Think about this: The Cross of Christ is, at the same time, a demonstration of man’s ability to be cruel and God’s ability to love.
ברוך דיין האמת
Countless stories of Zvi’s exploits will be shared among friends over the next week, and there are many great stories that should be told. But here, I want to remember the simple man behind those stories of heroism, whether they be stories of the holocaust or of sharing his faith in Israel. He was not flashy. He didn’t seek to own stuff. Though he was famous in some ways, fame and fortune were not his goals in life. He wasn’t an intellectual; he loved and lived the simplicity of the gospel and knowing Jesus as Saviour! He often said, “I don’t need a train to carry all the books to explain God and faith. I just need this one book.” Then, he would hold up his Bible for all to see which book he referenced. He was a simple man in the best ways.
I met Zvi almost 25 years ago, and I’m thankful that was not a one-off meeting. By God’s grace, I was able to get to know him personally and have him in my home on a regular basis. I learned much from Zvi, but the thing he modeled most for me was consistency. He consistently came to congregational meetings on shabbat. He consistently came to weekly evangelism outings. He consistently came to Wednesday night prayer meeting. He consistently carried his Bible. He consistently shared a testimony for the Lord. He consistently told me (and anyone who would listen!) about his kids and grand kids.
Consistency: such an important lesson for a young man to learn. Thank you, Zvi, for the lesson learned: ברוך דיין האמת.
Here are a few photos I recently inherited from a pastor who loved Israel.
This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Twenty-Four, a female from Hebron. 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. 388-390.
Respondent Twenty-Four began studying Islamics in school at the age of ten. Her teacher was very firm and somewhat persuasive as she explained all the “bad things about Christianity.” Each day the respondent would return home and tell her mother, who was a MBB (See Respondent Twenty-Two), the bad things she learned about Christianity that day. Her mother tried to counter the charges from the New Testament, but never pushed Christianity on the respondent. She said her mother’s approach was more of “allowing everyone to decide for themselves without pressure.”
Some of the things the respondent learned in school were that “Hell is mostly full of women,” and that “in Hell, Allah will hang women by their hair or eyebrows, especially those who were not interested in being good Muslims.”
For many years the respondent lived next door to a mosque, and countless times heard these and similar things being broadcast from the mosque during the weekly Friday sermon. Eventually, during her mid-teen years, the respondent lost interest and grew very passive about religion, though her mother continued to occasionally share thoughts from the New Testament. This was her mother’s way of keeping the door open, and it was the only opposition she ever heard to what she was told in Islamics class at school and what she heard broadcast from the mosque next door.
In her late teen years, the respondent grew weary of the constant denigration of women that was generally present in her surroundings, but particularly offensive, she said, was the repeated message of “hate toward women” that she could not avoid hearing through the broadcasts from the mosque. The continual bombardment of hate caused the respondent to grow more and more concerned for her personal safety, eventually resulting in emotional problems and panic attacks.
The feelings that were being generated inside her brought her from a passive position about Islam to a very negative opinion. She definitively transitioned from “Islam is not for me,” to “Islam is wrong.” Even though the process was slow, due to the pervasive and negative presence of Islam in her surroundings, it was ultimately unavoidable.
At the same time her feelings about Islam were changing, Her mother tried to calm and comfort her by sharing things from the New Testament with her, especially the love of Jesus. Her mother focused on how much Jesus loved the respondent, so much that he died for her sins. In contrast to what she deemed “hate flowing from the mosque next door,” the respondent started to appreciate the love her mother shared from the New Testament. “In Islam, they want you to die for Islam. In Christianity, Jesus loved us and died for us” she added.
In addition to the love her mother was regularly sharing with her from the New Testament, local believers demonstrated much love toward her brother (See Respondent Twenty) by coming to their home to pray for him when he was sick. This kind of love affected her strongly: “When I saw this, something went out of me and joy came in. Real joy.”
Eventually, as an unbeliever, she attended a MBB family conference with her mother. At that conference, she saw MBBs as a community for the first time. She watched the people sing and pray together. The way they loved each other was impressive and instrumental in her consideration of the gospel. She had never seen anything like that before and was drawn toward them. She was impressed that “this was the real thing.” And that point became more clear when the worship leader stopped in the middle of a song to pray for “someone who is here today questioning whether they should believe in Jesus.” Though he did not call her by name, she said “I knew he was praying for me.”
