This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Seventeen, 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. 362-365.
Respondent Seventeen was raised in a secular Muslim family. She was the odd member of the family who was interested in politics, believing political activism was the gateway to freedom. She identified herself as an atheist communist who was interested only in “political activism against the Zionist occupation.” When the respondent was in high school, she attended anti-occupation conferences throughout the Arab world, and eventually spent her college years studying in Jordan.
It was in Jordan that the respondent was first exposed to Christianity. Her college roommate was a Christian who became a good friend, and while she never evangelized the respondent, neither did she appear to be embarrassed or try to hide her Christianity. During the respondent’s studies in Jordan, she learned English. And, even though she had no religious interests, she read the Bible to practice her English and to gain general knowledge of Christianity.
Upon completion of university, the respondent returned to Palestine with the assumption she would become involved in the movement for the independence of Palestine on university campuses in the West Bank as well as in Europe and the United States. Equipped with her English skills and personal experience of the occupation, she pictured herself to be an indispensable member of the “voice of Palestine.” She said, “I wanted to use my English skills to inform the West of the realities of the occupation. I wanted to be the voice of Palestine that convinced America and Europe to stop supporting the occupation.”
In hindsight, she said she held the “naive belief” that the people were waiting for her to step forward, education and experience in hand, to be the one who would finally succeed in convincing the West to stop supporting Zionism and liberate the oppressed. However, reality was something different: “No one doubted my academic credentials or English language skills or my experience of the occupation, but it became clear that no one was interested in my help. These were people who knew me because, as a youth, I had volunteered in different anti-occupation movements. So it was not that they needed to get to know me before they could trust me. Then the light came on: the people I thought were fighting on behalf of Palestine and the Palestinian people, were actually involved for themselves. That’s why they were not interested in me; they saw me as competition, not as help. I could not believe it and refused to believe it for a couple months. But it was true and I could not deny it any longer. What made it worse was to realize that, as a youth, my idealism and belief in Palestine were exploited for the personal gain of the leaders of our movement. How could they do that? They were worse than the Zionists!”
Suddenly, the respondent’s “world came crashing down. All of life was crashing in on” her. The only thing she knew to do was to hide herself away in her bedroom. She hibernated for two days and began entering into severe depression. During this time, she repeated the same questions over and over: “How could they do that to the people? How could they do that to me?” Every explanation she could think of was void of any comfort. And each cycle of questioning increased her sense of betrayal and drove her closer to despair.
Because her family had never believed in political activism as she had, they did not realize how hurt and crushed she was. She said, “They could not understand that my whole world had suddenly crashed. I had dreams of changing the realities of Palestine. I had envisioned being part of the movement that broke the occupation. That’s what my life was about. And all of that was gone! Did it ever really exist? I don’t know. Perhaps in other areas or movements, but not in the one I was in.”
After more than one month of hiding away in her bedroom, the respondent realized she needed to find a job and start moving on with her life. This was really difficult because she felt like her life was totally upside down. She eventually got a secretarial job, doing a variety of office tasks. In many ways it was mindless work, so she was able to manage without too much trouble. A couple months passed before someone told her about a place where she could learn computer skills from teachers who were really nice people. Since she did not have any other real vocational options, she thought she might as well give it a try. Eventually, this decision would change her life in ways she could never have imagined.
The courses she attended gave her the opportunity to meet a MBB for the first time. Over the course of a month she had become close enough with a few MBBs to ask to join them on a group trip to Egypt. By this time, she knew all those who would be going on the trip were believers in Jesus, though she did not fully understand what it meant to be a believer in Jesus. The group was traveling to Egypt to encourage fellow believers and to share their testimonies with whoever would listen, and the respondent ended up being one of the listeners.
Each morning the group began the day with devotions led by the group leader who was also the founder of the learning center (See Respondent Eleven). The morning devotions were followed later in the day with a group Bible study. The devotions and Bible studies were primarily directed toward the believers for the purpose of encouraging them in the faith, but they were also intended to challenge the respondent to consider belief in Jesus. The bulk of the day was spent around Cairo witnessing wherever possible, and the evenings were given to group time with local brothers and sisters in the Lord.
On the sixth morning, in a private conversation, the group leader spoke directly to the respondent about salvation – her need for and the way of salvation. In this conversation, which was prefaced with six days of morning devotions and daily Bible studies, the group leader explained from the New Testament how the respondent was a sinner and in need of forgiveness. He contrasted the certainty of Jesus’ forgiveness with the uncertainty of Allah’s final judgment as presented by Islam. He also emphasized how each of the MBBs on the trip experienced personal peace when they “accepted Jesus as Lord.”
For the first time, the respondent actually considered the existence of God. In fact, the existence of God, though a new thought for her, simply became a reality as she listened to the testimonies of her fellow travelers. She doesn’t know exactly when her belief about the existence of God happened or a specific thing that changed her view, but she does connect it directly to the personal testimonies she heard daily: “Knowing them and hearing their testimonies was very important to me,” she said.
After returning from Egypt, the respondent wanted to know more about believing in Jesus. She said, “I wanted to believe, but I needed more assurance that I was on the right path.” During the next week she had “non-stop conversations about believing in Jesus” with the group leader. When they were not talking, she was reading the Gospels. “Finally, after a week of talking and reading,” she told the group leader that she “believed in Jesus as Lord.” He said that he was not surprised that she had come to believe in Jesus and led her in a prayer of salvation.
When asked what she thought was important for others to know about her conversion experience, she said, “Jesus is the right way of salvation. Don’t stop hearing about Jesus. He gives peace if people believe.”
Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, formal Bible studies, crisis, meeting Christians/MBBs, the “prayer of salvation,” culture center, lack of interest in religion.
NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #18