ISIS and the Gospel

WARNING: Links in this post may lead to GRAPHIC CONTENT!

Abu Maryam al-Faransi left France to join ISIS.
Abu Maryam al-Faransi left France to join ISIS.

The news coming from the Islamic State is, at best, unsettling. As a result of effective recruiting, foreign fighters from both Muslim countries and the West are swelling the ranks of the ISIS army (see here, here, and here). In addition to the West’s apparent failure in turning certain of their citizens away from jihadi ideology, or western nations’ apparent failure to prevent these same people from making their way to Syria to join the battle, several elements of the ISIS jihad story lead observers to conclude that the situation in Syria/Iraq is hopeless. Two of those elements are martyrdom and brutality.

Martyrdom: A Desire to Die

“We love dying for God as much as you love life.” ISIS fighter, Rabie Shehada

That they are likely to be killed in the battle to expand the boundaries of the Islamic State doesn’t seem to dissuade the recruits. In fact, the prospect of dying as a martyr for Allah seems to be a draw (see here, here, and here). Targeting this element of jihadi ideology – the desire to die for the cause – recruiters are using social media to publish photos of many of their soldiers who died with smiles on their faces (see here, here, and here), which suggests they died happy martyrs.

With every new conflict comes imaginative new methods to recruit fighters and soldiers on all sides. While the US Military uses high budget television adverts or internet campaigns designed to show off the superiority of their forces, the propaganda wing of the Islamic State has taken to posting and sharing pictures and videos of dying and dead “martyrs”, all smiling.

 Brutality: Glorifying and Defending a Way of Life

The brutality of ISIS – which includes, among other things, hanging captives from their feet, repeated mock executions, extra-judicial mass executions, rape, sexual and physical enslavement, beheading, and the public parading of heads and decapitated bodies – has been widely reported by released hostages (see here, here, and here) and/or confirmed by video, photos, and commentary released through ISIS channels (see here, here, and here).

ISIS has successfully utilized the brutality of their movement to recruit the discontent or wandering souls (both males and females) who seek purpose and meaning in life (see here, here, and video here).

“For many people who are lacking a strong sense of identity and purpose, their violent radical global narrative provides easy answers and solutions: it can be very powerful message for people who are looking for answers,” … “Their online material shows capturing territory, establishing states, beheading enemies: they show that they are the sexiest jihadi group on the block.” Matthew Levitt, Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Not only has brutality been an effective recruiting tool for ISIS, it is also intended to bring into submission those whom ISIS deems to be enemies. In the Islamic State, submission takes different forms: forced conversion to Islam, evacuation to safer locations (see here and here), or paying a security/protection tax.

Those who are concerned that the gospel be effectively taken to all, have to wonder if it is possible to get the gospel to people within ISIS. And, even if one succeeded in getting it there, is it possible for a person that glories in beheading aid workers, a person that appears to glory in evil, to believe the gospel? My answer: There is hope. Even ISIS fighters and their brides can be reached with the gospel.

Below, I offer two lines of evidence that give me gospel hope for those who are engaged in this type of jihad with ISIS or any other group that seems too radical to be redeemed; one is biblical, the other is research based.

Biblical Evidence: ISIS Fighters Can Be Saved

The first source of hope is Paul’s inclusion of the “Scythian” in Colossians 3:11 (ESV): “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” In this verse Paul provides a list of four pairs of identities that are not to be given preference in Christ: Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian and Scythian, and slave and free. Although it isn’t Paul’s primary point, his use of each of these pairs suggests that people from each background or identity can be found within the faith community.

To be clear: I’m not making the argument that ISIS is a descendent movement or ideology of the Scythians. I am suggesting the extreme cruelty of both groups, which some think reflects an unredeemable spirit, is similar. For example, Yamauchi (Biblical Archaeologist 46:2, p. 98) provides a description of the Scythians, which compares to the actions of ISIS today:

“[The Scythians’] reputation for ferocity, their scalping of captives, and their other barbarous customs made their name synonymous with savagery down into the Christian era…”

According to Encyclopedia Britannica:

The Scythian army was made up of freemen who received no wage other than food and clothing but who could share in booty on presentation of the head of a slain enemy.