At that moment, she trusted Jesus and realized that she was no longer a Muslim. She immediately told her mother that she “believed in Jesus as Lord.” Of course her mother was ecstatic, but was also concerned that her own witness to the respondent was not sufficiently clear. So, she asked the respondent to speak with a pastor to make sure she “understood everything.” The respondent was already convinced that Jesus had died for her sins and that she believed in Jesus, but she accepted her mother’s request to “make sure.”
When asked to fill in the blank: If it were not for ____________ I do not think I would be a believer,” she answered thoughtfully and deliberately, “Love. My mother. Prayer.”
Since she had only mentioned prayer in relation to her brother’s illness, she was asked for more clarification: “What do you mean by prayer?” She said that she knew her mother had been praying for God to open her eyes for many years. The respondent was asked for further clarification, “How do you know that she had been praying for you?” “She told me and she prayed for me while I was sitting in the room,” she answered with a frustrated tone that suggested the question was unnecessary because the answer was self-evident. Apparently, in an effort to tie all her answers together, she voluntarily explained, “If my mother had not been praying for me, and she had not kept telling me how much Jesus loves us, and I didn’t see the Christians loving each other and me, and I didn’t go to the conference to see all of this come together at the same time – love and my mother and praying – I don’t think I would be a believer today. Maybe God would have shown me some other way, but that is how it happened for me.”
Themes that emerged in this interview: “Drawn/compelled,” doubts about Islam/Qur’an, the kindness of Christians, prayer, retreats/conferences/special events, crisis, meeting Christians/MBBs, and an open witness.
This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Twenty-Three, 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. 385-387.
Respondent Twenty-Three was raised in a secular Muslim home in East Jerusalem. Religion never was very important to him. In fact, he said that he had different ideas (apparently unflattering, though he would not say what they were) about Islam. While he personally identified himself as a Muslim and continues to be registered with the Palestinian Authority as such, he said that Islam never had any active meaning in his life.
At the time of his interview, he had adult children and had been widowed for some years. Together, he and his wife had maintained a secular Muslim home.
The respondent said that he was surprised that one day he “suddenly felt drawn” to read the New Testament that had been on his bookshelf for many years. He was not sure how long it had been on the shelf because he could not remember how he got it, but was certain that it had been many years. At the time he felt drawn to read the New Testament, he had a casual relationship with a bi-vocational Arab pastor. Over the years the pastor had been kind to him and occasionally suggested the respondent should read the New Testament. However, the respondent said that he did not believe any of the pastor’s suggestions were involved in this sudden prompting to read the New Testament. In fact, he could not identify anything external that had prompted him to want to read the New Testament.
The respondent reported being “pulled by something” to read the New Testament a couple times over the course of two months. “Each day,” he explained, “I felt something, someone pulling me toward the New Testament.” This particularly surprised him since he had never been interested in religious issues of any kind; if anything, religion was a turn off for him.
Each day, he read more and began to see logic in the New Testament that made it “a different world” from the Qur’an and Islam. He said he saw “love and forgiveness in the New Testament and in Jesus.” The more he read about Jesus, the more he felt drawn by Jesus himself. “Jesus’ teachings were so different and logical” he said, “I didn’t feel I was being drawn spiritually; it was so logical, I had to move toward it.” He certainly never expected to be interested in the New Testament, but he could not stop reading it.
Because he was so surprised by his new interest in the Bible, he began to ask the pastor for some guidance in this new pursuit. The pastor suggested that the Holy Spirit might be drawing the respondent to believe in Jesus, which surprised him because he had never given any thought to believing in Jesus or being religious.
Over the course of about three weeks, the respondent and pastor spoke several times about what the respondent was reading in the New Testament. These were not particularly evangelistic conversations; mainly they were comprised of the respondent reporting to the pastor the surprising things he had discovered in the New Testament like how “logical it was, and how everything fit together so well.” The respondent explained, “each conversation led the pastor to believe that I was a step closer to believing in Jesus, and the best part is that I was discovering this by reading the New Testament on my own, and not by him trying to persuade me.” When asked if the pastor never said anything but only listened, the respondent said, “I’m sure he said something, but I don’t remember anything specific. We had normal conversations; I told him about the things I was seeing, and he encouraged me to keep reading. Now that I look back at it, I think he was letting the New Testament evangelize me because he saw that it was already doing that when we first spoke. I didn’t have any real issues about leaving Islam like some do because I never was really in Islam, so he didn’t really need to answer a lot of questions.”
According to the respondent, the pastor was very patient, allowing things to develop according to the speed God was bringing the respondent along through his reading the New Testament. Eventually, the pastor sensed the respondent was ready and asked if he wanted to pray the “sinner’s prayer,” but he had no idea what that meant. The pastor explained that it was “a prayer in which the person admits they are a sinner and need forgiveness, and that they believe Jesus died for their sins so they can be forgiven.” The respondent said that seemed a little odd at the time, but it did express what he believed, so he prayed with the pastor. It was short, “I just told the Lord that I was a sinner and believed that Jesus died on the cross for my sin.” After praying, the respondent said he “never felt better” in his life.
Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, “drawn/compelled,” the kindness of Christians, the “sinner’s prayer,” and lack of interest in religion.
NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #24
This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Twenty-Two, a female from Hebron. 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. 381-384.
Respondent Twenty-Two grew up in a non-observant Muslim home. Her knowledge of Islam did not come from the home or the mosque, rather it came from school, “where everybody learned about Islam.” Her interests, though, were much more focused on politics, not religion.
At the age of sixteen she was very involved in the political process, supporting the PLO and publicly identifying herself as a Marxist. Though she was not certain of the existence of God, neither could she deny God’s existence. So, through her teen years she fasted and prayed during Ramadan “just in case.” However, politics was the main focus of her life, and continued to be throughout the remainder of her teen and early college years.
In her work with the PLO, she had her first personal encounter with a Christian: she met a Christian girl from Nazareth whom she liked, and even spent the night in the girl’s home. However, distance and other issues prevented them from becoming close friends.
By her early-to-mid twenties, the respondent was married and the draw of political issues began to fade in favor of the pressing necessities of being a mother. In an effort to help support her children she took on a professional career. Eventually, her husband abandoned the family and she was left with the responsibility of raising her children alone.
Because she had no religious interests, she provided no religious training for her children, though they, like she had been, were taught about Islam in school. By the time her children were in school, she no longer fasted or prayed during Ramadan. Though she was still agnostic in her belief about God, she no longer felt the need to do religious things “just in case.” Raising her kids had become the main focus of her life.
In the midst of her daily struggle to raise her children, two particular things caused her thoughts about religion, especially Islam, to start changing: The first was the growing presence and influence of Hamas in her neighborhood. She noticed that her neighborhood was growing increasingly more religious, or as she put it, “more restrictive.” More women were “covering up,” and the parade of men going to pray at the mosque was growing larger and larger.
Observant women began to visit her home in an Islamic version of door-to- door evangelism, encouraging her to become religious and dress the part. These visits grew more frequent and intense as she refused their efforts to persuade her to their point of view.
In concert with the regular visits from the women, the respondent could hear the sermons being broadcast by loudspeaker from the nearby mosque. She said she began having emotional problems because of the harsh messages coming from the mosque coupled with “the pressure from the women to conform to an Islamic lifestyle.”
The second influence on her thoughts about religion was what she observed at her place of employment. Both Christians and Muslims worked in her office, and as much a reaction to the increasing Islamization of her neighborhood as an interest in religion, she began to actively evaluate their lives. She never told them; she simply listened to the things they said and watched the things they did.
Her observation was that the Christians with whom she worked “were much more calm and peaceful” than their Muslim counterparts. Additionally, from observing and interacting with her Muslim co-workers, she concluded “Muslims are angry and complicated.”
These observations coupled with the growing influence of Hamas in her neighborhood caused her to “consider looking at Christianity as a possible religious alternative.” Shortly thereafter, she met the headmaster of a Christian school in her region who, in turn, introduced her to a local pastor.
The respondent asked the pastor to introduce her to some believers with whom she could speak. As it turned out, he introduced her to the Christian girl (now woman) with whom she had spent the night in Nazareth almost fifteen years prior. This woman now lived in the West Bank near the respondent. The respondent was excited to now be able to develop a relationship that she had longed for as a teenager. In hindsight, she said she came to realize that her desire to get to know that Christian girl back then was so that she could actually get to know Christ.
