On the Anniversary of His Death: My thoughts on John Chau

John Allen Chau / Instagram

The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.

Proverbs 16:4 ESV

At this time last year, I was introduced to John Chau. Unfortunately, that introduction came via news headlines and not in person, and I regret that I didn’t have the opportunity to meet John in person. I have been so encouraged by transcribing his journal (available here), I can only imagine how much I and my students would have benefited had I had the opportunity to know him personally.

The Background

John Chau was killed on or about November 16, 2018, as he attempted to access an unreached, unengaged people group (UUPG) on North Sentinel Island, a remote Island in the Indian Ocean. His reason for accessing these people was to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

News of Chau’s death, hit the news cycle pretty hard, though specifics dripped out slowly. I was bothered by much of the negative commentary by the big mission voices, some of whom are personal friends while others are friends via the books they have written. These are people I respect and I would happily let them speak in my classes. With very little information beyond the headline “Missionary Killed on Remote Island” many big names (and smaller names, too) made snap judgement’s about Mr. Chau as a person, describing him as a lone ranger, foolish, selfish, etc. Additionally, his missionary knowledge and skills were criticized with comments like he disregarded Jesus’ instruction about receptivity, he was unprepared, and he demonstrated no planning or strategy. Some also said that he harmed the reputation of missionaries around the world.

North Sentinel Island from above.

Admittedly, I had no more knowledge than most of those saying those things. But, I did have a suspicion that the quick and harsh assessments were likely wrong. The comments were unquestionably unkind. I can only guess why people were so quick to criticize in such a public way, but now one year later, I can say with much more conviction that much of the criticism was wrong. (It’s my personal opinion that some professionals owe John Chau an apology and their readers a retraction.)

The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.

Proverbs 18:17 ESV

Some may wonder how I can be so bold to suggest that some owe Chau an apology. In addition to the overarching tenor of Scripture, two things have greatly informed my opinion of John Chau. First, the additional reporting beyond the original news of his death added more details about his mindset, his preparation, and his commitment to the mission (e.g., see this article by Alex Perry). The second thing was the time and effort of getting to know John through his journal entries from the last few days of his life. I’m thankful to John’s family who provided a pdf copy of his journal for people like me to read, and again, I offer my sincere condolences on this first anniversary of his death. (A pdf image of Chau’s original journal is available here. A pdf copy of my transcription of his journal is available here.)

Chau’s journal was scribbled out, and in certain places it was smudged by water. This made transcribing his notes very challenging at certain spots, and impossible at others. His penmanship was not great, but that was not the goal of his writing. His goal was to record his thoughts and passions about what he believed to be an eternal mission. Because of the importance of this document, I spent several hours transcribing, as best I could, John’s last thoughts. That document is available here.

John Chau / Instagram

The Questions

Perhaps the best way to share my thoughts on John’s thoughts and actions is in the form of Q&A. 

“What is your opinion of John Chau?”

I respect and honor the sacrifice of John Chau. As a born-again Christian, I want to have the “lay it on the line” passion for the glory of Christ that Mr. Chau showed in his willingness to go to the hard places and pay the ultimate price in his effort to share Christ with the Sentinelese.

As a husband and father, I want to lead my family in the same passionate commitment to “Know Christ and make him known.” I don’t hope that my children should die at the end of an arrow; though I do desire that they have such a commitment to Christ and his commission that they would pursue the lost with abandon in God’s sovereign care, even if that means a martyr’s crown (Rev. 2:10).

As the leader of the Missions/Intercultural Studies program at Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri, my prayer for and plea to my students is that they would catch the spirit of John Chau or John G. Paton who “claimed Aniwa for Jesus.” (Listen to John Piper’s biography of Paton – “You Will Be Eaten by Cannibals” – here.) Oh, that they would embrace the words of Jim Elliot: ” He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

“Do you believe John Chau was foolish or selfish to go to North Sentinel Island?”

Foolish? No. All of the professed Christians and non-Christians posting in Internet comment sections their disgust for Christians who “force” their beliefs on others notwithstanding, the Bible is the guide by which I must formulate an answer. And, the New Testament is abundantly clear that Christ-followers are to share their faith with those, both near and far, who are outside of faith in Christ. This includes the Sentinelese people. The usual “missions verses” immediately come to mind: Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:14-15; Luke 24:44-47; John 3:16, 20:21; Acts 1:7-8; Romans 10:13-15; and Revelation 7:9-10.

