Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #16

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Sixteen, a female from Nablus. 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. 358-361.

Respondent Sixteen was raised in a very religious Muslim home. She married a religiously observant Muslim man and proudly maintained her home in the religious ways she had learned as a child. She dressed modestly, including the hijab (see Figure 10). She was very happy to find a man who felt the same way about religion that she did and who wanted to raise children as observant Muslims. However, after a couple years of marriage she began to feel dissatisfied and empty in all of her religious observation. While she maintained all the expressions of her faith, like modest dress, eating only Hallal food, and praying daily, she had an empty feeling that she could not shake. She wanted to get rid of this feeling no matter what it took to do so, but the only thing she could imagine doing more was praying more. So, she began to pray more intensely and more than the prescribed five times daily.

She could not remember how long she followed this plan, but does remember that she noticed the more she prayed, the more distant she felt from Allah. Often after praying she asked herself, “Where is Allah?” But, “He was nowhere to be found” she said. She struggled terribly with why she felt so distant from Allah. Eventually, unable to solve this riddle, she began to blame herself: “Maybe I have sinned in some way,” she reasoned. However, she could not think of any way that she had done anything to merit Allah’s distance.

She was desperate to feel the closeness of Allah? “What could I do?” she wondered. Again, praying more was the only answer that came to mind. She was afraid to speak with her husband about her crisis, so she did the only thing she could think of: She prayed more. However, praying more did not offer the closeness she desired. In fact, she said, “Every time I prayed, I felt Allah’s absence more and more. But I didn’t stop praying. How could I? Everyone knows that good Muslims pray. I was a good Muslim all my life, so why should Allah feel so distant?” she added to explain her frustration. This feeling of distance from Allah led the respondent into a form of depression.

Her husband noticed her depression and recommended that she attend a culture center near their home. In this particular center, women were offered both computer courses and self-confidence courses. She was somewhat hesitant to attend the courses because she did not know anyone there. However, the self-confidence course sounded interesting, and she decided to enroll. She really enjoyed and benefited from the confidence course, which lasted two months. Afterward, she enrolled in the computer course and found that she was starting to make friends at the center and wanted to be there outside her scheduled class times.

Although she was enjoying her courses and felt that she had gained some self-confidence, she still struggled with depression and a sense of loneliness. But she continued to pray because she knew she was supposed to pray, even though the end result was more discouragement.

She thought that one of the men who ran the programs was a Greek Orthodox Christian, but did not realize that a number of the Muslims were actually MBBs. As Christmas approached, the center sponsored a Christmas party for all the students. Though the respondent was not a Christian she was interested to attend because she had become friends with a couple of the other students who would be attending, and also because she had never been to a Christmas party and wondered what would happen there.

When the respondent entered the party, she saw an atmosphere of joy unlike she had ever seen or experienced. There were only a few people that she knew to be Muslims, and most of the people in attendance she did not know. She assumed they were Christians because they were singing songs about Jesus. She was both uncomfortable and amazed at the same time. She was uncomfortable because she, a religious Muslim, was standing in the midst of Christians singing about Jesus, and she knew that Muslims should not be doing such a thing. She was amazed because she, a religious Muslim, was standing in the midst of Christians singing about Jesus in a way she had never imagined and in a way that was passionate and joyful and fresh and free. She never joined in the singing, but she did enjoy watching the others sing.

After the singing, the Greek Orthodox man (whom she did not know had been born again) asked everyone to join him in praying. She had never seen Christians pray, and was quite amazed that they did not have a ritual (i.e., specific form or words): some closed their eyes, others did not; some held their hands high in the air while others held the seat back in front of them; some looked to heaven while others bowed their heads. She was partly annoyed that they would dare to pray so freely, while at the same time she was attracted to the idea of praying so freely. After the prayer, the Greek Orthodox man asked everyone to be seated and give him their attention for the next fifteen or twenty minutes. “The next fifteen minutes changed my life,” she said with big smile.

The man began to tell the Christmas story. He spoke very carefully and passionately about Jesus, the Son of God. She knew that Muslims could not believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but this man’s passion seemed to override that objection. He continued to explain how Son of God doesn’t mean that God and Mary had sexual relations (as many Muslims think), but rather that it was a way of saying that Jesus is equal with God. Again, she knew this was contrary to Muslim belief, but the man’s passion and clarity were convincing.

The respondent was drawn in as the man began to read and explain chapter one of John’s gospel. She described the process as follows: “Step by step I was coming to understand that Jesus is God. I was not afraid to find this out because each step led me to more understanding. The question I had asked each time I finished praying – ‘Where is Allah?’ – was finally answered when he got to verse fourteen [JN 1:14]. God came to earth to live among his people in the person of Jesus. Finally, it became clear to me. I was so relieved when I realized this truth. Then he explained that Jesus died on the cross to pay for the sins of the world, and for the first time, Christianity became attractive to me. Very attractive.”

Though she had heard little about Christianity or Christians in her village, every reference she had heard was in a negative context. That changed at the Christmas party; her view of Christians and Christianity were now very positive. She said, she “felt the depression leave; everything was different!”

As the speaker closed his sermon, he suggested that any who might have made a decision to believe in Jesus or had more questions about believing in Jesus should speak with one of the leaders of the center. She had been enrolled at the community center for four months, and everyone had become like an extended family, but she was still cautious about revealing to others her new beliefs. Soon after the sermon ended, she casually approached one of the leaders whom she trusted and explained all that had happened. She detailed her strict religious observance, her disappointment that Allah seemed distant, and the relief she had in her new understanding that Jesus was God who came to earth. The counselor discreetly prayed for her then asked if she wanted to pray a “prayer of salvation.” She agreed, and discreetly, in the corner of the room, he led her in the following prayer: “God, I am a sinner and I need forgiveness. I have longed for your presence and now I have found you in Jesus. I believe that he died for my sins and that He is God. Amen.”

Themes that emerged in this interview: “Drawn/compelled,” doubts about Islam/Qur’an, crisis, meeting Christians/MBBs, “prayer of salvation,” culture center, and common objections to the gospel.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #17

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Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #15

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Fifteen, a male from Nablus. 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. 353-357.

Respondent Fifteen grew up in a large family whose religious identification was Muslim, though they did not participate in any religious activities, including Ramadan. According to the respondent, the family values as expressed by his father were simply to work hard and make a living. In fact, the respondent began working at the age of twelve, which meant that he did not finish school.

Wanting to please his father “more than anything else in this world,” the respondent said he happily began working on Jewish farms at the age of twelve. He moved around between farming and construction work through his teenage years, always for Israeli (i.e., Jewish) companies. Since his labor was illegal he always received his salary in cash, and upon arriving home, immediately handed it to his father. Each time he gave his salary to his father, he hoped it would make his father proud and draw them closer together. The only thing he wanted was his father’s love.

Unfortunately, each time he surrendered his salary his father demanded more. The lack of parental encouragement and approval, which he equated with love, was emotionally devastating for the respondent. He never acted out, but he definitely grew more bitter and wounded each week as he repeatedly felt the sting of his father’s lack of love.

