The Show Must Go On! “Where My Backup Singers?”

“The show must go on!” may have never been better illustrated than by Patti LaBelle at the 1996 Christmas Tree Lighting in Washington, DC as seen in the video below.

Watch the video, then continue reading.

Throughout the song she brought attention to the problems by mentioning them, rolling her eyes and making faces, humming rather than signing, and complaining. But, … She. Kept. Going.

Question: Was it better for Ms. LaBelle to continue on even though she didn’t have her backup singers, didn’t know the song, and had the wrong cue cards? Or, should she have taken a moment to get organized?

A couple questions should guide us to an answer.

1. What did she intend to accomplish?
2. Did she, in fact, accomplish her goal by continuing on with the show?

Although I don’t know Ms. LaBelle’s goal for that performance, I can’t imagine that the product was anywhere near what she had hoped. Thus, it seams reasonable to conclude that she might have benefited by taking a moment to reorganize. Of course for public presenters – whether in song or spoken word – it is embarrassing to stop when things don’t go as planned. That’s understandable. But, could stopping for a moment to better organize be more embarrassing than the outcome of Ms. LaBelle’s performance? There is a reason it’s on YouTube.

Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #15

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Fifteen, a male from Nablus. Feel free to interact in the comments or download my dissertation as a free PDF!

The following is ©2014 University of Pretoria and Craig Dunning, and if used elsewhere, should be cited as:

Dunning, CA (2014) Palestinian Muslims converting to Christianity: effective evangelistic methods in the West Bank. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Pretoria, PhD thesis, pp. 353-357.

Respondent Fifteen grew up in a large family whose religious identification was Muslim, though they did not participate in any religious activities, including Ramadan. According to the respondent, the family values as expressed by his father were simply to work hard and make a living. In fact, the respondent began working at the age of twelve, which meant that he did not finish school.

Wanting to please his father “more than anything else in this world,” the respondent said he happily began working on Jewish farms at the age of twelve. He moved around between farming and construction work through his teenage years, always for Israeli (i.e., Jewish) companies. Since his labor was illegal he always received his salary in cash, and upon arriving home, immediately handed it to his father. Each time he gave his salary to his father, he hoped it would make his father proud and draw them closer together. The only thing he wanted was his father’s love.

Unfortunately, each time he surrendered his salary his father demanded more. The lack of parental encouragement and approval, which he equated with love, was emotionally devastating for the respondent. He never acted out, but he definitely grew more bitter and wounded each week as he repeatedly felt the sting of his father’s lack of love.

Even though his father was not religious, in the respondent’s eyes, his father represented Islam, and his father’s lack of love meant that Islam did not love him either. By the time he was twenty, he had no interest in religion, especially Islam. He did not pray. He even intentionally avoided common Islamic phrases like “Insha’Allah,” meaning “if Allah wills.” He wanted nothing to do with Islam or any other religion.

By age twenty-one, the respondent had married, and though brokenhearted from his father’s lack of love, or betrayal as he labeled it, the respondent was forced by financial realities to stay in the patriarchal home. This living arrangement meant most of his meager salary was still surrendered to his father.

He was comfortable working hard to provide for his wife, which was “the one good principle I learned from my father” he said. Tensions over finances eventually became the breaking point in the respondent’s relationship with his father. The respondent asked his father to reduce the amount of money he demanded so that the young couple could get started establishing their own family. When his father refused to grant the respondent’s request, the relationship was completely broken. “I was in need, and he turned his back on me. I felt betrayed,” he matter-of-factly explained.

At that point, the respondent felt he and his new wife could not remain in the patriarchal home, but he did not have sufficient financial independence to leave. This inability to leave coupled with the sting of betrayal created a sense of desperation that caused him to consider a change in vocations. He realized that he would always be tied to his father’s house if he continued in what was essentially day to day jobs in construction or farming.

The respondent’s decision to try to leave his father’s home was emboldened by an advertisement for a police officer course in Bethlehem. The Palestinian Authority was expanding their police force and was recruiting officer candidates for training. Not knowing what to expect, the respondent applied for a position in the police course and was accepted, which meant that he had to move temporarily to Bethlehem and live with the other students in an open dormitory. This was a new experience for him because the students came from a variety of backgrounds; they were a mix of religious and non-religious Muslims and Christians.

The respondent had always been a fairly private person who tried to mind his own business and avoided paying too much attention to others around him. However, the open dorm environment made it very difficult to not watch others. In fact, he could not avoid listening to and watching the other residents, though he did not socialize with them.