Interestingly, Chau mentioned some of these verses in his journal. For example, he alluded to John 3:16 and Matthew 28:18 in his first words to the Sentinelese (Journal, p. 3): “I hollered ‘My name is John. I love you and Jesus loves you. Jesus Christ gave me authority to come to you. Here is some fish!’”

In the last missive to his family he revealed his motivation when he wrote, “This is not a pointless thing – the eternal lives of this tribe is at hand and I can’t wait to see them around the throne of God worshipping in their own language as Revelation 7:9-10 states” (Journal, p. 13).  

Some seem to think John was foolish for trying to reach the Sentinelese given the danger of doing so. However, Jesus didn’t say, “Make disciples of all nations, except those where it might be risky to do so.” Chau was well aware of the risk involved and took that into account both in his preparation and strategy.

Selfish? Hardly! An obvious example of his selflessness was his commitment to celibacy. His friend John Middleton Ramsey said that “Chau confided that he was avoiding romantic attachments because of his planned mission … He knew of the dangers of this place. He didn’t want any hearts to get broken should something go wrong.” Chau was a college graduate and had a variety of skills that could provide a nice standard of living. However, he chose to set those possibilities aside to follow what he believed to be Christ’s calling on his life.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

Matthew 16:24-26 ESV

“Was John Chau a Lone Ranger?”

Because John Chau approached the island alone, some immediately suggested that he was a Lone Ranger. That was not necessarily an unreasonable initial thought. But, it is one that should have been held in check until more information became available.

Dr. Mary Ho, International Executive Leader of All Nations, Chau’s mission agency, said that there was a team of people willing to go with Chau. However, it seems his decision to approach the island alone was based on his awareness of the risk involved in such a mission. He was concerned not only for the islanders, but also for the safety of his friends. Additionally, there may have been some strategic thinking in his solo approach. It’s reasonable to think that one person approaching the island might appear less threatening to the inhabitants than a group of people approaching.

Interestingly, while journaling on the afternoon of November 15, after having been shot by the young boy earlier in the day, John confessed to being both scared and frustrated. His frustration seemed to be at least partly directed toward JP who “won’t go with me and only stays on the vessel” (Journal, pg. 7). It remains unclear if that entry suggests an expectation or simply a desire for JP’s participation. And, his frustration may have only been directed toward his circumstances at that moment as he tried to determine whether he should continue the mission.

In an earlier entry in his journal he noted “me and two of the guys jumped in the shallows and brought my two Pelicans and kayak onto the northern point of the cove” (Journal, p. 2). So, to some degree, others were directly involved. I wonder if JP may have been one of those two guys.

“Was John Chau unprepared for such a venture?”

Much of the initial criticism of Chau – apparently based solely on the fact that he was killed – suggested that he lacked appropriate training and preparation for an effort of this kind. As more information surfaced, such conclusions had to be moderated. Ed Stetzer acknowledged this change in his Washington Post article: “These new reports at a minimum challenge the simplistic image of an adventure-seeking zealot willing to recklessly risk the lives of a remote group of islanders.”

Those who followed this story at the time discovered little-by-little that Chau had undergone a variety of trainings. He took a course in linguistics at SIL. He was an EMT with wilderness survival training. Chau studied anthropology and culture with All Nations. Additionally, he did extensive self-study on the history of the Sentinelese and similar tribes in the area.

Chau’s journal gives evidence of his training. He listened closely and noted the specific sounds of the islander’s language: “lots of high pitched sounds with [b] [p], [L] and [S] heard. Couldn’t quite get any words. Insults are probably exchanged a lot. Did not seem to understand Jarawa words I said” (Journal, p. 8). The Jarawa are a similar “stone age” tribe on a neighboring island, which anthropologists suggest also migrated from Africa tens of thousands of years ago. He noted elsewhere in his journal that in his interaction with the islanders he “yelled some phrase in Xhosa” (Journal, p. 5). This use of a South African language may have been connected to the anthropologists’ suggestion that the Sentinelese had migrated from Africa.