Even though his father was not religious, in the respondent’s eyes, his father represented Islam, and his father’s lack of love meant that Islam did not love him either. By the time he was twenty, he had no interest in religion, especially Islam. He did not pray. He even intentionally avoided common Islamic phrases like “Insha’Allah,” meaning “if Allah wills.” He wanted nothing to do with Islam or any other religion.

By age twenty-one, the respondent had married, and though brokenhearted from his father’s lack of love, or betrayal as he labeled it, the respondent was forced by financial realities to stay in the patriarchal home. This living arrangement meant most of his meager salary was still surrendered to his father.

He was comfortable working hard to provide for his wife, which was “the one good principle I learned from my father” he said. Tensions over finances eventually became the breaking point in the respondent’s relationship with his father. The respondent asked his father to reduce the amount of money he demanded so that the young couple could get started establishing their own family. When his father refused to grant the respondent’s request, the relationship was completely broken. “I was in need, and he turned his back on me. I felt betrayed,” he matter-of-factly explained.

At that point, the respondent felt he and his new wife could not remain in the patriarchal home, but he did not have sufficient financial independence to leave. This inability to leave coupled with the sting of betrayal created a sense of desperation that caused him to consider a change in vocations. He realized that he would always be tied to his father’s house if he continued in what was essentially day to day jobs in construction or farming.

The respondent’s decision to try to leave his father’s home was emboldened by an advertisement for a police officer course in Bethlehem. The Palestinian Authority was expanding their police force and was recruiting officer candidates for training. Not knowing what to expect, the respondent applied for a position in the police course and was accepted, which meant that he had to move temporarily to Bethlehem and live with the other students in an open dormitory. This was a new experience for him because the students came from a variety of backgrounds; they were a mix of religious and non-religious Muslims and Christians.

The respondent had always been a fairly private person who tried to mind his own business and avoided paying too much attention to others around him. However, the open dorm environment made it very difficult to not watch others. In fact, he could not avoid listening to and watching the other residents, though he did not socialize with them.

The dorm was filled with energetic young men who filled their time playing games (backgammon and cards), telling jokes, and roughhousing. All of the activity gave the respondent much to watch, but the thing that captured his attention most was watching the Muslims and Catholics pray according to their specific protocols. Beyond that, he also watched how they lived when they were not praying. His observations led him to conclude that “the way Christians pray is much more free” and that “among the Christians, there is more love and less gossip” than in the Muslim community. What the respondent observed made a big impression on him.

The more time the respondent spent among the other police recruits, the more open and interested in Christianity he became. Admittedly, he was not looking for religion, but the actions of those Christians he had been observing intrigued him. Over time, the respondent became friends with one of the Christians who was a MBB. “At the time,” explained, “friendship was the thing I desired most because I was so lonely. I missed my wife so much.” His feelings of loneliness and isolation were exacerbated when some Muslim recruits made fun of him when they saw him trying to pray according to Catholic form, the only Christian form he had ever seen. He did not know why he tried to pray, but felt compelled to pray. The respondent’s new friend was sympathetic to the situation and offered to introduce him to a pastor that might be able to help him understand more about Christianity. The offer was accepted and the introduction made the respondent very happy.

At their first meeting, the pastor spoke with the respondent about the love of God, and apparently touched on an open wound by doing so. His words were strange and comforting to the respondent and opened the door for deeper conversation. The respondent felt abandoned by his earthly father, and the sting was almost more than he could bear. That God loved people was something the respondent had never heard before, and he said, “It was exactly what I needed to hear.”

This initial conversation led to more conversations in which the respondent began to ask questions about things he had come to notice about Islam. Specifically, he noted that even though religious Muslims fasted during Ramadan and abstained from alcohol and pork, in his observation, they were less honest and ethical than the Christians that he had come to know during his police course.

The pastor steered the respondent away from critical comments about Muslims, emphasizing that Jesus should be his focus, not people. Eventually, the respondent dropped out of the police course and returned home near Nablus. The move made it more difficult to meet personally with the pastor, so their relationship moved primarily to the phone, with occasional in-person meetings.

The respondent’s lack of education made it very difficult for him to read the Bible. So rather than direct him to the Scriptures, the pastor spoke with him once a week, explaining the gospel and always trying to emphasize the love of God as demonstrated through New Testament stories about Jesus.

After their meetings during the respondent’s three months in Bethlehem, the pastor met or called him weekly for another six months before the respondent was able to say that he truly believed in Jesus. He said the steady stream of Jesus stories – how he loved people – were very compelling, but he said he took a “long time to really believe” because of his negative view of religion, which was the result of his own personal experience as a non-practicing Muslim.

The respondent’s observations of good Christian behavior while in Bethlehem was very instrumental in his decision, as was satellite television programing because it gave him more opportunities to hear Jesus stories.

When asked if reading the Bible had any part in his conversion he said, “no, I never read the Bible. But I heard a lot of stories and teaching about Jesus.” He appeared embarrassed about his answer, and quickly added “I have a Bible and am starting to read it now.” And to prove his claim, he quickly retrieved his Bible and showed it to me. Clearly, he had some Bible knowledge; it was simply delivered orally by the pastor and Christian television programming, which was on in the background during the entirety of our interview.

Themes that emerged in this interview: Oral Bible, doubts about Islam/Qur’an, crisis, meeting Christians/MBBs, pastoral/evangelistic visits, and lack of interest in religion.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #16

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Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #14

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Fourteen, a male from Nablus. 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. 350-352.

Respondent Fourteen was raised in a traditional family that was moderately religious. He described his family’s religious activities as observing Ramadan and his parents regularly praying, but not requiring the children to do so. He self-identified as a Muslim, but was not particularly interested in religion.

As an adult, the respondent’s main interests were focused on providing a modest living for his family as a farmer. Like the rest of the people in his village, he worked the land and did his best to make ends meet. Much of the time they got by, though just barely. At other times, everyone suffered the hardships and shortfalls together. A prolonged period of shortfall was the context in which the respondent came to faith.

Over the course of a year, the respondent’s thoughts about religion, in general, were changed by the actions of a Palestinian Christian youth group that provided material help to residents in the respondent’s Muslim village. Each week the youth entered the village with food and clothes and freely offered them to anyone who was in need.

The respondent never accepted help; he simply watched with great interest as the youth distributed their charity. He listened carefully to the recipients as they spoke of their benefactors’ generosity and kindness. He said he always wondered and sometimes asked what the teens wanted in return for their generosity. But people throughout the village always said the youth did not want anything in return because “these things are from the Lord.”

In addition to the youth group’s generosity, the respondent also noticed that they always seemed happy. Two things motivated the respondent to specifically enquire about their religion. First, their consistent generosity, kindness and joy were so different than he saw in the teens in his village and elsewhere. Though he was content in his fairly meager life, he saw something different in these young people. It was not that they were wealthy and had everything that he did not have, and thus were satisfied with their lives. It was something different. Though he could not say exactly what, he recognized that they had something inside that he lacked.

Second, on one occasion, the youth group was accompanied by an American Christian tour group as they handed out food and clothing. In the respondent’s village resided an elderly woman that did her family’s laundry by hand. At her advanced age a difficult job had become near impossible due to severe arthritis in her hands. The tour group met the woman and heard of her hardships. Members of the group were so moved by her story that they took up a collection from among themselves and returned to the village the next day with a washing machine for the elderly woman.

