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

Download my dissertation as a free PDF!

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

Download my dissertation as a free PDF!

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

Download my dissertation as a free PDF!

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

Download my dissertation as a free PDF!

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

Download my dissertation as a free PDF!

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

Download my dissertation as a free PDF!

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, Quran.com/4 [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.”

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #8

Download my dissertation as a free PDF!

Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #6

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Six, 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. 320-322.

Respondent Six – male – Nablus

Respondent Six’s conversion was closely connected to the conversion of his parents, Respondent Four and Respondent Five. His first encounter with the gospel was the result of his parents inviting some Christian men to their home in order to solicit some medical assistance for the respondent’s sister. Over time the men discussed their Christian faith with the respondent’s family and provided him the Jesus Film and the book Glad News! God Loves You My Muslim Friend.

Initially the respondent was unhappy about the meetings with the Christian men, which began when he was about fifteen-years-old. He had two main issues with the visits. First, though not overly religious, he considered himself a faithful Muslim, and he was not interested in becoming a Christian or even hearing about Christians. He was satisfied with being a Muslim. Second, he feared that word may spread that Christians were coming to their home regularly, which might result in some type of retaliation or punishment form the community. The last thing he wanted was for his family to be branded as traitors to Islam.

The respondent said that in spite of his anger about the meetings and lack of desire to hear about Christianity, he also felt drawn to sit with his parents as they met with the Christian men. At the time of his interview, the respondent still was not sure if this desire was the result of actually wanting to know more, though unwittingly, or if he simply desired to protect his family. At one point, he warned them that they were going to turn into monkeys if they continued meeting and praying with the Christians. The longer the Christian men continued to visit, the more he did not want them to visit, and, ironically, the more he wanted to sit with them.

After a few months, he began to secretly watch the Jesus Film. He had received an Arabic version of the film, which was very important for him to be able to understand the dialogue. He had several months of internal struggle, being moved by the life of Jesus and how he was mistreated and punished while at the same time feeling guilty for thinking about Christianity. In fact, he said he regularly asked Allah to forgive him for sitting with the Christian men. While he was drawn to the message of the Jesus film, he also was afraid he would be kidnapped and tortured as Allah’s punishment for his interest in the film. The idea of becoming a Christian was repulsive and frightening, yet each time he watched the film he felt more drawn toward Jesus.

The respondent’s conversion came about in stages. At times he felt drawn toward Jesus, which usually occurred while watching the Jesus Film or after certain visits from the Christian men. At other times the respondent felt shame and remorse for watching the film or asking questions of the men, so he moved alternately closer and farther from Jesus from week to week.

Though it was often upsetting to meet with the Christian men, he now sees how important it was because from the outset they gave a good first impression, and they continued to do so. “They acted like believers by being kind and patient even when I spoke harshly to them,” the respondent said. He sensed a genuine love for his family from these men, and “not because they were trying to convert us.” The Christian men built a relationship with the family that did not fade when the respondent insulted them or his father forbid them to return.

During their visits, the Christian men did not seem to have an organized plan, other than to be patient and show Christ any way they could. Sometimes, they taught something about Jesus from the Gospels. Alternatively, they might simply answer questions about Christianity, or compare the Qur’an with the Bible. Whatever the situation dictated, the men were flexible and faithful in showing patience and love. The respondent also noted that the Christian men were very familiar with the Qur’an and Islamic teaching and culture, which suggested they were not outsiders from a distant land who had come to change the people’s religion.

As a result of the home meetings, the respondent was invited to meet some MBB young people (teens to early twenties) to play basketball and volleyball. He assumed these young people would be social misfits and unhappy because they were living outside the parameters of Islam. But, to his surprise, they seemed normal and happy. After a few meetings he became friends with a couple of the guys and began talking to them on the phone every few days.

