When Shawn Lovejoy and Colin Denlea watch footage of the protests unfolding in Egypt, the scene is more than a distant anti-government uprising. They are watching to make sure their friends are safe.
“We communicated with a couple of boys ... at the orphanage and they were saying that they’re fine, that none of this has reached them,” Denlea. “But that’s been a while."
Lovejoy, senior pastor of Mountain Lake Church, and Denlea, a leader for its world care missions program, have been to Egypt nearly a dozen times.
Both have gone on mission trips to help support the Christian faith in the country, as well as serve local communities with aid and essentials like clean drinking water.
“I just have a heart for the Middle East. I really do,” Lovejoy said. “Egyptians are brilliant people.
“I really do believe Egypt is a gateway to the entire Middle East. As goes Egypt, so does the rest of the Middle Eastern world.”
Lovejoy said the country has extreme poverty, but there had been no "great warning sign" that protests were coming.
“I think that’s what has been the most surprising thing of all of it is how fragile this whole ordeal became so quickly,” he said.
Denlea said his Egyptian friend Magdi, a retired diplomat, said there has been mounting frustration over the disparity in wealth.
“He said there’s a continuing loss of opportunities, a continued loss of social programs for the poor and it sort of reached the breaking point,” Denlea said. “It got to the point where now people are willing to say what they are thinking.”
Lovejoy has helped pastors in Egypt build church participation.
Through his work, he has met various members of the Egyptian government, including President Hosni Mubarak and intelligence officials.
Having seen Egypt’s wealthy and poor, Lovejoy said he’s conflicted with which side to take.
“I think both are right,” he said. “Egyptian people are ready for change.
Mubarak, who has been in power for about 30 years, announced earlier this week that he would turn over power to an elected successor in September.
“I think [Mubarak] is acknowledging people have spoken and that it’s time for a change, and he’s willing to give way for that," Lovejoy said. "And my prayer would be that he’ll keep his promise and be a man of integrity.”
But Denlea said his friend, Magdi, is “concerned about what would fill that void of power.”
“The best he could hope for is a step in the right direction,” Denlea said.
Lovejoy used a football analogy to explain Mubarak’s situation.
“There comes a time when a coach just loses momentum and loses the team,” he said. “Much like a coach loses his team, he’s lost the country."
Lovejoy said he’s saddened the situation has escalated into violence, but “often times it takes some conflict for peace to happen."
"I think this could be a turning point of positive change for Egypt,” he said.