EMT training was evidenced by what he included in his “initial contact response kit (for arrow wounds) such as hemostat/quick clot, abdominal pads, chest seal, and dental forceps for arrow removal” (Journal, p. 4). Additional consideration of the health and well-being of the islanders was demonstrated by the fact that Chau underwent 13 inoculations and a period of quarantine prior to approaching the island.

The anthropological data in Chau’s journal reveals his interest to know and understand the people, and supports his friends’ suggestions that he truly intended to reside long-term on the island, slowly gaining trust from its inhabitants and greater understanding of them. All of this to be able eventually to share Christ. On the afternoon of November 15, the likelihood of his death seemed to be more apparent to Chau. I’m impressed that in that circumstance he was careful to make some specific anthropological observations in his journal – in addition to other similar information peppered throughout his journal entries. This information seems to be provided to whomever may come behind him after his death.

observations:

# of people in hut: ≈ 10 {illegible}

Language:  lots of high pitched sounds with
                   [b] [p], [L] and [S] heard. Couldn’t quite
                   get any words. Insults are probably exchanged a lot.
                   Did not seem to understand Jarawa words I said.

Gestures:   Arms in the air = unarmed, friendly?
                   Pointing with hand/finger (?) = pointing a location
                   Arrows in bow = ready to shot you

Environment

       Scenery   :   Beautiful cove, all mostly dead coral but clear
                            of dead coral bottom. Sand is [calcite] but
                            coarse. There’s an amazing surf break at
                            the south part of the entrance to the
                            cove. Saw 3 perfect sets of 4-6 foot
                            high swells {illegible} the {illegible} 200 yds or so.

{illegible} hut and dugouts point to a cultural practice.
It could also be from poacher as I have
seen numerous rocky coral that juts out of the
having lines thick wrapped and {illegible} ..

If they see something they like, they’ll take it (by force
if necessary). I wonder how many other folks have given
them something. And if they feel like it is expected or
due them?

Journal, p. 8

“Does it matter that the Indian government declared it a no-go zone?”

This is a fair and important question. Some Christians say Romans 13:1 is clear that we are to “be subject to the governing authorities.” Thus, Chau should not have gone within the no-go zone around the island. However, in Acts 5, Peter and John were reminded that they had been told not to preach in Jesus’ name. “But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men’” (Acts 5:29). Obeying God rather than man was definitely the thought of John Chau.

John Allen Chau / Instagram

“Are you saying John Chau is above criticism?”

No. I’m saying that we should be sober minded in criticizing his efforts. He gave his life to reach a people group that no one else was apparently attempting to reach. Furthermore, the evidence indicates that he prepared in significant ways for this mission effort.  

If you believe in heaven and hell then what he did was the most loving thing anyone could do.

John Middleton Ramsey

“How can we best honor John Chau’s efforts and sacrifice?”

My suggestion is threefold.  

First, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works …” (Hebrews 10:24). In the same way that Jim Elliot’s story stirred up love and good works in John Chau. Let’s use Chau’s story to stir up love and good works among us. Let’s learn about commitment to reach unreached people by listening to his heart and learning how he shaped his life to accomplish a holy task

Second, let’s think fairly about Chau’s preparation and strategy, then improve upon those things, if possible. Critical comments immediately offered to the media are not helpful to this end. In this case, much of the quick analysis was based on false assumptions. Now that we have more information sourced from the testimony of those who knew and interacted with John as well as his journal, we can actually evaluate his methods. For example, was English the best choice for first oral interaction? Was John’s decision to approach the island alone the best option? Were the gifts that he chose to offer the best options? These questions and many more are valid analytical questions, but should be asked after gaining more information. And for those who are wondering, I can make reasonable arguments for both a yes and no answer to each of those questions.  

Finally, let’s learn more about the North Sentinelese from what Chau recorded in his journal. He added fresh knowledge to that provided by previous visitors to the island. Learning about the Sentinelese as a teen is one of the things that God used to stir Chau’s heart toward reaching them for Christ. Perhaps God would do the same for us.

