in our bunker to tell me that the war had started," he said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. By the third day of the war, Boutros tried to make his way back home to Cairo on foot, walking by night amid the corpses and bodies of his comrades. To cheer himself up, he began singing an English tune that his mother had taught him, "You will ever be lonely again," when he said he felt he had a vision in the desert, and saw Jesus. Making his way over piles of bodies, he returned home with a blinding hatred of Israel, which was rekindled when Boutros was again called to fight against Israel in the Yom Kippur War. "I did not shoot anybody, praise the Lord," he says. For the next decade, he purposely refrained from reading or preaching from the Old Testament, due to his disdain for the State of Israel, fueled both by the horrors of the two wars in six years, and the propaganda he had been exposed to. Then in 1980, Boutros said that God appeared to him in a vision, asking him "how he could preach about love, and hate my people." Reconciled to make his peace with the Jewish people and spurred by the peace treaty between the two countries, Boutros devoted himself, over the next quarter century, to preaching coexistence and peace between Christians and Jews. He repeatedly visited the Holy Land he had so yearned to see as a child. He returned to Jerusalem for his most recent visit last week with several dozen Christian dignitaries from around the world. They were hosted by the Knesset's increasingly-influential "Christian Allies Caucus," the cross-party parliamentarian lobby that seeks to garner the support of and work with Christian friends of Israel worldwide. Despite his own metamorphosis and divinely-inspired reconciliation with Israel, Boutros is not optimistic about peace between Israelis and Palestinians. "Israel is surrounded by Arab countries and their Koran says fight them and they obey their Koran. How can you live in peace when their holy scriptures, which they follow, say fight them, despise them and do not eat with them," he said. "What do you expect - peace?" he asks. But despite his pessimism about the chances of peace between Jews and Arabs, Boutros concludes on a note of optimism. "God allowed Israel to be surrounded by Arab nations, but at the same time God is also defending Israel," he says.