by Sameh Atef
I grew up in a Christian family in Minia, in northern Egypt. I am the second of four brothers. My parents raised us, all the time telling us that there is a place called heaven, and place called hell. They encouraged us to go to church and told me to be a good man to be with Jesus in eternal life.
Turning Point #1: Finding Jesus
When I was 13, my older brother suddenly changed. Suddenly I found him taking his Bible to his room, closing the door, reading, and it seemed like he was praying. So I asked him, what’s happening with you—how did you change? He told me he started to attend a youth meeting in an evangelical church.
Around this time, in October 1992, there was a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in Egypt. Many houses fell down, many people died, and I was very scared of dying. One night, I had a vivid dream that Jesus came back. I woke up at 4 am and I thought that Jesus had left me. I told myself that if I found my grandfather, everything would be okay because he was a very good believer. So I walked very slowly to his room and I opened the door and he was there and I felt like, thank you Jesus, you gave me a chance to follow you!
I tried to follow Jesus but the problem was that no one told me how. They gave me many suggestions (fasting, praying, etc.) but I didn’t find anything that worked for me because no one told me about salvation! Many Christians grew up, like me, in Christian families but they never had a relationship with Jesus and they need to have that turning point in their lives.
So after my brother invited me to the youth meeting, I felt this was the last chance to be a good man, and I went with him with all of these fears and thoughts about death. After the meeting, I met someone who would become one of my good friends, and he shared a new thing with me. He shared with me how to receive Jesus as savior my life. He taught me how to pray, about salvation and how to be a child of God. He asked me to pray with him, to confess my sins and ask Jesus to be in my heart. After that prayer, my life changed. Totally changed. A few months later, I saw the Jesus film at Christmas, and I watching that film, I knew He loved me and I felt supported in my decision.
Turning Point #2: Widening the Harvest
For the next few years, I was leading worship at my church, I finished my studies in the university and I was all the time for Jesus. I wasn’t thinking about anything except Jesus, just studying and serving God, visiting my friends, visiting the villages beside us, telling everyone about Jesus.
During this time, God talked to me about missions and how to be missional. After leaving my town to work in Cairo, God started to teach me how to be a missionary. He planted in my heart how to serve Him and take His gospel to all the nations. My vision became wider. It had been just in my city, and after going to Cairo, God started to open my eyes about the wide harvest.
In August 2008, I was working as a mechanical engineer in a very good company and I had a second turning point in my life. I felt God calling me to leave my work, my family, and my comfort zone to be a missionary. I travelled to Lebanon to go to a discipleship training school and then do outreach in Syria. There, I met my friend Chris Bryan. After some time, I came back to Egypt with a very passionate heart towards lost people. I wanted to reach them for Jesus. I came back to Egypt and gave all of my time to Jesus as a full-time missionary.
But when I came back to Egypt, I heard Jesus tell me that I had to go back to work, and not to be a full-time missionary. He told me many times that He wanted to use me while I’m working—full-time ministry, and full-time work. So, I worked in Cairo again and this time I found my second half, my wife Rania. We were married in October 2011.
Turning Point #3: A Vision of America
While I was attending a Missions conference with Kasr El Doubara Church, I had a dream that I was in America, visiting my friends. In my dream, I was in Nashville with my friend Amir. I told him I came God sent me especially to pray for you and for America. In my dream we travelled to see another friend, Emad, in California, to pray for him.
The next day in the conference, I ran into Emad! He had come from America. The same day, the leader of the conference led us in a prayer to ask God where he wanted to send us. As I closed my eyes and I remembered my dream and I was laughing to myself—America is so far—America, how can I get a visa—it’s impossible! But I said Amin (in Arabic), Amen. I don’t know how but Amen, I will pray for that.
I applied for a visa and I got it! I went to Nashville, as I saw in my dream. I came with expectation that God would use me in America. It was hard to leave my family—I was married and my daughter Lulu was only 6 months old—but I had a very clear vision that God wanted me to come to America. When I came, I saw the same roads that I saw in my dream. It was exactly the same!
I started to settle in. I applied for asylum because I had a lot of troubles with Muslims in Egypt. I asked about becoming licensed to be an engineer but I was told to forget it. I was told I would never be an engineer in America, that I would be lucky to work in retail. So, I started to work in a restaurant cleaning floors. It was so hard for me to accept that. I came to be a missionary and an engineer but it seemed impossible to be an engineer or to serve God as a missionary like I expected.
I was talking to God. Why did you call me and invite me to come to America? To put me in this troubled place? This hard life? I can’t accept that. And God was silent. It was hard time. He was testing me. He wanted to teach me something but He doesn’t want to tell me. You will understand later, not now. I only worked for 3 weeks and the restaurant was sold to a new owner who let me go. I tried to find work but couldn’t find anything. For 3 months, I lived in Richmond and found n o work. My asylum case didn’t get called up, as I was expecting. So I decided to come back to Nashville. I worked there with my friend in his tobacco store for four months as a volunteer. The whole time, I was trying to find work and get my engineering degree passed through.