John Allen Chau, my new friend, rest in peace “in a place where the sun never sets.” Bask in the glory of the resurrected Christ whom you loved more than anything in this world.

Soli Gloria Deo

ISIS and the Gospel

WARNING: Links in this post may lead to GRAPHIC CONTENT!

Abu Maryam al-Faransi left France to join ISIS.

Abu Maryam al-Faransi left France to join ISIS.

The news coming from the Islamic State is, at best, unsettling. As a result of effective recruiting, foreign fighters from both Muslim countries and the West are swelling the ranks of the ISIS army (see here, here, and here). In addition to the West’s apparent failure in turning certain of their citizens away from jihadi ideology, or western nations’ apparent failure to prevent these same people from making their way to Syria to join the battle, several elements of the ISIS jihad story lead observers to conclude that the situation in Syria/Iraq is hopeless. Two of those elements are martyrdom and brutality.

Martyrdom: A Desire to Die

“We love dying for God as much as you love life.” ISIS fighter, Rabie Shehada

That they are likely to be killed in the battle to expand the boundaries of the Islamic State doesn’t seem to dissuade the recruits. In fact, the prospect of dying as a martyr for Allah seems to be a draw (see here, here, and here). Targeting this element of jihadi ideology – the desire to die for the cause – recruiters are using social media to publish photos of many of their soldiers who died with smiles on their faces (see here, here, and here), which suggests they died happy martyrs.

With every new conflict comes imaginative new methods to recruit fighters and soldiers on all sides. While the US Military uses high budget television adverts or internet campaigns designed to show off the superiority of their forces, the propaganda wing of the Islamic State has taken to posting and sharing pictures and videos of dying and dead “martyrs”, all smiling. najemoi.com

 Brutality: Glorifying and Defending a Way of Life

The brutality of ISIS – which includes, among other things, hanging captives from their feet, repeated mock executions, extra-judicial mass executions, rape, sexual and physical enslavement, beheading, and the public parading of heads and decapitated bodies – has been widely reported by released hostages (see here, here, and here) and/or confirmed by video, photos, and commentary released through ISIS channels (see here, here, and here).

ISIS has successfully utilized the brutality of their movement to recruit the discontent or wandering souls (both males and females) who seek purpose and meaning in life (see here, here, and video here).

“For many people who are lacking a strong sense of identity and purpose, their violent radical global narrative provides easy answers and solutions: it can be very powerful message for people who are looking for answers,” … “Their online material shows capturing territory, establishing states, beheading enemies: they show that they are the sexiest jihadi group on the block.” Matthew Levitt, Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Not only has brutality been an effective recruiting tool for ISIS, it is also intended to bring into submission those whom ISIS deems to be enemies. In the Islamic State, submission takes different forms: forced conversion to Islam, evacuation to safer locations (see here and here), or paying a security/protection tax.

Those who are concerned that the gospel be effectively taken to all, have to wonder if it is possible to get the gospel to people within ISIS. And, even if one succeeded in getting it there, is it possible for a person that glories in beheading aid workers, a person that appears to glory in evil, to believe the gospel? My answer: There is hope. Even ISIS fighters and their brides can be reached with the gospel.

Below, I offer two lines of evidence that give me gospel hope for those who are engaged in this type of jihad with ISIS or any other group that seems too radical to be redeemed; one is biblical, the other is research based.

Biblical Evidence: ISIS Fighters Can Be Saved

The first source of hope is Paul’s inclusion of the “Scythian” in Colossians 3:11 (ESV): “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” In this verse Paul provides a list of four pairs of identities that are not to be given preference in Christ: Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian and Scythian, and slave and free. Although it isn’t Paul’s primary point, his use of each of these pairs suggests that people from each background or identity can be found within the faith community.

To be clear: I’m not making the argument that ISIS is a descendent movement or ideology of the Scythians. I am suggesting the extreme cruelty of both groups, which some think reflects an unredeemable spirit, is similar. For example, Yamauchi (Biblical Archaeologist 46:2, p. 98) provides a description of the Scythians, which compares to the actions of ISIS today:

“[The Scythians’] reputation for ferocity, their scalping of captives, and their other barbarous customs made their name synonymous with savagery down into the Christian era…”

According to Encyclopedia Britannica:

The Scythian army was made up of freemen who received no wage other than food and clothing but who could share in booty on presentation of the head of a slain enemy.