A turning point came in his journey toward conversion when his friends invited him to a MBB conference. Afraid that his parents would not approve, he only told them that he was going to visit his friends. He said, “At the conference, everything seemed to come together. My fears were taken away and I became convinced of what I had been learning while listening to the Christian men who were visiting our home. The testimonies that I heard at the conference were similar to what I felt and saw in the Jesus Film. I didn’t say the sinner’s prayer, but I was definitely a believer in Jesus,” he concluded.

Themes that emerged in this interview: Formal Bible studies, being “drawn/compelled,” being “moved,” Q and A, the Qur’an vs. the Bible, evangelists familiar with Islam/Qur’an, the kindness of Christians, prayer, retreats/conferences/special events, Group/Family conversion, the Jesus Film, Christian literature, meeting Christians/MBBs, the “sinner’s prayer,” pastoral/evangelistic visits, satisfaction with Islam, fear or shame as a barrier to the gospel, and negative assumptions about Christians/MBBs.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #7

Download my dissertation as a free PDF!

 

 

Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #5

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Five, 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. 317-319.

Respondent Five – female – Nablus

Respondent Five’s testimony is intimately connected to the conversion process of her husband, Respondent Four. Their daughter had an eye problem that required corrective surgery. A family friend directed their attention to some Christian men who had been in their area, suggesting that those men could help the respondents’ daughter get the needed surgery at a Jerusalem hospital. As it turned out, the men did not have any direct connections to the eye hospital, but promised to do what they could to secure some help.

Before leaving, the Christian men also gave the respondent’s husband an Arabic tract with the following headline: “John 14:6 – I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man can come to the Father but by me.” At the time, the tract was not important to the respondent or her husband; they simply wanted help getting their daughter’s eyes corrected. However, while they did not understand the tract to be important, it was one of the instruments God used to get her husband’s attention, which resulted in them inviting the Christian men to visit and talk about spiritual matters.

As a result of her husband’s interest in, or sometimes consternation with the things the Christian men were telling them, the men were asked to return on multiple occasions to explain more about their beliefs. The invitations were not always open, though. At times, the respondent’s husband would forbid them to come to the home anymore. Alternately, he would revise his decision and allow them to resume their visits.

Although she never told her husband, the respondent enjoyed hearing the men talk about Jesus and the Bible and was always sad when they left. In many ways, she was the opposite of her husband as they each moved toward conversion. He was always troubled by the men’s visit; she never was. He respected Islam and enjoyed being at the mosque; she had internal conflicts with Islam and did not enjoy going to the mosque. And, while her conversion was intimately associated with her husband’s, she had her own personal experience, which involved dreams, Christian broadcasting on satellite television, a miracle, and personal dissatisfaction with Islam.

Prior to considering Christianity, the respondent had issues with Islam that had to do with the life of the prophet and the lives of Muslims. Muhammad had been presented to her as a model of how to live. Yet, he had a child bride. When the respondent gave some thought to the issue of a child bride, she began to question a number of things. For example, allowing men to have up to four wives was impossible in her mind, particularly for her personally. She also felt like Islam demanded that its adherents not think outside Islam, which means blindly accepting anything Islamic tradition or leaders teach and disregarding anything positive that was said about other religions. She thought this was an attempt to hide “the bad side of Islam.”

As a result of things the Christian men had said during their visits, the respondent asked God to give her a sign, a dream that would confirm the things she was hearing from the visitors. On three occasions she had the same dream of three wooden crosses descending from the sky. The only thing she could conclude from these dreams was that they were confirming what she had heard from the Christian men about Jesus dying on the cross between two thieves. However, even though they appeared to be God’s response to her request for a sign, she was not yet convinced.

In addition to the respondent’s personal reading of the New Testament and visits with the Christian men over an almost two-year period, the most persuasive influence in her decision to convert came through watching Christian broadcasting via satellite. Though she watched English broadcasts, too, she primarily watched Arabic language broadcasts, which were fairly charismatic in style and theology.