Again, I am not saying the Scythians are ISIS; I am recognizing their similarities and suggesting that if members of one group can be reached for Christ, we should have hope for members of a very similar group.

The next line of evidence illustrates that committed jihadis can be converted to Christ.

Research Evidence: Radical Muslims Can Be Saved

In my doctoral research (PhD, University of Pretoria), I interviewed twenty-four Palestinians who had left Islam for Christ. Respondent Four is evidence that a radical Muslim can meet Jesus Christ. Read his testimony summary here.

“He [Respondent Four] was satisfied with his life as a Muslim. In fact, after returning from a lengthy stint working in the Arabian Gulf, he was involved in a religiously motivated political group that he described as actively seeking the establishment of a truly Muslim nation beginning in all of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean [i.e., modern Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza] and spreading throughout the region.”

ISIS isn’t a new idea. In fact, there have been a number of groups in the region who have espoused a similar ideology; the distinction simply being one of nuance or opportunity, not kind.

Lessons Learned

Below are some lessons that can be learned from Respondent Four’s testimony:

1. This testimony is an example of how God uses crisis to draw people to himself, even radical Muslims. Therefore, Christians should seek to help Muslims who are in crisis.

2. This testimony is an example of how a medical need was the catalyst for a radical Muslim to meet Christians who loved him enough to tell him about Jesus. Therefore, Christians should seek opportunities to provide medical aid when possible. Here is an example of Christians providing medical aid.

3. This testimony is an example of how Christians maintained a Christian identity and took the risk to share the gospel with a radical Muslim. Therefore, it is important for Christians to risk sharing the gospel with Muslims.

4. This testimony is an example of how the Holy Spirit uses Scripture to draw radical Muslims. Therefore, Christians should:
a. be intentional in seeking opportunities to share God’s word with Muslims.
b. encourage Muslims to read the Bible for themselves.
c. be patient and forgiving when a Muslim becomes angry and argumentative while resisting God’s Word.

5. This testimony is an example of how it’s possible to engage a radical Muslim for the gospel outside the battle zone. Therefore, in the case of ISIS, Christians should seek opportunities to engage potential radical Muslims who may be considering going to the Islamic State. Although it’s not impossible for a member of ISIS to come to faith within the Islamic State, it is no doubt more challenging to access the gospel there.

Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #9

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

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

Dunning, CA (2014) Palestinian Muslims converting to Christianity: effective evangelistic methods in the West Bank. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Pretoria, PhD thesis, pp. 331-334.

Respondent Nine – female – Ramallah

Respondent Nine was raised in a Catholic family in Bethlehem. She was educated in Catholic private schools and was very familiar with the ritual of traditional Catholic life. As she described her early years, she also added that she “unfortunately never knew the Lord personally.”

While in university, she fell in love with a Muslim man and eventually married him at the age of 22. Her family was distraught over this decision and considered her as dead. The loss of her family was emotionally devastating, and that devastation was multiplied when she almost immediately relocated with her new husband to Saudi Arabia, which she described as “an oppressive Muslim nation.” As a Catholic, life in Saudi Arabia was very difficult for her because of “all the pressure from every side to convert.” “My husband, my neighbors, people who didn’t know me, all pushed me and pushed me to convert,” she said. Finally, exhausted from the pressure, the respondent went to the religious court and formally converted to Islam. She said her conversion was followed by “intense courses on how to be a good Muslim in an oppressive Muslim country.”

She thought that converting to Islam would make her life easier. However, she was terribly mistaken. She became very disillusioned when she realized her life would continue to be miserable. She was still an outsider and shortly after arriving in Saudi Arabia, her husband became physically abusive.