Again, I am not saying the Scythians are ISIS; I am recognizing their similarities and suggesting that if members of one group can be reached for Christ, we should have hope for members of a very similar group.

The next line of evidence illustrates that committed jihadis can be converted to Christ.

Research Evidence: Radical Muslims Can Be Saved

In my doctoral research (PhD, University of Pretoria), I interviewed twenty-four Palestinians who had left Islam for Christ. Respondent Four is evidence that a radical Muslim can meet Jesus Christ. Read his testimony summary here.

“He [Respondent Four] was satisfied with his life as a Muslim. In fact, after returning from a lengthy stint working in the Arabian Gulf, he was involved in a religiously motivated political group that he described as actively seeking the establishment of a truly Muslim nation beginning in all of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean [i.e., modern Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza] and spreading throughout the region.”

ISIS isn’t a new idea. In fact, there have been a number of groups in the region who have espoused a similar ideology; the distinction simply being one of nuance or opportunity, not kind.

Lessons Learned

Below are some lessons that can be learned from Respondent Four’s testimony:

1. This testimony is an example of how God uses crisis to draw people to himself, even radical Muslims. Therefore, Christians should seek to help Muslims who are in crisis.

2. This testimony is an example of how a medical need was the catalyst for a radical Muslim to meet Christians who loved him enough to tell him about Jesus. Therefore, Christians should seek opportunities to provide medical aid when possible. Here is an example of Christians providing medical aid.

3. This testimony is an example of how Christians maintained a Christian identity and took the risk to share the gospel with a radical Muslim. Therefore, it is important for Christians to risk sharing the gospel with Muslims.

4. This testimony is an example of how the Holy Spirit uses Scripture to draw radical Muslims. Therefore, Christians should:
a. be intentional in seeking opportunities to share God’s word with Muslims.
b. encourage Muslims to read the Bible for themselves.
c. be patient and forgiving when a Muslim becomes angry and argumentative while resisting God’s Word.

5. This testimony is an example of how it’s possible to engage a radical Muslim for the gospel outside the battle zone. Therefore, in the case of ISIS, Christians should seek opportunities to engage potential radical Muslims who may be considering going to the Islamic State. Although it’s not impossible for a member of ISIS to come to faith within the Islamic State, it is no doubt more challenging to access the gospel there.

Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #24

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Twenty-Four, a female from Hebron. Feel free to interact in the comments or download my dissertation as a free PDF!

The following is ©2014 University of Pretoria and Craig Dunning, and if used elsewhere, should be cited as:

Dunning, CA (2014) Palestinian Muslims converting to Christianity: effective evangelistic methods in the West Bank. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Pretoria, PhD thesis, pp. 388-390.

Respondent Twenty-Four began studying Islamics in school at the age of ten. Her teacher was very firm and somewhat persuasive as she explained all the “bad things about Christianity.” Each day the respondent would return home and tell her mother, who was a MBB (See Respondent Twenty-Two), the bad things she learned about Christianity that day. Her mother tried to counter the charges from the New Testament, but never pushed Christianity on the respondent. She said her mother’s approach was more of “allowing everyone to decide for themselves without pressure.”

Some of the things the respondent learned in school were that “Hell is mostly full of women,” and that “in Hell, Allah will hang women by their hair or eyebrows, especially those who were not interested in being good Muslims.”

For many years the respondent lived next door to a mosque, and countless times heard these and similar things being broadcast from the mosque during the weekly Friday sermon. Eventually, during her mid-teen years, the respondent lost interest and grew very passive about religion, though her mother continued to occasionally share thoughts from the New Testament. This was her mother’s way of keeping the door open, and it was the only opposition she ever heard to what she was told in Islamics class at school and what she heard broadcast from the mosque next door.

In her late teen years, the respondent grew weary of the constant denigration of women that was generally present in her surroundings, but particularly offensive, she said, was the repeated message of “hate toward women” that she could not avoid hearing through the broadcasts from the mosque. The continual bombardment of hate caused the respondent to grow more and more concerned for her personal safety, eventually resulting in emotional problems and panic attacks.