The turning point in the respondent’s decision to convert came while watching an Arabic language Christian broadcast during which, the television pastor said he wanted to pray for those viewers who were sick. The respondent had, for some time, had a tumor in her stomach that had not been helped through Muslim prayers for healing. In response to the television pastor’s message, the respondent touched the television and prayed for healing. She was surprised when she heard the pastor call her name and age, but believed that, like the dreams, this was a sign from God. Two days later, the tumor was gone and she “completely believed in Jesus.”

Due to her husband’s ongoing struggles between Islam and Christianity, the respondent did not tell him of her healing or conversion for about a week. And that occurred in conjunction with him telling her that he had converted.

Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, formal Bible studies, doubts about Islam/Qur’an, the kindness of Christians, prayer, dreams, crisis, family/group conversion, Christian broadcasting, gospel tracts, and pastoral/evangelistic visits.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #6

Download my dissertation as a free PDF!


 

Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #4

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Four, 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. 309-316.

Respondent Four – male – Nablus

Respondent Four was raised in an observant Muslim home. As an adult he avoided pork and alcohol, faithfully prayed five times per day and observed Ramadan. He was satisfied with his life as a Muslim. In fact, after returning from a lengthy stint working in the Arabian Gulf, he was involved in a religiously motivated political group that he described as actively seeking the establishment of a truly Muslim nation beginning in all of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean [i.e., modern Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza] and spreading throughout the region.

Since there was no work available when he returned from the Gulf, the respondent depended on aid from organizations like the UN to survive for more than two years. This lack of work gave him a lot of free time, so in addition to his political activities and daily prayer ritual, he had plenty of time to participate in a Qur’an study group, which, in his estimation, made him “a better Muslim, a stronger Muslim, and a Muslim more determined to see the end of Israel and the establishment of a truly Muslim nation.”

The respondent’s introduction to the gospel was the result of what appeared to be a chance encounter. He was perfectly satisfied with his life as a Muslim. His wife and kids were happily involved in the Muslim community. He was satisfied with his political activities, and though he was still having difficulties providing for his family, the lack of work afforded him the opportunity to continue in the Qur’an study. Life was good, except for one thing: His young daughter had a serious eye problem that medicine could not fix; she needed surgery.

About five years after returning from the Gulf, a Muslim friend told the respondent that he had recently met some Christian men from Jerusalem who work for an eye hospital, and suggested that they could probably get the respondent’s daughter the surgery she needed. Though he desperately wanted his daughter’s eye problem to be repaired, he was adamant that he did not want and would not allow the Christian men to help. So, he refused to see them.

A week later, the respondent, once again, saw the man who had suggested getting help from the Christian men who were visiting their area and distributing care packages to the needy. The respondent was still adamant: “No help from Christians!” he shouted.

The next night, the respondent began to experience a series of dreams or voices in the night. The respondent was not certain how to label the events, except to say that he never saw anything; he only heard a voice. This happened on three consecutive nights, and then once more a few days later.

The first night, he clearly heard in Arabic the words, “Your life is wrong.” The voice woke him and he was quite unsettled, wondering what was wrong with his life. He woke his wife and after telling her about the voice, asked how his life might be wrong. She assured the respondent that everything was okay because they were “100% observant Muslims.”

The next day, he spent the morning thinking about the meaning of the message. The only thing he could think of was that it was a sign from Allah that it was time to start the uprising against Israel that his political group had been planning. Without revealing anything about the voice, he contacted his immediate supervisor, who lived abroad, to see if it was time to implement their plans. Thinking he had solved the riddle, the respondent was quite surprised when his supervisor did not hesitate to say that it was not time. The supervisor’s answer caused the respondent’s day to be very long; he could not think about anything but the words he had heard the previous night and what they meant.

Before going to bed that night, still confused about the words he had heard, the respondent went to the mosque and prayed that he could become a soldier for Allah. In the night, he was awakened once again by the voice for the second time with a similar, but more emphatic message: “Your life is wrong, very wrong. I need you as a leader; many will follow you.” Again, he woke his wife and asked her what was wrong in his life and how he could improve, but she had no answer. The question plagued him throughout the following day, but he did not know the answer.