After a few years in Saudi Arabia and a few more in Jordan, the respondent’s husband decided to return to Palestine with the family, which now included three children. They moved around the West Bank, spending a few years at a time in different places. Her husband continued to be physically abusive to the respondent and the children. After almost sixteen-years of suffering abuse, the respondent was emboldened to leave her husband by her children’s demands: “If you don’t leave him, we are going to run away,” they threatened. She took the children and secretly fled back to Jordan, only to eventually be discovered and forcibly returned to the West Bank to live with her husband’s family. She described life with her in-laws as “like being in prison. They didn’t like me and were always watching me. It was unbearable, but un-escapable until the abuse became so severe that my in-laws couldn’t bear it any longer.” She said, “They finally told my husband that we could not stay with them any longer, so he took us to a different city.”

After leaving her in-laws’ home, the abuse escalated to the point that her husband broke her nose and gave her other wounds on her head. Fear of almost being killed emboldened her to turn to a pastor and his wife whom she had met through her job. She was welcomed into the safety of the pastor’s home where she found peace and comfort. During her first stay with the pastor, she received a Bible, books about faith in Jesus, as well as some testimonies of Muslims who had come to faith in Jesus. But most important she said, “was his gentle spirit, so different than [she] had seen in Islam.” She had already spoken with the local sheik, who offered no help, and had been to divorce court where the judge laughed at her and told her to go back to her husband. She also contrasted this pastor with the Catholic Church: “He [the pastor] didn’t torture me or shame me for having converted to Islam as my Catholic family and church had done.”

While the respondent was happy to have a place of refuge, she was torn because she had left her children behind when she fled. The pastor was sensitive to that matter as well, and after several days of persuasion by the local sheik and the mayor, the pastor reluctantly allowed the respondent to return to her husband and children. However, her return was met with more abuse and suffering, and a pattern was established: abuse, escape, then returning to her husband and children. Eventually, the physical abuse reached the point that she was able to persuade the mayor to get involved, and he was finally able to persuade the sheik to release the respondent from her husband through divorce. The abuse was so severe that the court, in an unusual ruling, allowed the children to live with their mother, the respondent.

Through all of these trials, the respondent tried to be a more faithful and committed Muslim. Thinking her devotion to Islam would eventually bring relief she grew very skeptical that Islam had any answers for her life. “One day,” she said, she “hoped to find the real thing.” Whatever that was, she wanted it.

After the divorce, she basically let go of Islam and allowed her children to make their own decisions regarding their observance of Islam. She refused to fast, pray, or cover her hair. She wanted nothing more to do with Islam. Remembering her encounters with the pastor and his wife, she began to wonder if Christianity might be the answer she was seeking. However, she thought Jesus was only for the good people, not people with big problems like hers.

At work, she overheard conversation about some Christian programs being broadcast on satellite television. She wondered about the programs, but those thoughts passed quickly because she did not have a satellite, neither could she afford one. Shortly after she heard about the satellite programming, a friend suggested she prepare for the coming snowstorm by getting some food and making sure she could clear the snow off her satellite dish. When she said she did not have a satellite dish, the friend was shocked and offered to help her get one. She accepted his offer, and had the service within one day. Now, she could see the programs she had heard about at work. While watching one of the Christian broadcasts she thought to herself, “I wonder if it [salvation through Jesus] could really work for me?” About that time, she saw an advertisement for a Christian counseling service in Jerusalem. She did not take down the phone number the first time because she was afraid, but after giving the idea more thought she saw the advertisement again. This time she recorded the number.

Her first conversation with the female counselor made her optimistic that Jesus could make a difference in her life. Eventually, she became hopeful that the Lord would accept her. She began accepting visits from pastors of a specific church in the area. During these visits she was able to get her questions answered and learned about Jesus in a way she never had, even as a Catholic.

She was moved to think that God cared for her personally. But, thought that “accepting and trusting the Lord was too simple.” In Islam, she needed to work hard to be accepted by Allah. After what seemed like a lifetime of hard work and cruel suffering, though, she never felt accepted by Allah.