The way the tour group changed this woman’s life really made an impression on the respondent, and he wanted to know more about their religion. The respondent’s interest in their religion was prompted because the members of both the youth group and tour group always said the things they provided were “from the Lord.” “If they are infidels like Islam teaches, why do they do these kind things?” he wondered.

Eventually, he stopped one of the teens as they walked past his home and asked whom they were and why they kept coming back to the village. The answer was simple: “We are a Christian youth group, and we want to love our neighbors by offering material help.” With that answer, the youth also offered a book: Glad News! God loves you, my Muslim friend.

This book caused the respondent to have an increased interest in Christianity because it was in Arabic and a Muslim-friendly introduction to Christianity. He read the book very quickly and then became secretly absorbed in the Bible.

He admitted to struggling with the idea of changing one religion for another, but continued to be impressed by the generosity of the Christian youth group and their tourist friends. He lingered over the question, “How could they be infidels?” He also had a serious battle with his family’s traditional Muslim identity, which was the motivating factor for reading his Bible secretly. He feared losing his family if they found out he was reading the Bible, and was certain that conversion would cost him his family. “What I was doing had the potential to change my life in dramatic ways,” he said.

He started reading the Bible in Genesis and read it through completely along with Glad news! Interestingly, he said that he “enjoyed and learned from the Christian literature, but was more interested in the Bible because it is the source.” He also was in regular contact with a pastor who encouraged him to keep reading the Bible and answered his various questions about Christianity. Early in the process, his questions dealt more with Islam vs. Christianity. The more he read the Bible the more his questions evolved toward curiosity about life as a Christian. He was particularly interested to know about life as a former Muslim and the routine of the Christian life.

After nearly one year of reading the Bible and occasionally visiting a MBB church, which required six hours to commute there and back, he thought he was “ready to believe in Jesus.” The first time he prayed, he asked God to “help me to know when to believe and if this is the correct way, help me progress without fear.” The next morning he awoke with joy and no fear, which he interpreted as a clear sign from God that believing in Jesus was the correct way. So, he got dressed and called the pastor who had been counseling him for nearly one year and told him, “I’m a believer!” Over the phone, the pastor led the respondent in a prayer of salvation.

When asked to clarify what he understands it means to be a Christian, the respondent said, “To believe that Jesus came to save me from sin.”

Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, Q and A, the kindness of Christians, prayer, crisis, Christian literature, meeting Christians/MBBs, the “prayer of salvation,” an open witness, pastoral/evangelistic visits, and fear or shame as a barrier to the gospel.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #15

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Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #13

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Thirteen, a female 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. 345-349.

Respondent Thirteen’s childhood home was near a Christian church and tourist site, and her father regularly invited Christian pilgrims into their home. Sometimes he even invited them to stay in their home, and occasionally, some of the guests stayed for lengthy periods. One of these tourists, a Christian from Kenya, ended up living with them for nine years, and he is the one who had the largest Christian influence on the respondent and her family. Over the years, the Kenyan man was allowed to share Bible stories each night with the children and pray for the entire family. He was a very likable man, soft-spoken, and won the hearts of all the family members.

On one particular occasion the Kenyan man invited seventy Christian tourists to their home for a traditional Arab meal. While preparing the meal, the respondent’s mother spilled hot grease on her foot. The respondent said, “the damage was so bad, we thought her foot melted to the floor.” It did not, but the injury required serious medical attention. After the respondent’s mother returned from the hospital, the Kenyan man asked if he and his Christian friends could pray for her recovery. After receiving permission to do so, they prayed fervently for Jesus to heal her foot. After they finished praying, the mother pulled the blankets back and saw that “her foot had been miraculously healed” the respondent said.

The respondent had no problem accepting the fact that Jesus healed her mother’s foot. For her it was not a compelling argument that she should believe in Jesus in the way that Christians do because “Muslims also believe Isa can heal.”[1] However, the respondent’s parents saw things very differently and converted to Christianity, which terrified the respondent.

In response to her parents’ conversion, the respondent became an increasingly observant Muslim. Very quickly she started wearing a hijab to cover her hair and neck. She repeatedly told her parents of how they would be “burned to a crisp in Hell,” and warned them that after the first burning, Allah would recreate them so that he could burn them again. “I was very hard to live with,” she admitted, “but I was so angry with them because I was scared of what would happen to us [the whole family] since my parents were murtadin.[2] I was really afraid that Allah would cause our house to fall on us.” In addition to becoming more religious and dressing more conservatively, the respondent became involved in a fundamentalist Islamic youth movement, going to both public and secret meetings in which she was indoctrinated into more strict and zealous forms of Islam.

For the next two years, between the ages of fifteen and seventeen, as her involvement in the Islamic youth movement increased, her presence at home decreased. However, she admitted with an embarrassed smile, “When I was there, I was very mean to the Christians who visited our home.” She would only acknowledge the Christian visitors in her home by teasing and harassing them. For example, she might “put salt rather than sugar in their tea.” Or she might “mock them for believing in a man instead of the truth of Islam.” The only exception to her anger was the Kenyan man, whom she loved and respected in a special way: “I was never mean to him. I couldn’t hurt him; he was different,” she said. In fact, she continued to allow him to remind her daily that Jesus loved her.

Her involvement in the youth movement eventually led to volunteering to be a suicide bomber against Israel. From the handful of girls who volunteered to become suicide bombers, the respondent was selected for “the honor of becoming a martyr.” Over the course of a few weeks, she was prepared for a specific operation that had been planned by someone else. “I was fitted with the explosives vest and was only one day away from the big day when I would make international news as a martyr for Islam and [an Islamic religious and political movement], but God interrupted” she said.

In a bizarre turn of events, the respondent’s mother was blinded when a board fell and hit her head. She called her daughter’s mobile phone to tell her the news, and when the respondent saw her mother’s number, she uncharacteristic-ally answered the phone. The respondent was shocked by the news, and asked her handlers to delay the operation so that she could visit her mother. She said, “I felt bad leaving her the way I was since she was in that condition.” When the respondent returned home to visit her mother, she rang the doorbell and waited while her mother clumsily found her way to the door to unlock it. When her mother opened the door, her sight was instantly restored, and her mother proclaimed it a miracle. Immediately, the respondent accused her mother of lying, but her mother had medical reports that confirmed the blindness.

In describing the anxiety this miracle caused her, the respondent said, “It scared me so severely, that I began to cling more strongly to Islam!” The respondent was shocked to find out that, in spite of the her greater commitment to Islam, her handlers expelled her from the suicide bomber program because she had asked for a delay in order to visit her sick mother. She explained that after her conversion she came to understand that her rejection from the suicide bomber program was another way that God interrupted because “the reality of my mother’s miracle caused me to begin fervently reading the New Testament and Qur’an side by side, hoping I could find serious problems with the New Testament. I didn’t want to believe it! But God knew what I would find in the New Testament.”

