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