The dorm was filled with energetic young men who filled their time playing games (backgammon and cards), telling jokes, and roughhousing. All of the activity gave the respondent much to watch, but the thing that captured his attention most was watching the Muslims and Catholics pray according to their specific protocols. Beyond that, he also watched how they lived when they were not praying. His observations led him to conclude that “the way Christians pray is much more free” and that “among the Christians, there is more love and less gossip” than in the Muslim community. What the respondent observed made a big impression on him.

The more time the respondent spent among the other police recruits, the more open and interested in Christianity he became. Admittedly, he was not looking for religion, but the actions of those Christians he had been observing intrigued him. Over time, the respondent became friends with one of the Christians who was a MBB. “At the time,” explained, “friendship was the thing I desired most because I was so lonely. I missed my wife so much.” His feelings of loneliness and isolation were exacerbated when some Muslim recruits made fun of him when they saw him trying to pray according to Catholic form, the only Christian form he had ever seen. He did not know why he tried to pray, but felt compelled to pray. The respondent’s new friend was sympathetic to the situation and offered to introduce him to a pastor that might be able to help him understand more about Christianity. The offer was accepted and the introduction made the respondent very happy.

At their first meeting, the pastor spoke with the respondent about the love of God, and apparently touched on an open wound by doing so. His words were strange and comforting to the respondent and opened the door for deeper conversation. The respondent felt abandoned by his earthly father, and the sting was almost more than he could bear. That God loved people was something the respondent had never heard before, and he said, “It was exactly what I needed to hear.”

This initial conversation led to more conversations in which the respondent began to ask questions about things he had come to notice about Islam. Specifically, he noted that even though religious Muslims fasted during Ramadan and abstained from alcohol and pork, in his observation, they were less honest and ethical than the Christians that he had come to know during his police course.

The pastor steered the respondent away from critical comments about Muslims, emphasizing that Jesus should be his focus, not people. Eventually, the respondent dropped out of the police course and returned home near Nablus. The move made it more difficult to meet personally with the pastor, so their relationship moved primarily to the phone, with occasional in-person meetings.

The respondent’s lack of education made it very difficult for him to read the Bible. So rather than direct him to the Scriptures, the pastor spoke with him once a week, explaining the gospel and always trying to emphasize the love of God as demonstrated through New Testament stories about Jesus.

After their meetings during the respondent’s three months in Bethlehem, the pastor met or called him weekly for another six months before the respondent was able to say that he truly believed in Jesus. He said the steady stream of Jesus stories – how he loved people – were very compelling, but he said he took a “long time to really believe” because of his negative view of religion, which was the result of his own personal experience as a non-practicing Muslim.

The respondent’s observations of good Christian behavior while in Bethlehem was very instrumental in his decision, as was satellite television programing because it gave him more opportunities to hear Jesus stories.

When asked if reading the Bible had any part in his conversion he said, “no, I never read the Bible. But I heard a lot of stories and teaching about Jesus.” He appeared embarrassed about his answer, and quickly added “I have a Bible and am starting to read it now.” And to prove his claim, he quickly retrieved his Bible and showed it to me. Clearly, he had some Bible knowledge; it was simply delivered orally by the pastor and Christian television programming, which was on in the background during the entirety of our interview.

Themes that emerged in this interview: Oral Bible, doubts about Islam/Qur’an, crisis, meeting Christians/MBBs, pastoral/evangelistic visits, and lack of interest in religion.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #16

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 #12

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Twelve, 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. 341-344.

At the age of fourteen, Respondent Twelve attended a Christian summer camp with her mother and sister. A Swiss ministry that was working in the West Bank organized the camp specifically for Palestinian teens. Although her family had not been particularly religious – more accurately, a culturally Muslim family – soon after the camp began, the respondent started to think it was a big mistake to attend. Not only was the emphasis on religion a strange environment for the respondent, all the discussions and lessons about Jesus and believing in Him made her very uncomfortable. Her response was to mock those who were interested in the subject.

In spite of her reservations about being at this camp, though, the respondent became friends with a seventeen year-old girl who spoke passionately about Jesus. They did not attend the same school, so after the camp ended their personal contact was limited to occasionally seeing each other in town and semi-regular phone calls. Even though they had limited contact after the camp, the older girl’s faithful conversations about Jesus during the camp planted seeds in the respondent’s heart. These seeds seemed to be watered by the respondent’s already present personal objections and questions about Islam. Together, the external witness and internal questions led the respondent into another eighteen months of searching for the truth by “comparing the Qur’an and the New Testament for up to two hours daily.” Her search was so intense that her standing as first in her class began to slip to fifth or sixth. But, her desire to find the truth was now greater than her desire to be at the head of the class.

In addition to her personal Qur’an and New Testament studies, the respondent regularly asked her teacher questions about Islam as well. Her dissatisfaction with Islam or Islamic culture revolved primarily around the life and role of women. She struggled with the possibility of sharing her husband with three other women in a formal marriage, and perhaps more through a type of concubine system. It appeared to the respondent that women in Islam are, at best, second-class.