Approximately three months later the respondent’s mother invited her to a Christmas party and the respondent agreed to go on the condition that she could attend in full hijab and that no one would talk about her clothes or presence at the party. Her mother agreed to those conditions.

At the party, the respondent met Jamilla, a lady who was so nice that the respondent “could not resist speaking with her.” They talked about many things, but eventually the conversation turned to religion, and Jamilla revealed that she had converted to Christianity from Islam, which was quite shocking for the respondent. At that point, Jamilla shared the gospel with the respondent and pressed for a reaction. This quick presentation of the gospel, she smiled sheepishly and said, “was probably prompted by my wearing a hijab at a Christmas party.”

Although she had no specific rebuttals to Jamilla’s biblical reasoning, the respondent was appalled that this nice lady was trying to convert her. Jamilla recognized the hardness of the respondent’s spirit and challenged her to pray and ask God for direction, specifically suggesting that she pray, “God of this earth, show me who you are. Is Muhammad the way, or is Jesus?” This challenge was the last straw for the respondent, who then angrily fled the party.

Shortly after this encounter at the Christmas party, the respondent was shocked to learn that she had what she described as “a possibly fatal blood infection.” Not only was she afraid of dying, but also disillusioned because “after doing everything possible to be a good Muslim, Allah had allowed me to get so sick.” In spite of this disillusionment or because of it, she is not sure, she continued, “testing the New Testament.” She thinks continuing to read the New Testament was a “reaction to Jamilla’s challenge” to her at the Christmas party to pray, “God of this earth, show me who you are.” When the Respondent stiffened at that challenge, Jamilla semi-scolded her, “Don’t be stubborn,” which was a significant enough push for the respondent to follow through.

About four months after Jamilla’s challenge, the respondent cried out, “God of this earth, show me who you are. If Muhammad is the way, I’ll work harder to be a better Muslim; if Jesus is the way, I’ll follow him.” After falling asleep shortly afterward, she had a vivid dream in which Jesus appeared to her: He was dressed in white, had golden hair, and the aura was so heavy around his face that no facial details were visible. He also spoke Arabic. In the dream, Jesus said, “I am God” and touched her on her heart and said, “You are healed; I am the way, the truth and the life.”

The next day, she pressured a doctor to re-test her blood to see if the dream was accurate. The results were definitive: “Many doctors have confirmed the previous test results, but this test shows no infection,” the doctor said in complete amazement. At that moment, she removed her hijab and said, “Jesus healed me!”

When asked to clarify why this healing was different, in terms of influencing her attitude toward Christianity, than when her mother’s foot had been healed, she responded that she had “read the New Testament many times and understood Jesus to be different than he was represented as Isa.” As Isa, “he is only a prophet that can heal.” As Jesus, “he can heal because he is the Son of God. He’s the way the truth and the life. He died for my sins. He’s much more than in the Qur’an.” She continued, “At first, I didn’t want to accept the New Testament Jesus, but this healing confirmed what Jamilla had told me and what I had read about Jesus in the New Testament.”

When asked to clarify what was the intended meaning of removing her hijab, the respondent explained that it was “just an emotional response,” but it was also “symbolic of being freed from Islam and becoming a Christian.”

Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, the Qur’an vs. the Bible, doubts about Islam/Qur’an, prayer, dreams, crisis, meeting Christians/MBBs, an open witness, and fear or shame as a barrier to the gospel.

[1] Isa (عيسى) is the name the Qur’an uses to identify Jesus. However, there is much debate within the Christian community about the use of the name Isa verses the use of the Arabic form Yesua (يسوع).

[2] Murtad (مرتد – sing.) and Murtadin (مرتدين– pl.) refer to those who have left Islam for another religion. Kafir (كافر – sing.) and kuffar (كفّار) refer to those who remain within Islam, but maintain unacceptable (or heretical) beliefs.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #14

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Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #12

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Twelve, a female 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. 341-344.

At the age of fourteen, Respondent Twelve attended a Christian summer camp with her mother and sister. A Swiss ministry that was working in the West Bank organized the camp specifically for Palestinian teens. Although her family had not been particularly religious – more accurately, a culturally Muslim family – soon after the camp began, the respondent started to think it was a big mistake to attend. Not only was the emphasis on religion a strange environment for the respondent, all the discussions and lessons about Jesus and believing in Him made her very uncomfortable. Her response was to mock those who were interested in the subject.

In spite of her reservations about being at this camp, though, the respondent became friends with a seventeen year-old girl who spoke passionately about Jesus. They did not attend the same school, so after the camp ended their personal contact was limited to occasionally seeing each other in town and semi-regular phone calls. Even though they had limited contact after the camp, the older girl’s faithful conversations about Jesus during the camp planted seeds in the respondent’s heart. These seeds seemed to be watered by the respondent’s already present personal objections and questions about Islam. Together, the external witness and internal questions led the respondent into another eighteen months of searching for the truth by “comparing the Qur’an and the New Testament for up to two hours daily.” Her search was so intense that her standing as first in her class began to slip to fifth or sixth. But, her desire to find the truth was now greater than her desire to be at the head of the class.

In addition to her personal Qur’an and New Testament studies, the respondent regularly asked her teacher questions about Islam as well. Her dissatisfaction with Islam or Islamic culture revolved primarily around the life and role of women. She struggled with the possibility of sharing her husband with three other women in a formal marriage, and perhaps more through a type of concubine system. It appeared to the respondent that women in Islam are, at best, second-class.

The respondent’s internal struggles eventually became expressed externally through questions to her teacher whose response to every question was “silly and unsatisfying.” Unsatisfying answers were frustrating for the respondent because “for every question that was given a silly answer,” she “had another question that wasn’t asked yet.” The respondent said she thought the problem for her teacher was that the teacher was comfortable with or had dutifully accepted the role of women in Islamic society, thus she simply did not recognize the problems of women in that society.

Eventually, another teacher was brought in to answer the respondent’s questions. The new teacher’s efforts, though more loud and forceful than the previous teacher’s, were no more successful at answering the respondent’s questions than the first teacher’s.

Finally, a male teacher entered the conversation and ended it by striking the respondent across the face. This happened more than once. The respondent’s refusal to accept the woman’s role in Islamic culture was deemed insubordination and merited a stern rebuke.

In spite of the harsh responses, the respondent’s questions did not go away. In addition to her dissatisfaction with the role of women in Islam, she had questions about apparent contradictions in the Qur’an and Islam’s view of Hell.

The respondent spent about six months in very frustrating self-guided study. She wanted answers, but could not find them on her own, and her teachers at school offered no substantive answers either. She needed help, but did not know where to turn. Eventually, feeling quite desperate, the respondent called the older girl from the previous summer’s camp and asked if she knew anyone who could answer some questions about Islam and Christianity. That question of desperation opened the door to a mature female MBB who was known by the girl from camp.

