Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #18

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Eighteen, 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. 366-369.

Respondent Eighteen introduced himself by giving some details of a hard teenage life, most of which were related to the family not having much money. While he worked during most of his teenage years, going to work at an automotive repair shop in his village at age eighteen was the beginning of his journey to faith in Jesus. Shortly after he began working there a Messianic Jewish[1] customer began to regularly stop by to say hello. Eventually the Jewish man began to ask questions about the respondent’s religion, primarily focusing on issues of sin and forgiveness.

Soon after the Jewish man started asking these questions, perhaps a month later, the respondent began to have a series of similarly themed dreams. In the dreams, a man in white clothes with a bright glow over his face asked the respondent in Arabic, “Are you chosen?” The respondent was confused because he originally thought the man in the dream was asking if he was the village chief, which he was not. So, he answered the man in white, “no.” He always awoke from this recurring dream frightened and sweating.

In the final dream, the fifth or sixth, the same man in white appeared, but this time he placed his hand on the respondent’s shoulder and said, “You are chosen,” and the respondent replied, “No!” At that point he awoke, again frightened and sweating and confused about the meaning of the dream. After this last dream, the respondent told the Jewish man about the dreams. His response was, “God is trying to tell you something important.” Then, the Jewish man began to tell him about Jesus and encouraged him to read the Bible.

At the time, the respondent considered himself a religious Muslim, so he was a little confused that a Jewish man kept telling him about Jesus and suggesting that he should read the New Testament.

The Jewish man also introduced the respondent to a Christian couple that regularly brought Christian tourists through the area. The respondent noted that this contact was very important in his coming to faith. “Once, they stopped by my work with a group of fifty-one tourists who brought boxes filled with clothes and food items.” Almost as an afterthought, the respondent added that the boxes also included Arabic Bibles and Christian books amongst the food and clothes. Even though there were no oral or written instructions or demands to read the Christian materials, the respondent understood the inclusion of such items in the aid boxes as a quid pro quo. Therefore, because he wanted to please the Christians who were bringing him food, the material aid became the catalyst for the respondent to begin reading the Bible. Each time a new box of aid arrived, the respondent was asked if he was reading the Bible, to which he always replied, “Yes, I’m reading it regularly.” He was actually reading the Bible, but he admitted that in the beginning, his “thoughts were more on the boxes than the Bible.”

Initially and for some time, perhaps six months, he did not understand anything he was reading in the Bible, and his assessment was that the Old Testament was for Jews and the New Testament was for Christians. The frustration that resulted from unintelligible reading eventually led him to stop reading the Bible for about two months. However, in spite of the frustration, his interest in the aid boxes caused him to begin reading the New Testament again. “This time,” he said, “I began to slowly understand a little more each time I read it, which made it more interesting.” And over the course of “about two years,” he realized his interest in the New Testament had become greater than his interest in the aid boxes: “Originally, I was motivated by the boxes, so I read more. But, the more I read, the less interested in the boxes I became,” he explained.

As his interest in the New Testament grew, the political situation flared up again and the Jewish man stopped visiting, as did the tourists. Even though they never showed up again, he continued to read because he felt compelled to read. He “spent long nights reading through the New Testament.” Of course he was still thinking about the aid boxes, but he “was thinking more about the New Testament and Jesus.” In fact, he said he felt like he “was being drawn not just to the New Testament, but also being drawn to know this person [i.e., Jesus].”

Eventually he changed careers and started to drive a taxi, which he really enjoyed because it gave him many opportunities to read the New Testament secretly. On many occasions he simply stopped his taxi on the side of the road so he could read the New Testament, which continued to draw him toward Jesus.

An important turning point in his conversion came when he picked up a MBBfor a fare. During the commute the MBB began to witness to the respondent, which he enjoyed very much, though he did not tell the MBB about his obsession with reading the New Testament. After meeting a few times, the respondent asked if he could become the MBB’s regular driver, hoping that they could have more conversations. Their conversations eventually turned more personal, including discussions about life as a MBB and the deity of Jesus and a confession by the respondent that he was reading the New Testament. After a few months of conversations, the respondent was invited to visit a MBB church, which led to an invitation to a MBB couples retreat. Though he was still an unbeliever, he convinced his wife to attend with him, ostensibly “to pray.” She had no prior knowledge of his reading the New Testament, nor his consideration of conversion. When she witnessed people worshiping Jesus, she refused to stay, declaring the meeting “haram!” [forbidden] for Muslims. And because of his wife’s negative reaction, the respondent kept his further study and eventual conversion to himself.

After returning from the conference, the respondent realized he believed Jesus died for his sins. He was by himself when it occurred to him, so he phoned the MBB to tell him the news.

The respondent said the love that he discovered in Jesus and Jesus people compelled him to believe. While admitting there was some level of hesitation in the beginning, he also said, “believing was easy because one thing led to another.” The initial seeds that were planted by the Jewish believer and the tourists were watered by the reading of the New Testament and conversations with the MBB, and ultimately drew him to believe in Jesus.

Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, “drawn/compelled,” the kindness of Christians, dreams, retreats/conferences/special events, meeting Christians/MBBs, an open witness, and common objections to the gospel.

[1] In this context, Messianic Jewish means a Jewish person who believes Jesus is the Messiah. Though the phrase has mostly gone out of use, Jewish-Christian has also been used in reference to Jews who believe in Jesus.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #19

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Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #17

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

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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 #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.

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