The pastor also gave the respondent a New Testament, which she read without any understanding in about a week. Over the next month she read the New Testament three more times, each time with improved understanding. The more she read, the more she wanted to read and the more questions she had. Her questions reflected her understanding of Islam and the social context that she knew. For example, she wanted to know if it was really possible for Muslims to become Christians. What would happen if they did? How could Jesus be God?
During the second month of reading the New Testament, the pastor invited her to church even though she was not yet a believer so that she could see the community. During the sermon, which was about faith and love and forgiveness, she “sensed a change in her heart toward the idea of religion,” and specifically toward Christianity. She reported actually feeling peace enter her heart, but she still did not understand enough.
On the way home from the church service, thinking she might actually be on the right path, she began to cry. By the time she arrived home, faith and love and forgiveness became clearer. She wanted them all, and clearly in her “heart and head believed in Jesus for the forgiveness of [her] sins.” She clarified: “I didn’t pray the sinner’s prayer or talk with anyone at the moment, I just believed in my heart that Jesus died for my sins.”
The implications were many. She lived near a mosque in a neighborhood that was increasingly displaying the influence of Hamas. What if they found out? What about the kids? What about not being a Muslim? Even though she had never really practiced Islam, there was still an internal tension about leaving it. As each of these issues were raised in her mind, she reminded herself of what she had come to believe: “Jesus died for me and my sins had been forgiven.” She said that she never had anything like that in Islam, “so why worry about Islam?” Continued reading of the New Testament settled those kinds of issues as they occasionally popped up. In addition to the tensions related to leaving Islam being settled, she realized that her pre-conversion emotional problems were no longer an issue either.
Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, Q and A, crisis, meeting Christians/MBBs, the “sinner’s prayer,” common objections to the gospel, and lack of interest in religion.
NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #23
This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Twenty-One, a female from Nablus. Feel free to interact in the comments or download my dissertation as a free PDF!
Dunning, CA (2014) Palestinian Muslims converting to Christianity: effective evangelistic methods in the West Bank. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Pretoria, PhD thesis, pp. 377-380.
Respondent Twenty-One’s conversion was intimately associated with the mass conversion of her family; she was the last of her immediate family to convert (See Respondent’s Four, Five, Six, and Nineteen).
The family’s introduction to Christian faith occurred due to a health issue of the respondent’s younger sister. At the time, they were a family that was satisfied with their Muslim identity and involved in the community; the father was very religiously observant and becoming more so, the mother was less interested in religious things, but not completely uninterested. However, that would start to change, though unknown at the time, when a Muslim friend suggested the respondent’s father meet some Christian men who had been in the area recently. The friend said those men were from an eye hospital in Jerusalem and might be able to provide an eye surgery the respondent’s younger sister required.
In summary,the respondent’s father initially rejected the offer to meet the Christian men, but eventually agreed to meet them. The family’s conversion was not immediate. In fact, the respondent’s father went through a lengthy process of alternately inviting and forbidding the men to come to his home. In the end, as a result of the men’s continued witnessing, the influence of Bible reading, the Jesus Film and other Christian broadcasting, as well as dreams, all the members of the respondent’s family came to faith in Jesus one by one.
The conversion process of the various family members was pretty openly displayed in the home in that the Christian men were allowed to teach the Bible, distribute literature, and pray openly. Because Respondent Twenty-One was the last person in the family to believe in Jesus, this open display played an important role in her conversion. She was able to hear the various arguments and answers presented by the Christian men, and as each family member came to faith, they also tried to persuade her.
When the Christian men were allowed to visit the home, the respondent listened respectfully, but completely refused to accept their testimonies and arguments because she was a committed Muslim. She hated that the men were allowed to visit, and rejoiced inwardly during the times her father was angry with them and refused their visits.
She described the process of her family members coming to faith like a wave approaching the beach: “You see it in the distance coming toward you. At first it appears to be coming slowly, but the closer it gets, the bigger and faster it appears until it covers you over.” She explained that in the beginning she feared that someone in the family would believe, but it looked so far off that maybe it really would not happen. However, each time the men came to visit, the wave appeared to be bigger and coming faster until it finally overtook them. Eventually, like dominoes, one falling into the next, family members started believing. That led to more open sharing in the home, which eventually resulted in more pressured sharing of the faith.