Jamilla,the female MBB, understood the difficult emotional, social, and familial realities of questioning Islam and eventually leaving Islam for Jesus because she had done both. She had the reputation of being intelligent, patient, and understanding of what ladies like Respondent Twelve were going through when they spoke with her, even when they spoke to her with much anger and bitterness as result of “Jesus turning their worlds upside down.” Repeatedly demonstrating patience and understanding had given Jamilla a strong reputation as one who could help Muslim women in their transition to faith in Jesus. According to Respondent Twelve, Jamilla lived up to her reputation, “patiently answering question after question. No question seemed too silly or threatening.” In this way, Jamilla demonstrated the character of Jesus and was unlike the respondent’s teachers who were impatient, caustic, and sometimes violent in their defense of Islam.

After about one year of talking with Jamilla, the respondent sensed that her studies and the answers from Jamilla were starting to persuade her to believe in Jesus. However, converting to Christianity presented obvious social and family risks that were frightening. Over a period of about two to three weeks, the respondent said that she had internally accepted Jamilla’s explanations and encouragement to trust Jesus, but outwardly rejected them because of fear that she might lose everything (i.e., family and community).

Things appeared to be at a standstill: Jamilla had patiently answered the respondent’s questions, absorbed the respondent’s verbal blows, and repeatedly encouraged the respondent to trust Jesus for the outcome, yet the respondent continued to hesitate. After one year of counseling, and realizing she had done all she could for the respondent, Jamilla finally told the respondent, “There’s no answer I can give you that will persuade you. You need to go home and pray to God and ask him to show you the truth. If it is through Muhammad, follow him, and if it is through Jesus, follow him.”

That night, while standing in the window looking to the sky with tears flowing down her face, the respondent cried out, “God, please show me the truth. If the truth comes through Muhammad, I’ll become a good Muslim. If it’s through Jesus, I will follow him.”

After falling asleep, the respondent had a dream in which she saw the words, “Who am I?” In the dream, she noticed a book lying in a toilet, and a voice speaking Arabic told her to “go open the book and find the answer.” She was hesitant, but eventually retrieved the book. Noticing that it remained dry in spite of having been in the toilet, she began to flip the pages looking for the answer to the question, “Who am I?” She came across the words, “way, truth, life.” As the dream came to an end, the respondent awoke with a desire to know the source of those words.

Remembering Jamilla’s suggestion to ask God for direction, she began to read the Gospel of John and eventually came across John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” These were the words of Jesus and answered the question, “Who am I?” At that point, she returned to the window, and looking to the sky, she said, “I asked you to reveal the truth and you did. I will follow you no matter what.”

When asked to clarify what she understood the meaning of her dream to be, Respondent Twelve said the dream confirmed that Jamilla’s answers about Jesus dying on the cross for her sins were the truth.

Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, Q and A, the Qur’an vs. the Bible, evangelist’s familiarity with Islam/Qur’an, doubts about Islam/Qur’an, the kindness of Christians, prayer, dreams, retreats/conferences/special events, meeting Christians/MBBs, an open witness, pastoral/evangelistic visits, and fear or shame as a barrier to the gospel.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #13

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Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #11

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Eleven, a male from Nablus. 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. 338-340.

Respondent Eleven spent much of his life in Kuwait, but returned to the West Bank in 1990. He returned as an atheist, believing completely in Communism. His religious and political views were not held secretly, neither were they unusual in his social circles. He said that while his family was non-religious, they were respectful of Islam, if for no other reason, because that is the context in which they lived in Kuwait and the West Bank.

Very early in the interview the respondent listed his major complaints with Islam: 1) the status of women, 2) Islam’s apparent hatred for those outside Islam, 3) the violent nature of the religion, and 4) a complete uncertainty about the future. He also mentioned a general dislike for the Qur’an. And, since he had been an atheist, he was also quick to point out that he had also had some objections to Christianity: 1) Christianity’s apparent identification with the West, over and above eastern cultures, 2) Christianity’s belief that God has a Son, and 3) Christianity’s belief that God made man, rather than his then belief that man made God.

The respondent’s motivation to investigate Christianity was not religiously driven. In fact, it was a sociological or philosophical concern for the status of women within the Islamic cultural context that motivated him to examine other ethical systems in order to see what their view of women might be. The most obvious first system to examine, he thought, was Christianity because “it is the largest ethical system in the world.”

The respondent did not really have a plan of how he would examine Christianity’s view of women other than reading the New Testament. He did not feel it was necessary to seek the counsel of a pastor or priest. Rather, he was confident that a self-directed reading of the New Testament would give him a sufficiently clear understanding of the status of women in the Christian ethical system. However, he did not own a New Testament, so he went to a bookstore in Ramallah and purchased an Arabic Bible.

Knowing nothing about the New Testament, he thought the best approach would be to start at the beginning. So, he began reading the gospel of Matthew slowly and intentionally, and was so moved by the words of Jesus, that he “could not put it down”; he read the whole book (all twenty-eight chapters) every day for six months. While he found something precious in every chapter, he said, “I could not get past the words of Jesus in chapters five to seven, the Sermon on the Mountain Top. These words were so different than anything I had ever heard from Islam. They changed the way I viewed Christianity and life.”

Throughout the six months of reading the gospel of Matthew, the respondent desperately wanted to talk with someone about the things he was learning. However, he did not know any Christians, and he thought no one from his atheist circles would be interested. As the months moved forward, he became less and less afraid that others would find out that he was fervently reading the New Testament. Slowly, he started to leave the Bible sitting on the counter in open view at his work. Occasionally, others would see it and look at him as if to ask, “what’s this?” However, no one ever said anything until a doctor saw it and said, “I know someone who can talk with you about this book, if you want.” The respondent was not sure what he should do, but he was so taken with what he had read daily for almost six months, that he blurted out, “sure, I would like to talk to someone who knows something about it.”

This was a very important event in the respondent’s conversion because it gave him the opportunity to meet someone else who had walked the path he found himself walking at that time.

As he began embracing Jesus’ teaching in Matthew’s gospel, particularly chapters five through seven, he recognized the change in his life. And his wife noticed, too, though she had no idea why he was changing. He understood his wife’s recognition of changes as a sign of confirmation that he was on the right path. So, not only had he and others recognized these attitudinal and behavioral changes, he also “found the answers to [his] objections to Islam.” The major contrast he noted was love: “Christianity is based on love. Love your enemy. Be kind to others. Forgive those that hurt you. It’s about love; God loved the world. That’s so different from Islam,” he concluded.

The respondent met with the doctor’s friend, who was a MBB, every few weeks for about one year. At the end of that year, the respondent was convinced that he had become a believer in Jesus and made it known to his wife and others. He said that he “did not say a prayer of salvation,” so he can’t mark a specific day on which he became a believer, but he is certain that he has “believed on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

In addition to personal Bible reading and meeting with the doctor’s friend the respondent said he was influenced by three miracles that occurred in his life during the period with the doctor’s friend. He understood these miracles to be confirmation that he was a believer.

The first miracle was that the respondent passed several hardships, which included a failed business and personal betrayal by people close to him, without anger, bitterness, or denying God’s existence. He recognized God’s work in him, giving him “a peculiar ability to forgive” those that had hurt him, which he said, “would not have been possible when I was an atheist.”

The second miracle was connected to the death of his newborn baby. He said it was a miracle how God helped him (and his wife) through their grief. Once again the respondent saw evidence of God’s work in him, changing the way he responded to severe heartache.