At this time, I doubted that I heard something wrong. I felt like I didn’t hear the right thing. I moved from Nashville to Virginia to Clarksville, Tennessee, finally finding job working in a convenience store. I was struggling. I cried out to God, “You told me that I would be missionary and that I would tell Americans about your love and encourage their faith, and how am I doing that by selling tobacco and beer to people?” I was dying inside, but I needed money to send to my family and to live.
Turning Point #4: God’s Timing
After 8 months, at the end of 2013, I decided to leave my job in the convenience store to fast and pray. For 2 weeks, I ate nothing. At the end of 2 weeks, I had a call from Chris Bryan, my old friend from Lebanon, who was back home living in Milwaukee. He told me, “I’ve been asking myself, you have been here for 8 months and can’t believe I didn’t call you and didn’t invite you to come to Milwaukee.” But I knew why he hadn’t called until then, because it was in God’s timing. The timing of God maybe looks like it’s very late, but it is always exactly the right time. For us, sometimes we feel impatient, but He wants us to be patient and He wants us to keep trusting him even in the most difficult times. This is the exam for our faith.
Chris told me about Pastor Adam Shidler and Eastbrook’s work with the International Language Center and Tutoring (ILCT). When he told me that, I thought maybe the ILCT was my last chance to stay in America. Because if I could not find work, I needed to return to Egypt. I spoke to Adam and he told me to come for 4 days and then return. But I told him I was bringing my bags and everything.
I arrived in Milwaukee and thanked God! For the first time since coming to the States, I met Christian believers who were American. When I came and saw the church, I felt peace. I felt like, “Finally, God!” I knew that this would be my place. I started to work with Adam in the ILCT. At the same time I was searching for work and was not sure if I should be in full-time ministry or if I should work? I was praying and thinking a lot. I want to say this: many of you (Eastbrookers) helped me a lot. You helped me with prayers, with how to build my resume in an American format, in so many ways! But after 3 months of searching for work, I still hadn’t found anything. I was volunteering at the ILCT, trying to find work. I felt like my engineering degree was useless and I didn’t know how to continue as a working as a house painter, or a driver.
After two more months, I felt like I couldn’t continue. I missed my wife and daughter (who at this point was three years old), and I decided to go back to Egypt for good. I was praying and I knew that God wanted me to continue in America. But I couldn’t do it. I was weary, I was empty, my power was limited and I was out of energy. So I found a very good job as an engineer in Egypt. I told my Milwaukee friends that God wanted me to continue here in America and they prayed with me, but we were not able to find any work or practical help to help me to continue living here.
Turning Point #5: The Power of Prayer
I booked a ticket to go to Egypt on a Monday in July 2014, and I spent the week before I left buying gifts to take back to my friends and family. I told Adam that I was leaving and he prayed with me. I said goodbye to my friends, and prayed with many of them. My friends didn’t want me to leave and at this time I felt the power of prayer like I’ve never felt it before—how prayer can change reality. My ticket was booked for Monday and the Thursday before, I had a call from a recruiting company out of nowhere. They called me and told me the owner of an engineering company in the Milwaukee area would call the next day. As promised, on Friday, this man called me.
I told him I was from Egypt and I was in Milwaukee because God sent me here. He asked what I was doing here and I told him I was getting ready to go back to Egypt but I had been serving God with Eastbrook Church, leading worship and working at the ILCT. He was surprised and asked me if I was a Christian? I told him, “Yes.” “Wow,” he said. “That’s very interesting. Can you come to meet me today in my office?” I hadn’t sold my car yet, and I had nothing else to do so I told him I could, and I went right away to his office. I answered some questions about engineering work and we finished the professional interview quickly. He asked if he could ask me some personal questions. He turned to me and said, “Sameh, I am a Christian too. My family and some co-workers and I have been praying for 6 months for God to bring us a Christian engineer to work with us.” I was stunned. I had been in Milwaukee for exactly 6 months, searching for work. I was hired, and for the last 15 months, I have been working in his company as an engineer. God redeemed all of the time I lost and he has blessed me with very good things.
This is the timing of God: just when I had tried everything and failed, God intervened in my story. It’s like when Jesus went to his disciples and they had been fishing all night without catching anything. Then Jesus told them go to into the depth, and they would find fish…and he did that with me—the same thing.
Praise God, my asylum case is closed and my family has filled out the proper paperwork with the embassy. Now, we are just waiting for their visas to come and then they will be here, and w will be reunited after almost 3 years apart.
I am still praying for the American people and I see myself as a missionary before my work as an engineer. I’m here in America, and here in Milwaukee, because God wants me to be here. I’m not searching for possessions, not searching for comfort, I’m just here to be in His will.