Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #10

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

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

Dunning, CA (2014) Palestinian Muslims converting to Christianity: effective evangelistic methods in the West Bank. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Pretoria, PhD thesis, pp. 335-337.

Respondent Ten was raised in a moderately religious home that self-identified as Muslim, but did not live “like good Muslims.” However, the respondent was “always uncomfortable with Islam.” He said, “I always wanted to pray, but not in the Muslim way.” Though he was not a very observant Muslim, he knew enough about Islam to have certain objections. Specifically, he was troubled by what he thought was the cruelty of Sharia. He also was quite perplexed why millions of people would venerate at the Kaaba in Mecca, which he said, “is just a stone.” Any time he tried to raise these objections to his parents, he was told, “Don’t ask questions!” This type of response to his questions only served to push him further from Islam.

In 2006 the respondent’s journey toward Christianity began with a dream. In his dream, the respondent was walking near the Flower Gate in Jerusalem where a man dressed in white approached him. Immediately he recognized the man as Jesus, who said, “[respondent’s name], I want you to come with me.” According to the respondent, Jesus took him by the hand and traveling through the lower realms of the city, they arrived at the city wall. Then, Jesus reached through the wall and brought out a Bible and said “read this!”

The respondent awoke from his dream confused, but with a good feeling about what had happened. However, he did not tell anyone about the dream, neither did he begin reading the Bible.

After about two years, the respondent had his second dream, which was the first in a series of three. About one month later, he had the same dream in which he was sitting inside a church reading the Bible. In conjunction with these dreams he met a few evangelical, Arab Christians who were very friendly toward him. After the third dream in this series, which occurred about one month after the second, he asked to meet with the Arab Christians he had recently met. During their conversation, the respondent mentioned his dreams and that he thought it was odd for a Muslim to have a dream about Jesus. He was surprised when one of the Christians said, “You’re not the first Muslim to have a dream and you will not be the last.” He was also surprised when the man told him that “Muslims are getting a message” because he had not heard of others having dreams like he had. This prompted him to ask for a Bible, which he received the next day. He immediately began reading the New Testament secretly, and in three months, he had read it five times.

As a result of repeatedly reading the New Testament, he described himself as falling in love with Jesus. He said, “I loved what He taught. I loved Him. And I wanted to know more about Him, so I asked if I could attend a [Christian] meeting.” A few days later, the respondent went to a Christian concert, which was followed by a meeting. During the concert, one particular song repeated the words “God is with you” several times, which the respondent understood to be a message similar to the dreams he had experienced three to five months prior.

After the concert, he attempted to hide in the meeting by blending in and not speaking to anyone. However, many people greeted him warmly, which surprised him because he hadn’t expected that. In describing the meeting, he said, “I was touched by the message, and at some point I realized it was okay to relax and even thought it would be nice to return again.” Between meetings, he continued to secretly read his Bible at home, which he thought gave him more confidence because the next week he made no effort to hide and sat in the front.

For the next two months he continued to interact with these Christians, regularly asking them to explain more and to convince him. Some of the Christians stayed late to speak with him. One even used the Qur’an to suggest that reading the Bible is okay. He described his questions as “typical Muslim questions about the person of Jesus”: “How can you call Prophet Jesus God? How can Jesus be God’s son? How can you say God’s Prophet, God himself was killed on a cross? “

After two months the men who had been so patient with his questions finally said, “There’s nothing more we can do or say to prove to you that Jesus is Lord. You need to pray and ask God to show you.” This bold approach calmed the respondent, and after returning home, he began to pray as they had suggested.

One week later, he experienced his final dream. In that dream, Jesus appeared and said, “I want you to help spread my word.” The respondent understood this dream as the confirmation he was seeking and responded audibly in his dream, “I believe now. Jesus is Lord!”

The respondent said he did not pray a prayer of salvation, “I just believed Jesus is Lord and began calling myself a Christian.” In response to a follow up question, the respondent said that when he says, “Jesus is Lord,” he means that he believes “Jesus is God and that he died on the cross to pay for my sins.”

When asked what he thought were the essential things that brought him to faith, Respondent Ten said, “dreams and having someone to encourage me to consider Jesus.”

Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, being “drawn/compelled,” Q and A, doubts about Islam/Qur’an, the kindness of Christians, prayer, dreams, retreats/conferences/special events, meeting Christians/MBBs, the “prayer of salvation,” the Qur’an as a bridge, and common objections to the gospel.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #11

Download my dissertation as a free PDF!

In the Presence of Significance

(L to R): Craig Dunning, Lorraine and Leon Dillinger

(L to R): Craig Dunning, Lorraine and Leon Dillinger

Yesterday, I had the rare opportunity to sit with people of significance, Leon and Lorraine Dillinger. Such opportunities are rare in life, because people of true significance are rare treasures. I’m tempted to use the word “greatness” in reference to the Dillingers, but doing so would 1) embarrass them, and 2) risk taking honor away from the Lord whose work in and through them is what tempts me to use the word “greatness.”

In a nutshell: Equipped with an intense love for Jesus paired with an unsurpassed commitment to do the Lord’s will and some medical and Wycliffe translation training,  Leon and Lorraine went to Papua, Indonesia in 1958, and have, for 56 years and counting, given their lives to the Lord’s service among the Dani people. Leon, arrived 9 months before Lorraine, and in addition to preparing an airstrip for future flights in/out of this remote highlands village, he also prepared their “honeymoon cottage,” which was a grass hut. When Lorraine arrived, they married and lived in that grass hut.