The third miracle was more personal than the previous two and he did not want to elaborate more than saying that God had worked out some problems he had with his wife’s family.

Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, being “moved,” doubts about Islam/Qur’an, crisis, miracles, meeting Christians/MBBs, the “prayer of salvation,” and common objections to the gospel.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #12

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Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #10

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Ten, 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. 335-337.

Respondent Ten was raised in a moderately religious home that self-identified as Muslim, but did not live “like good Muslims.” However, the respondent was “always uncomfortable with Islam.” He said, “I always wanted to pray, but not in the Muslim way.” Though he was not a very observant Muslim, he knew enough about Islam to have certain objections. Specifically, he was troubled by what he thought was the cruelty of Sharia. He also was quite perplexed why millions of people would venerate at the Kaaba in Mecca, which he said, “is just a stone.” Any time he tried to raise these objections to his parents, he was told, “Don’t ask questions!” This type of response to his questions only served to push him further from Islam.

In 2006 the respondent’s journey toward Christianity began with a dream. In his dream, the respondent was walking near the Flower Gate in Jerusalem where a man dressed in white approached him. Immediately he recognized the man as Jesus, who said, “[respondent’s name], I want you to come with me.” According to the respondent, Jesus took him by the hand and traveling through the lower realms of the city, they arrived at the city wall. Then, Jesus reached through the wall and brought out a Bible and said “read this!”

The respondent awoke from his dream confused, but with a good feeling about what had happened. However, he did not tell anyone about the dream, neither did he begin reading the Bible.

After about two years, the respondent had his second dream, which was the first in a series of three. About one month later, he had the same dream in which he was sitting inside a church reading the Bible. In conjunction with these dreams he met a few evangelical, Arab Christians who were very friendly toward him. After the third dream in this series, which occurred about one month after the second, he asked to meet with the Arab Christians he had recently met. During their conversation, the respondent mentioned his dreams and that he thought it was odd for a Muslim to have a dream about Jesus. He was surprised when one of the Christians said, “You’re not the first Muslim to have a dream and you will not be the last.” He was also surprised when the man told him that “Muslims are getting a message” because he had not heard of others having dreams like he had. This prompted him to ask for a Bible, which he received the next day. He immediately began reading the New Testament secretly, and in three months, he had read it five times.

As a result of repeatedly reading the New Testament, he described himself as falling in love with Jesus. He said, “I loved what He taught. I loved Him. And I wanted to know more about Him, so I asked if I could attend a [Christian] meeting.” A few days later, the respondent went to a Christian concert, which was followed by a meeting. During the concert, one particular song repeated the words “God is with you” several times, which the respondent understood to be a message similar to the dreams he had experienced three to five months prior.

After the concert, he attempted to hide in the meeting by blending in and not speaking to anyone. However, many people greeted him warmly, which surprised him because he hadn’t expected that. In describing the meeting, he said, “I was touched by the message, and at some point I realized it was okay to relax and even thought it would be nice to return again.” Between meetings, he continued to secretly read his Bible at home, which he thought gave him more confidence because the next week he made no effort to hide and sat in the front.

For the next two months he continued to interact with these Christians, regularly asking them to explain more and to convince him. Some of the Christians stayed late to speak with him. One even used the Qur’an to suggest that reading the Bible is okay. He described his questions as “typical Muslim questions about the person of Jesus”: “How can you call Prophet Jesus God? How can Jesus be God’s son? How can you say God’s Prophet, God himself was killed on a cross? “

After two months the men who had been so patient with his questions finally said, “There’s nothing more we can do or say to prove to you that Jesus is Lord. You need to pray and ask God to show you.” This bold approach calmed the respondent, and after returning home, he began to pray as they had suggested.

One week later, he experienced his final dream. In that dream, Jesus appeared and said, “I want you to help spread my word.” The respondent understood this dream as the confirmation he was seeking and responded audibly in his dream, “I believe now. Jesus is Lord!”

The respondent said he did not pray a prayer of salvation, “I just believed Jesus is Lord and began calling myself a Christian.” In response to a follow up question, the respondent said that when he says, “Jesus is Lord,” he means that he believes “Jesus is God and that he died on the cross to pay for my sins.”

When asked what he thought were the essential things that brought him to faith, Respondent Ten said, “dreams and having someone to encourage me to consider Jesus.”

Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, being “drawn/compelled,” Q and A, doubts about Islam/Qur’an, the kindness of Christians, prayer, dreams, retreats/conferences/special events, meeting Christians/MBBs, the “prayer of salvation,” the Qur’an as a bridge, and common objections to the gospel.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #11

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Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #9

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Nine, a female from Ramala. 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. 331-334.

Respondent Nine – female – Ramallah

Respondent Nine was raised in a Catholic family in Bethlehem. She was educated in Catholic private schools and was very familiar with the ritual of traditional Catholic life. As she described her early years, she also added that she “unfortunately never knew the Lord personally.”

While in university, she fell in love with a Muslim man and eventually married him at the age of 22. Her family was distraught over this decision and considered her as dead. The loss of her family was emotionally devastating, and that devastation was multiplied when she almost immediately relocated with her new husband to Saudi Arabia, which she described as “an oppressive Muslim nation.” As a Catholic, life in Saudi Arabia was very difficult for her because of “all the pressure from every side to convert.” “My husband, my neighbors, people who didn’t know me, all pushed me and pushed me to convert,” she said. Finally, exhausted from the pressure, the respondent went to the religious court and formally converted to Islam. She said her conversion was followed by “intense courses on how to be a good Muslim in an oppressive Muslim country.”

She thought that converting to Islam would make her life easier. However, she was terribly mistaken. She became very disillusioned when she realized her life would continue to be miserable. She was still an outsider and shortly after arriving in Saudi Arabia, her husband became physically abusive.

After a few years in Saudi Arabia and a few more in Jordan, the respondent’s husband decided to return to Palestine with the family, which now included three children. They moved around the West Bank, spending a few years at a time in different places. Her husband continued to be physically abusive to the respondent and the children. After almost sixteen-years of suffering abuse, the respondent was emboldened to leave her husband by her children’s demands: “If you don’t leave him, we are going to run away,” they threatened. She took the children and secretly fled back to Jordan, only to eventually be discovered and forcibly returned to the West Bank to live with her husband’s family. She described life with her in-laws as “like being in prison. They didn’t like me and were always watching me. It was unbearable, but un-escapable until the abuse became so severe that my in-laws couldn’t bear it any longer.” She said, “They finally told my husband that we could not stay with them any longer, so he took us to a different city.”

After leaving her in-laws’ home, the abuse escalated to the point that her husband broke her nose and gave her other wounds on her head. Fear of almost being killed emboldened her to turn to a pastor and his wife whom she had met through her job. She was welcomed into the safety of the pastor’s home where she found peace and comfort. During her first stay with the pastor, she received a Bible, books about faith in Jesus, as well as some testimonies of Muslims who had come to faith in Jesus. But most important she said, “was his gentle spirit, so different than [she] had seen in Islam.” She had already spoken with the local sheik, who offered no help, and had been to divorce court where the judge laughed at her and told her to go back to her husband. She also contrasted this pastor with the Catholic Church: “He [the pastor] didn’t torture me or shame me for having converted to Islam as my Catholic family and church had done.”