As each domino fell, the respondent became more angry and depressed. She worried for her future: “How can I get a good husband if people know about my family? How can I remain part of a family like this? How can I continue to share a room with my sister who has shamefully betrayed Islam? I felt ashamed, angry, isolated, and even considered suicide or divorcing the family, if it was possible.” Perhaps more realistically, though, she said, “I worried the family would kick me out if I would not believe.”
The more the family pushed her to believe the angrier, more discouraged, and more depressed she became. Though her family members did not notice, the respondent’s emotional changes were so obvious that teachers and school officials became concerned and called a doctor and the police who initiated an investigation. They asked the respondent if anyone had done anything to her, or something had happened at home, but she protected her family. She thinks she refused to say anything partly because she would have been humiliated if anyone found out her family had left Islam, and partly because she still hoped they would return to Islam.
When the family found out about the investigation, they realized they had pushed too hard, and subsequently stopped pushing the respondent to believe. They continued to speak openly of their faith in the home, but they stopped directing religious comments toward the respondent. While this change was somewhat helpful, it did not prevent the respondent from feeling like the odd member of the family. “But it was better than before” she said. They continued to read their Bibles and she continued to pray, wear the hijab, and read her Qur’an.
After a few months in this new environment (i.e., no persuasion to convert to Christianity), the respondent began to have a series of dreams, which occurred over a period of about one month. She had the “same dream three or four times,” in which appeared “a man dressed in white surrounded by a bright light.” He did not speak, and she did not know his identity at the time. When she mentioned the dreams to her family, they concluded the reason for the dreams was her rejection of Jesus. Though she did not like their conclusion or the possibility that they may be correct, she had no alternative ideas about the source or reason for the dreams. After the third or fourth occurrence, the dreams stopped for about four to five months.
During this four to five month period, which was leading up to the family’s relocation, the respondent’s thoughts about the dreams were continually provoked when she heard members of the family discuss the Bible or pray. When the Christian men visited, which they did fairly often during this time, her thoughts returned to the dreams. Eventually, word of the family’s conversion spread through the area and a mob of teens attacked their home. These external threats necessitated the relocation of the family to a new area as well as a reconstructed identity.
In the new location, the respondent continued to wear the hijab, pray five times each day, and read the Qur’an. Shortly after their relocation, the family, including the respondent, went to a MBB family conference for the weekend. At the conference, one of the leaders politely asked the respondent to remove her hijab. Although the request to remove her hijab was offensive, the respondent complied. However, the request and her compliance somewhat dazed her. As she sat in the meeting, many thoughts raced through her mind as she witnessed uncovered women mixing with men who were not their husbands or family members: “How can these women feel so comfortable among these men while uncovered? How could he ask me to remove my hijab? How could I remove it?” The respondent said she wanted desperately to run away, but she did not. She remained at the conference and listened and observed what was happening there.
During the program, the respondent sat dutifully with her family, though she did not participate as the crowd worshiped the Lord in song. During this time, she prayed, “God, what are they doing? If this is the way, please convince me.” And within minutes, “the worship leader stopped and said, ‘someone here is asking to be convinced. Listen to the Holy Spirit.’” Then he continued leading worship. Immediately, the respondent said to herself, “That’s me! He’s talking about me.” However, she did not immediately tell anyone else because she wanted to process what had happened.
Later that night, she privately “prayed the prayer of salvation” that she had heard mentioned many times in her home, and that her brother, Respondent Nineteen, had reported praying. When asked to explain what she meant by “prayer of salvation,” she said that it was a spontaneous prayer in which she admitted to God that she “was a sinner and accepted the blood of Jesus as payment for [her] sins.”
Themes that emerged in this interview: Q and A, prayer, dreams, crisis, retreats/conferences/special events, the Jesus Film, meeting Christians/MBBs, an open witness, and fear or shame as a barrier to the gospel.
NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #22
This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Twenty, a male from Hebron. Feel free to interact in the comments or download my dissertation as a free PDF!
Dunning, CA (2014) Palestinian Muslims converting to Christianity: effective evangelistic methods in the West Bank. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Pretoria, PhD thesis, pp. 373-376.