The feelings that were being generated inside her brought her from a passive position about Islam to a very negative opinion. She definitively transitioned from “Islam is not for me,” to “Islam is wrong.” Even though the process was slow, due to the pervasive and negative presence of Islam in her surroundings, it was ultimately unavoidable.

At the same time her feelings about Islam were changing, Her mother tried to calm and comfort her by sharing things from the New Testament with her, especially the love of Jesus. Her mother focused on how much Jesus loved the respondent, so much that he died for her sins. In contrast to what she deemed “hate flowing from the mosque next door,” the respondent started to appreciate the love her mother shared from the New Testament. “In Islam, they want you to die for Islam. In Christianity, Jesus loved us and died for us” she added.

In addition to the love her mother was regularly sharing with her from the New Testament, local believers demonstrated much love toward her brother (See Respondent Twenty) by coming to their home to pray for him when he was sick. This kind of love affected her strongly: “When I saw this, something went out of me and joy came in. Real joy.”

Eventually, as an unbeliever, she attended a MBB family conference with her mother. At that conference, she saw MBBs as a community for the first time. She watched the people sing and pray together. The way they loved each other was impressive and instrumental in her consideration of the gospel. She had never seen anything like that before and was drawn toward them. She was impressed that “this was the real thing.” And that point became more clear when the worship leader stopped in the middle of a song to pray for “someone who is here today questioning whether they should believe in Jesus.” Though he did not call her by name, she said “I knew he was praying for me.”

At that moment, she trusted Jesus and realized that she was no longer a Muslim. She immediately told her mother that she “believed in Jesus as Lord.” Of course her mother was ecstatic, but was also concerned that her own witness to the respondent was not sufficiently clear. So, she asked the respondent to speak with a pastor to make sure she “understood everything.” The respondent was already convinced that Jesus had died for her sins and that she believed in Jesus, but she accepted her mother’s request to “make sure.”

When asked to fill in the blank: If it were not for ____________ I do not think I would be a believer,” she answered thoughtfully and deliberately, “Love. My mother. Prayer.”

Since she had only mentioned prayer in relation to her brother’s illness, she was asked for more clarification: “What do you mean by prayer?” She said that she knew her mother had been praying for God to open her eyes for many years. The respondent was asked for further clarification, “How do you know that she had been praying for you?” “She told me and she prayed for me while I was sitting in the room,” she answered with a frustrated tone that suggested the question was unnecessary because the answer was self-evident. Apparently, in an effort to tie all her answers together, she voluntarily explained, “If my mother had not been praying for me, and she had not kept telling me how much Jesus loves us, and I didn’t see the Christians loving each other and me, and I didn’t go to the conference to see all of this come together at the same time – love and my mother and praying – I don’t think I would be a believer today. Maybe God would have shown me some other way, but that is how it happened for me.”

Themes that emerged in this interview: “Drawn/compelled,” doubts about Islam/Qur’an, the kindness of Christians, prayer, retreats/conferences/special events, crisis, meeting Christians/MBBs, and an open witness.

Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #23

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Twenty-Three, a male from East Jerusalem. Feel free to interact in the comments or download my dissertation as a free PDF!

The following is ©2014 University of Pretoria and Craig Dunning, and if used elsewhere, should be cited as:

Dunning, CA (2014) Palestinian Muslims converting to Christianity: effective evangelistic methods in the West Bank. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Pretoria, PhD thesis, pp. 385-387.

Respondent Twenty-Three was raised in a secular Muslim home in East Jerusalem. Religion never was very important to him. In fact, he said that he had different ideas (apparently unflattering, though he would not say what they were) about Islam. While he personally identified himself as a Muslim and continues to be registered with the Palestinian Authority as such, he said that Islam never had any active meaning in his life.

At the time of his interview, he had adult children and had been widowed for some years. Together, he and his wife had maintained a secular Muslim home.