While the respondent was happy to have a place of refuge, she was torn because she had left her children behind when she fled. The pastor was sensitive to that matter as well, and after several days of persuasion by the local sheik and the mayor, the pastor reluctantly allowed the respondent to return to her husband and children. However, her return was met with more abuse and suffering, and a pattern was established: abuse, escape, then returning to her husband and children. Eventually, the physical abuse reached the point that she was able to persuade the mayor to get involved, and he was finally able to persuade the sheik to release the respondent from her husband through divorce. The abuse was so severe that the court, in an unusual ruling, allowed the children to live with their mother, the respondent.

Through all of these trials, the respondent tried to be a more faithful and committed Muslim. Thinking her devotion to Islam would eventually bring relief she grew very skeptical that Islam had any answers for her life. “One day,” she said, she “hoped to find the real thing.” Whatever that was, she wanted it.

After the divorce, she basically let go of Islam and allowed her children to make their own decisions regarding their observance of Islam. She refused to fast, pray, or cover her hair. She wanted nothing more to do with Islam. Remembering her encounters with the pastor and his wife, she began to wonder if Christianity might be the answer she was seeking. However, she thought Jesus was only for the good people, not people with big problems like hers.

At work, she overheard conversation about some Christian programs being broadcast on satellite television. She wondered about the programs, but those thoughts passed quickly because she did not have a satellite, neither could she afford one. Shortly after she heard about the satellite programming, a friend suggested she prepare for the coming snowstorm by getting some food and making sure she could clear the snow off her satellite dish. When she said she did not have a satellite dish, the friend was shocked and offered to help her get one. She accepted his offer, and had the service within one day. Now, she could see the programs she had heard about at work. While watching one of the Christian broadcasts she thought to herself, “I wonder if it [salvation through Jesus] could really work for me?” About that time, she saw an advertisement for a Christian counseling service in Jerusalem. She did not take down the phone number the first time because she was afraid, but after giving the idea more thought she saw the advertisement again. This time she recorded the number.

Her first conversation with the female counselor made her optimistic that Jesus could make a difference in her life. Eventually, she became hopeful that the Lord would accept her. She began accepting visits from pastors of a specific church in the area. During these visits she was able to get her questions answered and learned about Jesus in a way she never had, even as a Catholic.

She was moved to think that God cared for her personally. But, thought that “accepting and trusting the Lord was too simple.” In Islam, she needed to work hard to be accepted by Allah. After what seemed like a lifetime of hard work and cruel suffering, though, she never felt accepted by Allah.

It took her approximately one year to be fully persuaded that Jesus’ death on the cross was able to give her a way to have peace and a relationship with God. A few months later, she was baptized in the West Bank.

When asked for three essential elements in her conversion experience, the respondent said: “Acceptance [accompanied] with the love of the Lord, peace, and relationships,” were the things without which she doesn’t think she would have converted.

She has maintained her faith for seven years, the last four years publicly.

Themes that emerged in this interview: Being “moved,” Q and A, doubts about Islam/Qur’an, crisis, Christian broadcasting, Christian literature, meeting Christians/MBBs, crisis counseling center, advertising, pastoral/evangelistic visits, and common objections to the gospel.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #10

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Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #8

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Eight, a male from Nablus. 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. 327-330.

Respondent Eight – male – Nablus

Respondent Eight was raised in a fairly observant Muslim home, which he explained meant his father would wake him each day for the early-morning prayer and that he fasted during Ramadan. As an adult, his commitment to prayer had relaxed, but he definitely viewed himself as a committed Muslim.

By the time he was thirty years old, he had become a wealthy business owner. However, within the next five years, the Second Intifada (Arab uprising) would affect his business in ways he could not have imagined five years prior at the height of his success. In response to the Intifada the Israeli military moved their checkpoint in such a way that the respondent’s business was on the other side of the border, unreachable by his customers. The misfortune of his business’ location coupled with some bad business decisions led to the collapse of what had been a very lucrative business. This reversal of fortune led to great stress and financial burdens for the respondent, which eventually developed into bankruptcy and serious depression.

Prior to the collapse of the respondent’s business, among his customers were three American Christian ladies who were “probably in their twenties.” He later came to realize they were missionaries, but in their regular interactions with his sister, who worked for him, he only saw “friendly ladies who were willing to live among the Arabs.” He did not know exactly why they lived in his area, or exactly what they did, but he thought they were there to help the needy in some way. He, too, had helped the needy in his area through charity. “But these ladies were different,” he said. “They were Americans. They were Christians, not Muslims. And they were helping mostly Muslims by living among them and not just giving money.”

In their regular interactions with his sister, who was a very devout Muslim, more devout than he, the Christian women gave her an Arabic Bible. He also noted that the Americans would not accept a Qur’an. They talked openly with his sister, in English, about how much Jesus loves the Arab people. They were also very friendly toward him and made a point to greet him each time they stopped to visit his sister. Their openness toward him, a fairly observant Muslim, was considered a breach of cultural etiquette, “but small enough to be excused since they were foreigners.”

In the midst of the respondent’s financial success he regularly flipped through various Arabic language magazines and on several occasions had noticed an advertisement that focused on the words of Jesus found in Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”[1]

While things in his life were good, the advertisements never created much interest for him. But in the midst of his financial collapse, the words came back to his mind. “I was weary and burdened, but who could give me rest?” he wondered. At the time, he did not know the source of such hopeful words was the New Testament, but he was able to locate a similar advertisement and call the phone number that was listed. Later, he found out the advertisements were sponsored by an international Christian ministry and that he had called a Christian crisis-counseling center. The phone bank counselor, who was also a pastor, told him that the words he had read were spoken by Jesus and could be found in the Christian Bible.[2]

They spoke about a number of things during that and subsequent calls (one to two times per week for about eighteen months), but the most important thing was that the respondent remembered his sister had previously received a Bible from the three American ladies. He contacted his sister to see if she still had the Bible, which she did. The next day, he visited his sister so that he could get the Bible and read more of “the words Jesus.” Over the next two days he read all of the Gospels and “fell in love with Jesus.” “It was so compelling and made so much sense, I could not put it down,” he said. When asked to clarify his claim to have read the Gospels in two days, he reasserted the claim, and added, “I’ve done that five or six times.”

After reading the Gospels the first time, the respondent called his sister to see what she thought about his new interest. “Maybe we [Muslims] are wrong,” he suggested. His sister raised some common objections like “they believe in three Gods, we don’t.” Her suggestions seemed to make sense, so he called the counseling center to ask questions. The counselor/pastor clarified that Christians, in fact, do not believe in three Gods and explained the concept of the Trinity.

Having not realized it so clearly in the past, the respondent was, at that time, beginning to realize he had already, particularly as a teen, had doubts about Islam. The early-morning prayer during the winter months was particularly bothersome because it meant he had to wake up very early. He thought that was unreasonable, particularly on cold, wet mornings. He was also troubled by Islamic rules regarding inheritance, which were directly connected to the financial difficulties he faced at that time.