The stories they have lived are too numerous to attempt to retell, but a few important ones must be included here: they reduced the Dani language to writing; taught the Dani to read and write (their own language); translated the Bible into Dani; have been part of the establishment of 130+ Dani churches, led by Dani pastors; and established schools and a Bible institute. They also helped improve the Dani people’s health by introducing certain medications and a variety of new vegetables (the sweet potato made up about 85% of the Dani diet when the Dillingers arrived) and protein sources including soy beans, peanuts and a variety of animals for meat.

A fun contextualization story: When they were translating Isaiah 53, they faced a conundrum.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

The Dani had no knowledge of sheep. The only animal of which they were aware were wild pigs. Lorraine said, “We wondered what to do. The Dani had never seen or heard of sheep. We decided that we could use ‘pig’ in place of ‘sheep’ because the Dani understood how pigs can run off; they see that all the time. However, that didn’t solve the problem. Pigs don’t go to the slaughter quietly, which meant we couldn’t use ‘pig’ in place of ‘sheep.'”

What did they do? Realizing only “sheep” or “lamb” could work in that passage, they requested and received from the Dutch government a flock of sheep and began teaching the Dani about the character/personality of sheep so that the passage could make sense to them. (The sheep also served as a source of protein and wool, which was helpful in the cold temperatures of the Papua highlands.)

In addition to speaking in chapel, Leon and Lorraine spoke to our student ministries class. I was impressed at how this couple who has spent over 50 years living among a primitive people could so easily communicate with a group of youth-directors-in-training, who are part of a high-tech, modern world. However, the principles of culture that the Dillingers learned in their work among the Dani are the same principles of culture that today’s student ministry leaders must adapt. I hope at least some of our students realized the privilege they had in hearing from these fountains of wisdom and knowledge yesterday.

leon-dillinger-time-coverIn the Dillingers, I met humble unassuming servants of the Lord. They have the work credentials – even making the cover of Time (Dec/1982) – that many in our culture would flash before others in order to get to the front of the line or gain complimentary goodies. But they don’t use their credentials in those ways. I noted in Leon’s chapel presentation that he didn’t communicate “I did” or “we did,” – even though it would have been perfectly normal in our “it’s about me” culture. Instead, always mindful to give the Lord proper priority, he used phrases like, “the Lord worked it out so that . . .”

Lorraine was equally humble (remember, she has worked side by side with Leon reaching the Dani since 1958): In a private conversation about what can be a controversial topic in mission theory, I pressed her for a clarification about their work as it contrasted to something a recognized missiologist said in a seminar I attended recently, and her answer was simply, “What we found was . . .” Even though she obviously disagreed with the other person’s statement and has a lifetime of credentials to support her position, she didn’t throw him under the bus or speak unkindly toward his work. She simply reiterated what she and Leon had experienced among the Dani. I learned much from their demonstration of humility.

Although they no longer live full time among the Dani, their work has not stopped. They continue to visit the Dani regularly, and Leon is working on a set of Bible commentaries in the Dani language. I hope that their complete story (or as much as is possible) can be captured in a book. The historical record of the modern mission movement will have a significant gap if it isn’t.



Words: Be careful how and when you use them

In his book You Bring the Bagels, I’ll Bring the Gospel, Barry Rubin says, “It’s important to understand that whereas a word may mean one thing to you, it will often convey a different meaning to someone else” (p. 93). In this, Rubin provides an important caution for those who work cross-culturally.

One morning while picking up people for our worship service, we picked up a man who, prior to the collapse, had fled the Soviet Union for the relative freedom offered in Israel. He was an unbeliever and this was his first visit to our congregation. Since we didn’t know him, we began the customary “get to know you” conversation, which was very enlightening and pleasant. However, things changed quickly and dramatically when the driver concluded that portion of our conversation with words he had probably said one thousand times before . . . back home in the United States.

“It’s good to have you.”

I happened to be looking over my shoulder into the backseat where our guest was sitting and the look that came across his face was startling. Upon hearing those words, his countenance immediately changed to one of fear. The implications of those words – “It’s good to have you.” – would be difficult to understand for those who had grown up in the 1940’s United States and had never been inside the borders of the old Soviet Union.

Our guest’s response is still fresh in my mind some twenty years later: “Not only do you not have me, you will never have me.” In that event, I learned an important lesson about the challenge of saying things cross-culturally and about apologizing when I inadvertently offend.

Have you ever had one of those “oops” moments? Share it in the comments.

A Missionary Letter

The letter below drew my mind to days gone by that I’ve read about in mission journals or biographies. It serves as a reminder that some missionaries are still working in rough conditions.

I have edited out the location references to protect the people involved.

If I have ever needed prayer, it is NOW. Today, I thought of war movies I have watched in the past and how it is like I am walking through the middle of them now.

Yesterday, we crossed the border into ____________, in the heat, on foot, pigs, trash, the smells, I was sick and vomiting on the side of the road. Thank God that I vomited before I had to pass through the health section or they wouldn’t have let me in. I was sick for two days.

[This place] is much different from ______________. Pray against tiredness, pray for health, pray for the spiritual realm, Mom; it’s heavy. Today, I went into a hut where a deamon possessed woman was chained to the floor. Pray for things to be lifted in the Spirit. Pray, pray, pray!

Please pray. Please tell anyone who prays to pray. I love you so much! I will try to contact you when we get to our next destination.

Arabic: One Reason I’m Studying Arabic

The guys in the photo below are refugees from Sudan. They are becoming the leaders of the Sudanese Church in Tel Aviv, and our church has adopted them.

Besides some financial help, we are trying to train them to be leaders of the church. We recently finished a Bible study methods course, and are now beginning to study the qualifications of a church leader found in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1.

The studies are interesting in that we use English as the teaching language, but Arabic and Dinka are used as well. Hopefully, my Arabic studies will help me be a better teacher for them.