Respondent Twenty was raised by a single mother who became a MBB when he was about three years old. However, his mother had a very laissez-faire approach to passing her faith to her children, preferring to allow them to choose for themselves, which meant the children received no direct Christian instruction and only passive Christian influence. Instead, he had mostly Islamic influences from the neighborhood and Islamic teaching from school. However, occasionally, his mother did try to offer opinions from the New Testament when the children brought Islamic ideas into the house. In spite of the two varying religious views that were available to him, the respondent was not interested in religion. And while he recognized himself as a Muslim, he was not an active Muslim in any meaningful way during his early-to-mid teen-years.
When he was fifteen, the respondent suffered an extended and serious illness. The MBB community responded in ways that surprised him and that would be instrumental in his conversion. Even though he was a Muslim and did not believe the way they did, members of the MBB community visited regularly to pray for him and provide food for his family. They prayed openly and fervently for his full recovery, and he said, “God answered their prayer and healed me.” However, that did not immediately change his lack of interest in religion, though he admitted, “it probably softened me a little.”
About a year later, he went to a MBB family conference with his mother and sister. This was the first time he had been in an environment where MBBs expressed their faith in Jesus so openly. Of course, a number of them had openly prayed for him during his illness, but that was confined to his home; this was occurring in a semi-public gathering. When asked why he went to the conference, he said, “I was curious about my mother’s beliefs.” However, what he saw made him angry since he “was still a Muslim.” Although he was not religious, he did not like to see men and women praying and worshiping together, and he was bothered by the free references to Jesus as God, as well.
When the respondent and his family returned home from the conference, he asked for explanations of what he saw at the conference. What was all the singing? What was all the teaching? His mother tried to explain, but he dismissed her explanations. When his mother’s explanations proved unsatisfactory, he called a young man about his age that he met at the conference, to see if he could explain things any better.
As the respondent looked back on these events, he came to realize that calling this young man was an important event in his conversion process. “When [name redacted] answered my questions, I was partly convinced,” he admitted. Somehow, that a middle-to-late teen from a Muslim background could believe in Jesus made the answers more palatable for the respondent and lessened the anger he had toward his mother.
Although he did not immerse himself in this new community, the respondent did begin visiting his mother’s church and remain in touch with the teen that had somewhat satisfactorily answered his questions. This same young man invited the respondent to view the Jesus Film, which, looking back, he marked as another very important event in his conversion process. In fact, he said, “I was very influenced by the abuse Jesus suffered. No one suffered like him. And this drew me toward him.”
He began reading the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, but admits, “It didn’t seem like a special story and was difficult to understand.” His mother’s explanations about what he was reading were helpful, but not enough to maintain his interest in reading.
About three months after seeing the Jesus Film, some of his mother’s friends came to visit. During their visit, they prayed for the family, and during the prayer, the respondent’s mind vividly replayed scenes from the Jesus Film in what he called “a vision.” Once again, he was very moved by the horrors of Jesus’ suffering. After the people left, the respondent told his mother about the vision and told her he wanted to know more so he could “know if Jesus is the right way.” He confessed to his mother that he felt like he needed to believe, but could not yet do so. “I need to be sure,” he insisted. This opened the door for fairly regular discussions with his mother about Jesus and how He died for the respondent’s sins.
A short time after his mother’s friends visited and he saw the vision of the Jesus Film, the respondent began to have a series of nightmares in which a power was controlling him, holding his body, and pressing him to the bed. These dreams were terrifying and vivid. He could not discern the identity of the power that was controlling him, and each time he awakened in a pool of sweat and breathing hard as if he had been in a struggle for his life. After a few occurrences, he told his mother about the dreams; she told him to “demand that it go away in the name of Jesus.” Within a few days he had the same dream again, but he was afraid to say the name Jesus in his dream. However, in the next dream, the third, which occurred about one week later, the power was strangling him to the point he thought he was going to die, and in desperation he began to speak the name of Jesus. Each time he said, “Jesus,” the power weakened until it eventually released him.
Once he spoke the name of Jesus and the power subsided, he had a different type of dream twice within the next week. In these dreams, the respondent heard a male voice (there was no image) that said, “You can be certain.” When asked if it was an audible voice that he heard with his ears or only an inner voice, the respondent said, “It was an inner voice that sounded like it was on the phone.” When he told his mother about the voice, she suggested the voice might be that of Jesus, which seemed correct to the respondent. This specific dream was the final event that moved the respondent from unbelief to belief.