The respondent said that he was surprised that one day he “suddenly felt drawn” to read the New Testament that had been on his bookshelf for many years. He was not sure how long it had been on the shelf because he could not remember how he got it, but was certain that it had been many years. At the time he felt drawn to read the New Testament, he had a casual relationship with a bi-vocational Arab pastor. Over the years the pastor had been kind to him and occasionally suggested the respondent should read the New Testament. However, the respondent said that he did not believe any of the pastor’s suggestions were involved in this sudden prompting to read the New Testament. In fact, he could not identify anything external that had prompted him to want to read the New Testament.

The respondent reported being “pulled by something” to read the New Testament a couple times over the course of two months. “Each day,” he explained, “I felt something, someone pulling me toward the New Testament.” This particularly surprised him since he had never been interested in religious issues of any kind; if anything, religion was a turn off for him.

Each day, he read more and began to see logic in the New Testament that made it “a different world” from the Qur’an and Islam. He said he saw “love and forgiveness in the New Testament and in Jesus.” The more he read about Jesus, the more he felt drawn by Jesus himself. “Jesus’ teachings were so different and logical” he said, “I didn’t feel I was being drawn spiritually; it was so logical, I had to move toward it.” He certainly never expected to be interested in the New Testament, but he could not stop reading it.

Because he was so surprised by his new interest in the Bible, he began to ask the pastor for some guidance in this new pursuit. The pastor suggested that the Holy Spirit might be drawing the respondent to believe in Jesus, which surprised him because he had never given any thought to believing in Jesus or being religious.

Over the course of about three weeks, the respondent and pastor spoke several times about what the respondent was reading in the New Testament. These were not particularly evangelistic conversations; mainly they were comprised of the respondent reporting to the pastor the surprising things he had discovered in the New Testament like how “logical it was, and how everything fit together so well.” The respondent explained, “each conversation led the pastor to believe that I was a step closer to believing in Jesus, and the best part is that I was discovering this by reading the New Testament on my own, and not by him trying to persuade me.” When asked if the pastor never said anything but only listened, the respondent said, “I’m sure he said something, but I don’t remember anything specific. We had normal conversations; I told him about the things I was seeing, and he encouraged me to keep reading. Now that I look back at it, I think he was letting the New Testament evangelize me because he saw that it was already doing that when we first spoke. I didn’t have any real issues about leaving Islam like some do because I never was really in Islam, so he didn’t really need to answer a lot of questions.”

According to the respondent, the pastor was very patient, allowing things to develop according to the speed God was bringing the respondent along through his reading the New Testament. Eventually, the pastor sensed the respondent was ready and asked if he wanted to pray the “sinner’s prayer,” but he had no idea what that meant. The pastor explained that it was “a prayer in which the person admits they are a sinner and need forgiveness, and that they believe Jesus died for their sins so they can be forgiven.” The respondent said that seemed a little odd at the time, but it did express what he believed, so he prayed with the pastor. It was short, “I just told the Lord that I was a sinner and believed that Jesus died on the cross for my sin.” After praying, the respondent said he “never felt better” in his life.

Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, “drawn/compelled,” the kindness of Christians, the “sinner’s prayer,” and lack of interest in religion.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #24

Download my dissertation as a free PDF!

Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #22

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Twenty-Two, a female from Hebron. Feel free to interact in the comments or download my dissertation as a free PDF!

The following is ©2014 University of Pretoria and Craig Dunning, and if used elsewhere, should be cited as:

Dunning, CA (2014) Palestinian Muslims converting to Christianity: effective evangelistic methods in the West Bank. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Pretoria, PhD thesis, pp. 381-384.

Respondent Twenty-Two grew up in a non-observant Muslim home. Her knowledge of Islam did not come from the home or the mosque, rather it came from school, “where everybody learned about Islam.” Her interests, though, were much more focused on politics, not religion.

At the age of sixteen she was very involved in the political process, supporting the PLO and publicly identifying herself as a Marxist. Though she was not certain of the existence of God, neither could she deny God’s existence. So, through her teen years she fasted and prayed during Ramadan “just in case.” However, politics was the main focus of her life, and continued to be throughout the remainder of her teen and early college years.

In her work with the PLO, she had her first personal encounter with a Christian: she met a Christian girl from Nazareth whom she liked, and even spent the night in the girl’s home. However, distance and other issues prevented them from becoming close friends.

