This is the story of a young man named Ibrahīm ‘Abdu el-Masīh as recorded by Rev. Dr. Bernice Albert Hamilton who was the director of Bible society in Khartoum for more than forty years beginning in 1920. William Anderson, in his introduction to the book Rahalat el-īmān fī al-sudān, recalls that the story of Ibrahīm ‘Abdu el-Masīh is that of a Sudanese Christian who journeyed to the Christian faith in Sudan at the time of the slave trade. He adds that this story is about a young man whose real name was lost among the pages of history.
Ibrahīm ‘Abdu el-Masīh was a prince, the son of the chief of the Zandē emperor, from the Zemē family. He was born in 1855 in Zamio (southern Sudan). When he was twelve years old slavers captured him. After a long journey through the southern forests and Kordofan desert in Western Sudan which caused him much suffering, he reached Khartoum. His suffering continued as his captors took him north along the Nile until they reached the large slave market in el-Minya in Upper Egypt where they sold him to a Coptic Christian merchant.
There he worked as a slave servant in his Coptic master’s house for three years. His master put him in charge of his household. Although he did not know the Arabic language, he tried his best to learn Arabic. He began to realize the role of religion and its effect on Egyptian society; both Muslims and Christian were alike.
There he began a quest for the truth. His journey led him first to Islam, from Islam to the Coptic (Orthodox) Church, and lastly to the evangelical faith. He named himself Ibrahīm ‘Abdu el-Masīh, which reflects his journey. He served as an evangelist in Egypt, and then he returned to Sudan. There he worked as a colporteur, distributing Bibles. 
Hamilton states that Ibrahīm was attracted to Islam, and began to fast for Ramad.ān. Moreover he celebrated Muhammad’s birthday (el-Muild el-Nabī el-Sherīf). But he became depressed by Islamic doctrine because it did not satisfy his desire and he did not have peace in his heart because of the contradictions he saw between Islamic teaching and the behavior of the Muslims around him. The local Muslims began to mock him and laugh at him, saying “You are just a pagan servant slave who has come from Central Africa, you are not a genuine Muslim.” After all these experiences he decided he could not continue to pretend that he was a Muslim anymore. He felt a great sense of failure. Dr. Rev. Hamilton said, “In addition to all these difficulties, sufferings and obstacles, there began to develop a deep desire in Ibrahīm’s heart to seek and discover the religion that he described as a real, pure, and true religion, that he might take it with him when he went back to his people in Zandē land.”
Ibrahīm began to ask his Coptic owner about the Christian faith after attending several Coptic Church services. After this he began to feel peace. Ibrahīm went to the local priest and asked to be baptized. Ibrahīm, however, did not know his own name. So he chose a new name. He chose the first name of his owner and he began to think about the second name. Because he wanted to be a servant of Christ he chose ‘‘Abdu el -Masīh [Servant/Slave of the Messiah]. This was in 1872.
Ibrahīm ‘Abdu el-Masīh faced persecution after his baptism. He was imprisoned in his owner’s house without any food or drink for three days. The only visitor to him was the elder of the Mosque, who began to read the Qur’ān in order to try to attract him back to Islam. But Ibrahīm held fast to his faith.
Ibrahīm realized that in order to know and learn more about his new faith, he needed to know how to read. He began to learn Arabic secretly with the help of one of the local beggars. When his owner saw that it was difficult to keep Ibrahīm, especially with his Muslim servants, he sent him away free. Ibrahīm began to work in fields with the farmers.
Hamilton says that Ibrahīm began to feel the freedom to evangelize and preach the Gospel, although there were hard restrictions that did not allow evangelical activities among the Egyptians. But Ibrahīm was creative and gathered the workers and farmers together to read the New Testament to them in Arabic. Even the farmer and workers used to call him “the slave evangelist.” He attended school but because of precautions and discriminations against blacks and slaves, he left school and went back to the field. He began to move from village to village gathering the people in the evenings to read the Bible to them and to interpret it for them. Hamilton reports that thanks to Ibrahīm many Egyptian villages heard the Gospel for the first time! During his time in Egypt, Ibrahīm married an Ethiopian woman in 1895 in Cairo. They had a baby and called him Noah.
Hamilton records that Rev. Dr. Gwynne Harbor of the Church Missionary Society (C.M.S) invited Ibrahīm to accompany him to Khartoum in 1899. Ibrahīm returned to Omdurman as a free man twenty-seven years after he had arrived there in chains as slave. Ibrahīm was not able to travel to southern Sudan because of the lack of security. He was not able to see his homeland of Zandē, his people or his family. Instead of that, he spent most of his life suffering from being jobless. At the same time his wife wanted to go back to Ethiopia while she was pregnant with her second child. He then began to visit the Bible society in Khartoum. At last Ibrahīm found work in Khartoum as a Bible distributor-a job he held for thirty years until his death in 1935.
Rev. Hamilton reported that with all these experiences and difficulties, and because of his background as a Muslim, he became well known among the Muslims in Khartoum and Omdurman. They began to invite him for the religious conversations and dialogue. Ibrahīm wrote a small book in which he explained the doctrine of the Trinity for Muslims. Because of his deep concern for the Bible, the Arabic language, and Islam, he planned to study Hebrew. Hamilton states that after he learned Hebrew, Ibrahīm became a teacher of the Hebrew language.
Ibrahīm continued to work as a Bible distributor until the end of his life. He also continued to have dialogues and religious conversations with the Muslims in Khartoum and Omdurman. Late in his life Ibrahīm met with one of the missionaries from the African Interior Mission (A.I.M) who told him that the message of the Gospel had reached his people in Zamio. He also told him how his people still remembered what happened to him in Zandē land, when the slavers kidnapped the chief’s son.
After this Ibrahīm’s health began to decline. He went to the C.M.S. hospital in Omdurman and died in November 11, 1935 at the age of 80. According to Wheeler’s testimony, he was holding his Bible in his hands at his death.
Yousif K. Kalo
William Anderson, et. al., Rahalat el-īmān fī al-sudān (Cairo: Future Media, 2004), 5.
The Zandē tribe is also known as the Azande, or Asande. They are a tribe in Western Sudan and the Central African Republic that has its origins in the 18th century. See the “Zande,” Encyclopedia of the Orient (Online: http://i-cias.com/e.o/index.htm).
This story, received in 2006, was researched and written by Yousif K. Kalo, a student in the M.A.T.S. Program at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo as a requirement for a class on Middle East Christianity (III) under the supervision of Dr. David Grafton, DACB liaison coordinator.