In an effort to understand better what the respondent believed were the pivotal events that led him to believe that Jesus died for his sins, he was asked to fill in the blank in the following sentence: If it were not for _____________, I don’t think I would be a believer. He answered very quickly: “The power of the dreams, Jesus’ help, and fellowship with MBBs.”
He was asked to elaborate briefly on those answers, which he did: “The dreams were so real and powerful and frightening that they grabbed my attention. Jesus helped me when I was sick and also in my dreams, the Qur’an and Muslims didn’t. When I was sick, the believers came to help my family and pray for me. They were also patient with me when I was angry about my mother’s belief. All of those things were important in me coming to believe in Jesus.”
Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, “moved,” Q and A, the kindness of Christians, prayer, dreams, retreats/conferences/special events, the Jesus Film, meeting Christians/MBBs, an open witness, common objections to the gospel, fear or shame as a barrier to the gospel, and a lack of interest in religion.
NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #21
This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Nineteen, a male from Nablus. Feel free to interact in the comments or download my dissertation as a free PDF!
Dunning, CA (2014) Palestinian Muslims converting to Christianity: effective evangelistic methods in the West Bank. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Pretoria, PhD thesis, pp. 370-372.
Respondent Nineteen was thirteen years old when he made an initial profession of faith. His profession of faith was connected to his family’s conversion process. Initially, due to a medical need, his parents began visiting with some Christian men from Jerusalem who gave them Bibles, Christian literature and told them Bible stories.
In the process of his parents and siblings coming to faith (see Respondents Four, Five, and Six) he repeatedly heard the gospel from about the age of ten. However, as a result of the religious environment in which he had been raised, even as a pre-teen, he had certain objections based on the teachings of the Qur’an and general Muslim culture. For example, he knew that Muslims did not believe that Jesus is God and he had heard that Christians prayed differently than Muslims. He was also afraid of the social problems that could result from converting. Specifically, he was afraid of losing his friends, but only occasionally did he voice any objection to the process his parents were undergoing.
As the meetings continued, several things lessened his concerns: he specifically mentioned the teaching of the Christians, reading the Bible, and the conversion of other family members. Privately and secretly, he began to read the Bible and pray for specific things. He prayed for his sister’s medical problem to be solved. It was. He prayed for good grades at school, and he received good grades. He also saw the positive changes that occurred in the lives of his family members who professed faith in Christ.
At the age of thirteen, he considered the things he had heard in the family Bible meetings during the past three years, the things he personally read in the Bible, the answered prayer, and the changes he saw in his family and made a profession of faith in Jesus, which was cause for celebration among the other family members who had already done the same.
Shortly after his profession of faith, his family he was relocated to a safe house and given a recreated identity. In that context, the family participated regularly in a fellowship of MBB believers. In fact, all members, except the pastors, were from a Muslim background. For approximately three years, the respondent lived with a Christian identity, and during that time, he experienced no serious doubts, regularly participated in the fellowship, and read his Bible. However, at the age of sixteen he had a disturbing dream that he marks as a turning point in his faith.
In the respondent’s dream, a regular Christian man [i.e., not Jesus], who was dressed normally, died and resurrected threee days later. When asked what the dream meant, the respondent said, “I felt away from Jesus when I had the dream, and it meant that Jesus is the right way.” He could not explain why he felt “away from Jesus,” but was certain that he was. As a result of the dream, he prayed the prayer of salvation and began to distinguish himself as a “real Christian.”
The respondent was unable to distinguish what made this profession of faith different than the first. It was not clear if the lack of a prayer of salvation on the first occasion was an issue. Neither could he say that anything in his life – sin of some kind – convinced him that he had not believed on the first occasion. Everything rested on a single dream that he understood to mean that he was “away from Jesus.”
In an effort to clarify what he saw as the pivotal points of his conversion, the respondent was asked to fill in the blank: If it was not for ___________, I don’t think I would be a believer. The respondent quickly answered, “family.” He went on to explain that had he not seen his “family go through the process of believing in Jesus, going from darkness to light,” he would not have been able to believe himself.
Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, formal Bible studies, prayer, dreams, crisis, family/group conversion, the “prayer of salvation,” common objections to the gospel, and fear or shame as a barrier to the gospel.
 The respondent was age 19 at the time of his interview.
NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #20
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!
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 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.
 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
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!
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