The respondent’s internal struggles eventually became expressed externally through questions to her teacher whose response to every question was “silly and unsatisfying.” Unsatisfying answers were frustrating for the respondent because “for every question that was given a silly answer,” she “had another question that wasn’t asked yet.” The respondent said she thought the problem for her teacher was that the teacher was comfortable with or had dutifully accepted the role of women in Islamic society, thus she simply did not recognize the problems of women in that society.

Eventually, another teacher was brought in to answer the respondent’s questions. The new teacher’s efforts, though more loud and forceful than the previous teacher’s, were no more successful at answering the respondent’s questions than the first teacher’s.

Finally, a male teacher entered the conversation and ended it by striking the respondent across the face. This happened more than once. The respondent’s refusal to accept the woman’s role in Islamic culture was deemed insubordination and merited a stern rebuke.

In spite of the harsh responses, the respondent’s questions did not go away. In addition to her dissatisfaction with the role of women in Islam, she had questions about apparent contradictions in the Qur’an and Islam’s view of Hell.

The respondent spent about six months in very frustrating self-guided study. She wanted answers, but could not find them on her own, and her teachers at school offered no substantive answers either. She needed help, but did not know where to turn. Eventually, feeling quite desperate, the respondent called the older girl from the previous summer’s camp and asked if she knew anyone who could answer some questions about Islam and Christianity. That question of desperation opened the door to a mature female MBB who was known by the girl from camp.

Jamilla,the female MBB, understood the difficult emotional, social, and familial realities of questioning Islam and eventually leaving Islam for Jesus because she had done both. She had the reputation of being intelligent, patient, and understanding of what ladies like Respondent Twelve were going through when they spoke with her, even when they spoke to her with much anger and bitterness as result of “Jesus turning their worlds upside down.” Repeatedly demonstrating patience and understanding had given Jamilla a strong reputation as one who could help Muslim women in their transition to faith in Jesus. According to Respondent Twelve, Jamilla lived up to her reputation, “patiently answering question after question. No question seemed too silly or threatening.” In this way, Jamilla demonstrated the character of Jesus and was unlike the respondent’s teachers who were impatient, caustic, and sometimes violent in their defense of Islam.

After about one year of talking with Jamilla, the respondent sensed that her studies and the answers from Jamilla were starting to persuade her to believe in Jesus. However, converting to Christianity presented obvious social and family risks that were frightening. Over a period of about two to three weeks, the respondent said that she had internally accepted Jamilla’s explanations and encouragement to trust Jesus, but outwardly rejected them because of fear that she might lose everything (i.e., family and community).

Things appeared to be at a standstill: Jamilla had patiently answered the respondent’s questions, absorbed the respondent’s verbal blows, and repeatedly encouraged the respondent to trust Jesus for the outcome, yet the respondent continued to hesitate. After one year of counseling, and realizing she had done all she could for the respondent, Jamilla finally told the respondent, “There’s no answer I can give you that will persuade you. You need to go home and pray to God and ask him to show you the truth. If it is through Muhammad, follow him, and if it is through Jesus, follow him.”

That night, while standing in the window looking to the sky with tears flowing down her face, the respondent cried out, “God, please show me the truth. If the truth comes through Muhammad, I’ll become a good Muslim. If it’s through Jesus, I will follow him.”

After falling asleep, the respondent had a dream in which she saw the words, “Who am I?” In the dream, she noticed a book lying in a toilet, and a voice speaking Arabic told her to “go open the book and find the answer.” She was hesitant, but eventually retrieved the book. Noticing that it remained dry in spite of having been in the toilet, she began to flip the pages looking for the answer to the question, “Who am I?” She came across the words, “way, truth, life.” As the dream came to an end, the respondent awoke with a desire to know the source of those words.

Remembering Jamilla’s suggestion to ask God for direction, she began to read the Gospel of John and eventually came across John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” These were the words of Jesus and answered the question, “Who am I?” At that point, she returned to the window, and looking to the sky, she said, “I asked you to reveal the truth and you did. I will follow you no matter what.”

When asked to clarify what she understood the meaning of her dream to be, Respondent Twelve said the dream confirmed that Jamilla’s answers about Jesus dying on the cross for her sins were the truth.

Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, Q and A, the Qur’an vs. the Bible, evangelist’s familiarity with Islam/Qur’an, doubts about Islam/Qur’an, the kindness of Christians, prayer, dreams, retreats/conferences/special events, meeting Christians/MBBs, an open witness, pastoral/evangelistic visits, and fear or shame as a barrier to the gospel.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #13

Download my dissertation as a free PDF!

Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #11

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Eleven, 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. 338-340.

Respondent Eleven spent much of his life in Kuwait, but returned to the West Bank in 1990. He returned as an atheist, believing completely in Communism. His religious and political views were not held secretly, neither were they unusual in his social circles. He said that while his family was non-religious, they were respectful of Islam, if for no other reason, because that is the context in which they lived in Kuwait and the West Bank.

Very early in the interview the respondent listed his major complaints with Islam: 1) the status of women, 2) Islam’s apparent hatred for those outside Islam, 3) the violent nature of the religion, and 4) a complete uncertainty about the future. He also mentioned a general dislike for the Qur’an. And, since he had been an atheist, he was also quick to point out that he had also had some objections to Christianity: 1) Christianity’s apparent identification with the West, over and above eastern cultures, 2) Christianity’s belief that God has a Son, and 3) Christianity’s belief that God made man, rather than his then belief that man made God.

The respondent’s motivation to investigate Christianity was not religiously driven. In fact, it was a sociological or philosophical concern for the status of women within the Islamic cultural context that motivated him to examine other ethical systems in order to see what their view of women might be. The most obvious first system to examine, he thought, was Christianity because “it is the largest ethical system in the world.”

The respondent did not really have a plan of how he would examine Christianity’s view of women other than reading the New Testament. He did not feel it was necessary to seek the counsel of a pastor or priest. Rather, he was confident that a self-directed reading of the New Testament would give him a sufficiently clear understanding of the status of women in the Christian ethical system. However, he did not own a New Testament, so he went to a bookstore in Ramallah and purchased an Arabic Bible.

Knowing nothing about the New Testament, he thought the best approach would be to start at the beginning. So, he began reading the gospel of Matthew slowly and intentionally, and was so moved by the words of Jesus, that he “could not put it down”; he read the whole book (all twenty-eight chapters) every day for six months. While he found something precious in every chapter, he said, “I could not get past the words of Jesus in chapters five to seven, the Sermon on the Mountain Top. These words were so different than anything I had ever heard from Islam. They changed the way I viewed Christianity and life.”

Throughout the six months of reading the gospel of Matthew, the respondent desperately wanted to talk with someone about the things he was learning. However, he did not know any Christians, and he thought no one from his atheist circles would be interested. As the months moved forward, he became less and less afraid that others would find out that he was fervently reading the New Testament. Slowly, he started to leave the Bible sitting on the counter in open view at his work. Occasionally, others would see it and look at him as if to ask, “what’s this?” However, no one ever said anything until a doctor saw it and said, “I know someone who can talk with you about this book, if you want.” The respondent was not sure what he should do, but he was so taken with what he had read daily for almost six months, that he blurted out, “sure, I would like to talk to someone who knows something about it.”

This was a very important event in the respondent’s conversion because it gave him the opportunity to meet someone else who had walked the path he found himself walking at that time.

As he began embracing Jesus’ teaching in Matthew’s gospel, particularly chapters five through seven, he recognized the change in his life. And his wife noticed, too, though she had no idea why he was changing. He understood his wife’s recognition of changes as a sign of confirmation that he was on the right path. So, not only had he and others recognized these attitudinal and behavioral changes, he also “found the answers to [his] objections to Islam.” The major contrast he noted was love: “Christianity is based on love. Love your enemy. Be kind to others. Forgive those that hurt you. It’s about love; God loved the world. That’s so different from Islam,” he concluded.

The respondent met with the doctor’s friend, who was a MBB, every few weeks for about one year. At the end of that year, the respondent was convinced that he had become a believer in Jesus and made it known to his wife and others. He said that he “did not say a prayer of salvation,” so he can’t mark a specific day on which he became a believer, but he is certain that he has “believed on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

In addition to personal Bible reading and meeting with the doctor’s friend the respondent said he was influenced by three miracles that occurred in his life during the period with the doctor’s friend. He understood these miracles to be confirmation that he was a believer.

The first miracle was that the respondent passed several hardships, which included a failed business and personal betrayal by people close to him, without anger, bitterness, or denying God’s existence. He recognized God’s work in him, giving him “a peculiar ability to forgive” those that had hurt him, which he said, “would not have been possible when I was an atheist.”

The second miracle was connected to the death of his newborn baby. He said it was a miracle how God helped him (and his wife) through their grief. Once again the respondent saw evidence of God’s work in him, changing the way he responded to severe heartache.

The third miracle was more personal than the previous two and he did not want to elaborate more than saying that God had worked out some problems he had with his wife’s family.

Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, being “moved,” doubts about Islam/Qur’an, crisis, miracles, meeting Christians/MBBs, the “prayer of salvation,” and common objections to the gospel.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #12

Download my dissertation as a free PDF!