The next night, the third in a row, the same voice spoke again: “I need you somewhere else.” He did not understand what this meant, but did not bother to wake his wife again.

After three consecutive nights of hearing the voice and not understanding the message, he happened to see the man who had recommended that the respondent seek medical help for his daughter from the Christians. For some reason, he felt differently about it this time, and told the man to have them come visit.

A few days later, three men came to visit the respondent and his daughter. Unknown to the respondent at the time, one of the men was a MBB, the other two were evangelical Christians, one Palestinian, the other American. During the visit, the men told him that they were not connected to the eye hospital in Jerusalem, but that they would do their best to try to find help from someone who was connected.

Before leaving, they also gave the respondent a tract with the following headline: “John 14:6 – I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man can come to the Father but by me.” He did not read beyond the headline, thanked the men for coming and led them to the door. He was not interested in the tract, but he thought it was appropriate to give it some attention in the presence of the men who were going to help get his daughter’s eyes repaired.

In the night, he was awakened the fourth and final time by the same voice, which said, “This is the explanation of the voice.” The message was short, but caused a different reaction than the previous three because he understood it to reference the Christian tract he had received. Tears flowed down his face as he woke his wife to tell her what had happened. Certain that he would find something important inside the tract, he asked his wife to come read it with him.

He read the tract to her and said, “I know it’s supposed to be the explanation of the voice, but I still don’t understand the meaning.” Since the information in the tract came from the New Testament, his wife encouraged him to call the men and ask for a Bible, so that he could read more to try to better understand the tract’s meaning. He followed her suggestion, and within a day, the men had returned with a Bible.

The respondent began to read the Bible side by side with Qur’an, intending to disprove the Bible. Since the tract included a verse from John’s gospel, he initially thought he should read that first. However, he decided to read from the beginning. After reading one chapter, he concluded that “Genesis was just a storybook” and he pushed it aside. He happily returned to the Qur’an for a day. However, the next day, he felt compelled to try reading the Bible again and he began reading in Genesis chapter two this time.

The story of Adam and Eve caught his attention because God spoke to them. Since he still had no steady work, he had time to read the Bible and attend the mosque. No one, except his wife and children, knew he was reading the Bible. He certainly did not tell the men at the mosque. He was also captivated by the story of Abraham, particularly the land promise that Abraham received. As he finished Genesis and continued reading the Old Testament, he expanded his reading to include Matthew’s gospel. For some reason he could not bring himself to read John.

Certain that the New Testament had errors, he was determined to find them and make notes to show the men from Jerusalem why they were wrong to be Christians. When the men returned to visit, he presented his list, and was disappointed when they calmly explained why the perceived errors were not actually errors. He was also disappointed when the explanations were clear and persuasive. The disappointment turned to anger when one of the men began to speak of Jesus as the Son of God. That was totally unacceptable and the respondent evicted the men from his home, forbidding them to ever return.

In spite of his anger with the Christian men, he continued reading the New Testament. Still wanting to prove it wrong, he read Matthew’s gospel again. This time, though, he started to have a sense that something was wrong in the mosque. The words of Jesus in Matthew were quite different than the words he regularly heard in the mosque. For example, Jesus said, “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” [Mt 5:44]. The sheik continually encouraged his listeners to “destroy the enemy.” This contrast was hard to manage. On the one hand, the respondent had great admiration for the sheik. On the other, Islam believes Jesus is a prophet. “That means,” according to the respondent, that “Jesus has a higher status than the sheik, and should be listened to more than the sheik.” However, it was not so easy to dismiss the words of the sheik because of their personal relationship as well as the sheik’s status in the community.

Another indicator that something was wrong in the mosque was the message of James 1:27, which describes pure religion as caring for widows and orphans. That was in contrast to his own experience of watching his sister, a widow, being neglected by other Muslims.

These two things – Matthew’s gospel and James 1:27 – were drawing the respondent toward Christianity, but that was such a discouraging idea that he thought he should continue reading the New Testament in order to find the errors so that he could dismiss the whole thing.