By her early-to-mid twenties, the respondent was married and the draw of political issues began to fade in favor of the pressing necessities of being a mother. In an effort to help support her children she took on a professional career. Eventually, her husband abandoned the family and she was left with the responsibility of raising her children alone.

Because she had no religious interests, she provided no religious training for her children, though they, like she had been, were taught about Islam in school. By the time her children were in school, she no longer fasted or prayed during Ramadan. Though she was still agnostic in her belief about God, she no longer felt the need to do religious things “just in case.” Raising her kids had become the main focus of her life.

In the midst of her daily struggle to raise her children, two particular things caused her thoughts about religion, especially Islam, to start changing: The first was the growing presence and influence of Hamas in her neighborhood. She noticed that her neighborhood was growing increasingly more religious, or as she put it, “more restrictive.” More women were “covering up,” and the parade of men going to pray at the mosque was growing larger and larger.

Observant women began to visit her home in an Islamic version of door-to- door evangelism, encouraging her to become religious and dress the part. These visits grew more frequent and intense as she refused their efforts to persuade her to their point of view.

In concert with the regular visits from the women, the respondent could hear the sermons being broadcast by loudspeaker from the nearby mosque. She said she began having emotional problems because of the harsh messages coming from the mosque coupled with “the pressure from the women to conform to an Islamic lifestyle.”

The second influence on her thoughts about religion was what she observed at her place of employment. Both Christians and Muslims worked in her office, and as much a reaction to the increasing Islamization of her neighborhood as an interest in religion, she began to actively evaluate their lives. She never told them; she simply listened to the things they said and watched the things they did.

Her observation was that the Christians with whom she worked “were much more calm and peaceful” than their Muslim counterparts. Additionally, from observing and interacting with her Muslim co-workers, she concluded “Muslims are angry and complicated.”

These observations coupled with the growing influence of Hamas in her neighborhood caused her to “consider looking at Christianity as a possible religious alternative.” Shortly thereafter, she met the headmaster of a Christian school in her region who, in turn, introduced her to a local pastor.

The respondent asked the pastor to introduce her to some believers with whom she could speak. As it turned out, he introduced her to the Christian girl (now woman) with whom she had spent the night in Nazareth almost fifteen years prior. This woman now lived in the West Bank near the respondent. The respondent was excited to now be able to develop a relationship that she had longed for as a teenager. In hindsight, she said she came to realize that her desire to get to know that Christian girl back then was so that she could actually get to know Christ.

The pastor also gave the respondent a New Testament, which she read without any understanding in about a week. Over the next month she read the New Testament three more times, each time with improved understanding. The more she read, the more she wanted to read and the more questions she had. Her questions reflected her understanding of Islam and the social context that she knew. For example, she wanted to know if it was really possible for Muslims to become Christians. What would happen if they did? How could Jesus be God?

During the second month of reading the New Testament, the pastor invited her to church even though she was not yet a believer so that she could see the community. During the sermon, which was about faith and love and forgiveness, she “sensed a change in her heart toward the idea of religion,” and specifically toward Christianity. She reported actually feeling peace enter her heart, but she still did not understand enough.

On the way home from the church service, thinking she might actually be on the right path, she began to cry. By the time she arrived home, faith and love and forgiveness became clearer. She wanted them all, and clearly in her “heart and head believed in Jesus for the forgiveness of [her] sins.” She clarified: “I didn’t pray the sinner’s prayer or talk with anyone at the moment, I just believed in my heart that Jesus died for my sins.”

The implications were many. She lived near a mosque in a neighborhood that was increasingly displaying the influence of Hamas. What if they found out? What about the kids? What about not being a Muslim? Even though she had never really practiced Islam, there was still an internal tension about leaving it. As each of these issues were raised in her mind, she reminded herself of what she had come to believe: “Jesus died for me and my sins had been forgiven.” She said that she never had anything like that in Islam, “so why worry about Islam?” Continued reading of the New Testament settled those kinds of issues as they occasionally popped up. In addition to the tensions related to leaving Islam being settled, she realized that her pre-conversion emotional problems were no longer an issue either.

Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, Q and A, crisis, meeting Christians/MBBs, the “sinner’s prayer,” common objections to the gospel, and lack of interest in religion.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #23

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