Through a contact from the counseling line, the respondent began to regularly meet with two Christian men, one Palestinian and one American, to discuss these particular issues and the Christian faith.

The process of conversion, or being convinced that Christianity was the correct way, took about two years of additional, regular (i.e., weekly) pastoral/evangelistic visits and daily Bible reading. When asked if by Bible reading the respondent meant the whole Bible or just the New Testament, he answered, “The New Testament. I don’t read the Old Testament because it is too close to the Jews.”

In the end, he said, “It came down to one question: Can I judge God?” He concluded that even though all his questions may not have been answered, he could not question God, whom he had come to believe was speaking through the New Testament. He could not remember a specific question that was not answered, which he noted, “doesn’t matter anymore.” He explained that sentiment by saying, “I believe in Jesus now, that’s all that matters.”

He said he “did not pray the sinner’s prayer,” rather he simply realized he had come to a point of believing that Jesus had died for his sins, and that forgiveness was the way that Jesus was offering him rest, bringing him full-circle to the magazine advertisement that included Matthew 11:28.

Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, Q and A, doubts about Islam/Qur’an, the kindness of Christians, crisis, the “sinner’s prayer,” an open witness, crisis counseling center, advertising, pastoral or evangelistic visits, and common objections to the gospel.

[1] The advertisements were in Arabic.

[2] In this region, “Christian Bible” is often code for New Testament. Similarly, the Old Testament is referenced frequently as the Jewish Bible.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #9

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Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #7

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Seven, a male from Nablus. 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. 323-326.

Respondent Seven – male – Nablus

Respondent Seven was raised in a very religiously observant Muslim family. Not only did he pray five times daily, he awoke early to pray with his grandfather who was the area sheik. At the age of twelve he had memorized half of the Qur’an, and fully intended to memorize the whole text. However, while reading and memorizing the Qur’an, he came upon some troubling things, which eventually led to his openness toward Christianity.

When the respondent came to the portion of the Qur’an that deals with the crucifixion of Jesus,[1]he noticed what he thought was a mistake. He mentioned to his grandfather that he had come upon a problem and asked if his grandfather could help him. Of course his grandfather said he would. The respondent explained to his grandfather that while reading the Qur’an he got the impression that the Qur’an teaches that “Allah tricked people so that they thought Jesus was crucified on the cross, but it was really someone else.” He said he asked his grandfather if that is, in fact, “what we believe.” His grandfather answered in the affirmative that “Muslims believe that Allah tricked those who thought it was Jesus who was actually crucified, and that Allah would punish those who believe the trick.” While the respondent’s grandfather was very proud of his grandson’s sharp mind, the respondent was very disappointed and troubled by this revelation, which he believed “made Allah look bad.”

In addition to the most serious problem mentioned above, the respondent started finding other problems within the Qur’an. Many of those problems he characterized as “contradictions.”Over the next couple years, while he was approximately thirteen to fifteen-years-old, he began to intensely study the Qur’an and seek out Islamic scholars who could answer his questions. He said, “I wasn’t looking for a way out of Islam; I was trying to get answers that would help keep me in.” He wrote to Islamic authorities at various centers and schools in a variety of countries, and only became more disappointed by each answer he received. This disappointment led him to be less observant, though certainly not an apostate.

About three years later he was introduced to some members of the Christian Student Association at Bir Zeit University. It was these students who presented the respondent with the first New Testament he had ever seen, which he read several times within a year. He explained his experience of reading the New Testament as a process of increasing attraction: “Though I read it from a Muslim mindset, each time I was more attracted to it than each previous time.” When asked what he meant by “Muslim mindset” he clarified: “Still believing in Islam and the basic teachings of Islam, especially that God can not be a man.”

After about one year of continuously reading the New Testament and becoming friendlier with the Christian students, the respondent thought it would be good to meet with a priest to get some answers. He made an appointment and eventually went to meet with a Catholic priest in Ramallah, who politely listened to his first few questions. Very quickly, though, the priest asked the respondent to go to the Palestinian Authority ministry of religious affairs to change his religious status from Muslim to Christian so that they could continue their discussions. The respondent refused to change his religion and demanded to know the answers to his questions. The priest’s response was to refuse to continue talking with the respondent. In hindsight, he suspects the priest was afraid of being accused of converting Muslims.

After the failed effort to get some answers from the priest, one of the Christian students offered to introduce the respondent to “a[n evangelical] scholar.” During their first meeting the scholar started to preach, saying, “You need the lamb whose blood protects us, the lamb who was resurrected after three days.” Because he had read the New Testament several times, the respondent understood that the scholar was talking about Jesus, but the approach was quite shocking. Additionally, he said, “I didn’t know how to believe in Jesus, so I asked him how can I believe?” The scholar’s answer was equally shocking and unhelpful: “Tell him you are a sinner and give him your sin,” he said. “But, how?” the respondent pleaded for clarification. The scholar gave another aggressive and unclear response: “Let’s pray! If you believe the words, accept them. If not, don’t.” The respondent followed in prayer not knowing whether he believed or not.

One thing became clear, though: there were some definite cultural and religious issues to overcome. “How could I view the Lord as my friend?” he asked. “Islam believes that God is untouchable, unreachable by humans. So, how could I relate to Jesus, who Christians believe is God, like a friend? It was hard enough to think about Jesus, a man, being God. But it was nearly impossible to think of him as a friend.”

Still unclear of his status, believer or unbeliever, the respondent “read the New Testament faithfully for the next three years, or a little more.” During this period, he came to think that he “already knew everything [he] needed to know,” so he was puzzled why it was “so difficult to follow Jesus.” As he thought through the decision, he decided to make a chart listing all that he might lose or gain if he decided to follow Jesus.

What he saw was a lopsided chart that revealed overwhelming risk and no gain, which helped the respondent push away the idea of believing in Jesus. But only temporarily because the thoughts of following Jesus continued to regularly resurface, often with thoughts of how his original chart was incomplete. On the gain side, he realized he should have listed peace, love, eternal life, forgiveness, and honor through humility. Finally, after four years of consideration, he firmly decided to believe in Jesus. At that time, the respondent called the scholar who he had prayed with previously and said, “I’m ready to believe.” Immediately, the scholar prayed the sinner’s prayer with the respondent.

When asked if there was a decisive event or specific information that changed his mind, the respondent said his conversion was dependent on several things: A personal problem with Islam; the willingness of Christians to give him a New Testament and his own desire to read it; the availability, willingness and patience of a Christian to answer his questions; and a Christian’s willingness to challenge him to believe in Jesus.

Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, Q and A, doubts about Islam/Quran, the kindness of Christians, the witness of a friend, meeting Christians/MBBs, the “sinner’s prayer,” and common objections to the gospel.

[1] See, Sahih International Translation, [Accessed 10 Sep 2012]. 4:156-159 “And [We cursed them] for their disbelief and their saying against Mary a great slander, (157) And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah.” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain. (158) Rather, Allah raised him to Himself. And ever is Allah Exalted in Might and Wise. (159) And there is none from the People of the Scripture but that he will surely believe in Jesus before his death. And on the Day of Resurrection he will be against them a witness.”

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