The respondent said the most difficult barrier to becoming a Christian was “the idea of Jesus being God’s Son.” However, that problem began to subside as the respondent read Genesis 22 and considered the story of Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son. This was the first time the respondent thought as a human and not just as a Muslim. Prior to this, everything had been considered through the filter of being a Muslim. Now, he could simply read the story as a person, a human. And suddenly, the story of God sending His only Son to die on the cross was a story of hope and not of blasphemy.

At this point, the respondent called the Christian men he had previously evicted and told them that he felt like he was “about 70% Christian” and that he wanted them to come to his home again. They were happy to resume their visits, and with each Bible study the respondent gained more joy and peace. However, he still remained somewhat conflicted about where he seemed to be heading, which contradicted everything he had been taught and believed in the past.

The men eventually began to pray with the family, which was quite disturbing for them. In fact, the respondent’s son warned that the family would “turn to monkeys” if they continued praying like Christians. This sentiment reflected the feelings of most of the family.

One mitigating factor, though, was the behavior of these Christian men who had been visiting their home. They were consistently kind, patient and forgiving toward others. Additionally, the Christians were helpful toward the needy; in this case, they were helpful in getting eye surgery for the youngest daughter of this family.

The respondent’s daughter’s successful eye surgery notwithstanding, the respondent still felt an obligation to Islam and the Qur’an, so he initiated a personal daily Qur’an study with the sheik. In hindsight, he thought his motivation for these studies was less to re-affirm his prior belief in Islam but more to confirm the rightness of Christianity.

In these studies, he began asking the sheik about Christianity. In the respondent’s estimation, the sheik was unable to satisfactorily answer any of his questions. For example, the sheik could not explain why the church was still present so long after the establishment of Islam. He could not explain why the gospel is wrong. Neither could the sheik explain why the ostensibly Islamic Palestinian government recognized Christian weddings or allowed Palestinians to use a Bible. While each unsatisfactory answer seemed to solidify the respondent’s thoughts about believing in Jesus, one of the sheik’s answers was very unsettling. “Can a Muslim who believes in the New Testament go to heaven?” the respondent asked. Emphatically and without hesitation, the sheik angrily shouted, “No! No Muslim who believes in the Christians’ book or the Jews’ book can go to heaven!”

That was a pivotal study for the respondent because it was the last private Qur’an study with the sheik and it clarified for the respondent that his departure from Islam was definitely underway. He began to skip praying with increasing frequency. The more he met with the Christian men, the less he desired to attend the mosque.

For another eight months the respondent consistently read the Bible in increasing amounts, “almost non-stop, day and night.” For the first two months, he read the Bible in conjunction with Qur’an studies, but he had no memory of reading the Qur’an in the final six months. During this period of intense Bible study the respondent saw that God actually related to humans, which contrasts with what he had been taught in Islam. That God would relate to humans was actually very comforting and appealing for the respondent once he had adjusted to the possibility. And, as he read the New Testament he got a sense that Jesus was actually speaking to him personally.

Also, during this eight-month period, the Christian men continued to visit and answered the questions that resulted from the respondent’s study of the New Testament. The respondent said, “It was at the end of this period that I really understood in my heart who God is and believed in Him.”

As soon as he realized that he had come to a personal faith in Jesus, he told his wife. Doing so was really frightening because of the fear of losing his family. However, he felt so compelled to tell her, that he was willing to take the risk. To his shock, his wife responded that she too had come to believe as had two of their children as well. That three other members of his family had come to faith confirmed in his heart the rightness of his decision because it reminded him of stories in the New Testament when whole families believed. The respondent called the Christian men who had been visiting to tell them the news. They immediately came to the house and the group prayed together to confirm each of their decisions.

Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, formal Bible study, Q and A, the Qur’an vs. the Bible, doubts about Islam/Qur’an, the kindness of Christians, prayer, dreams, crisis, family/group conversion, gospel tracts, pastoral/evangelistic visits, and common objections to the gospel

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #5

Download my dissertation as a free PDF!