It took her approximately one year to be fully persuaded that Jesus’ death on the cross was able to give her a way to have peace and a relationship with God. A few months later, she was baptized in the West Bank.

When asked for three essential elements in her conversion experience, the respondent said: “Acceptance [accompanied] with the love of the Lord, peace, and relationships,” were the things without which she doesn’t think she would have converted.

She has maintained her faith for seven years, the last four years publicly.

Themes that emerged in this interview: Being “moved,” Q and A, doubts about Islam/Qur’an, crisis, Christian broadcasting, Christian literature, meeting Christians/MBBs, crisis counseling center, advertising, pastoral/evangelistic visits, and common objections to the gospel.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #10

Download my dissertation as a free PDF!

Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #8

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

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

Dunning, CA (2014) Palestinian Muslims converting to Christianity: effective evangelistic methods in the West Bank. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Pretoria, PhD thesis, pp. 327-330.

Respondent Eight – male – Nablus

Respondent Eight was raised in a fairly observant Muslim home, which he explained meant his father would wake him each day for the early-morning prayer and that he fasted during Ramadan. As an adult, his commitment to prayer had relaxed, but he definitely viewed himself as a committed Muslim.

By the time he was thirty years old, he had become a wealthy business owner. However, within the next five years, the Second Intifada (Arab uprising) would affect his business in ways he could not have imagined five years prior at the height of his success. In response to the Intifada the Israeli military moved their checkpoint in such a way that the respondent’s business was on the other side of the border, unreachable by his customers. The misfortune of his business’ location coupled with some bad business decisions led to the collapse of what had been a very lucrative business. This reversal of fortune led to great stress and financial burdens for the respondent, which eventually developed into bankruptcy and serious depression.

Prior to the collapse of the respondent’s business, among his customers were three American Christian ladies who were “probably in their twenties.” He later came to realize they were missionaries, but in their regular interactions with his sister, who worked for him, he only saw “friendly ladies who were willing to live among the Arabs.” He did not know exactly why they lived in his area, or exactly what they did, but he thought they were there to help the needy in some way. He, too, had helped the needy in his area through charity. “But these ladies were different,” he said. “They were Americans. They were Christians, not Muslims. And they were helping mostly Muslims by living among them and not just giving money.”

In their regular interactions with his sister, who was a very devout Muslim, more devout than he, the Christian women gave her an Arabic Bible. He also noted that the Americans would not accept a Qur’an. They talked openly with his sister, in English, about how much Jesus loves the Arab people. They were also very friendly toward him and made a point to greet him each time they stopped to visit his sister. Their openness toward him, a fairly observant Muslim, was considered a breach of cultural etiquette, “but small enough to be excused since they were foreigners.”

In the midst of the respondent’s financial success he regularly flipped through various Arabic language magazines and on several occasions had noticed an advertisement that focused on the words of Jesus found in Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”[1]

While things in his life were good, the advertisements never created much interest for him. But in the midst of his financial collapse, the words came back to his mind. “I was weary and burdened, but who could give me rest?” he wondered. At the time, he did not know the source of such hopeful words was the New Testament, but he was able to locate a similar advertisement and call the phone number that was listed. Later, he found out the advertisements were sponsored by an international Christian ministry and that he had called a Christian crisis-counseling center. The phone bank counselor, who was also a pastor, told him that the words he had read were spoken by Jesus and could be found in the Christian Bible.[2]

They spoke about a number of things during that and subsequent calls (one to two times per week for about eighteen months), but the most important thing was that the respondent remembered his sister had previously received a Bible from the three American ladies. He contacted his sister to see if she still had the Bible, which she did. The next day, he visited his sister so that he could get the Bible and read more of “the words Jesus.” Over the next two days he read all of the Gospels and “fell in love with Jesus.” “It was so compelling and made so much sense, I could not put it down,” he said. When asked to clarify his claim to have read the Gospels in two days, he reasserted the claim, and added, “I’ve done that five or six times.”

After reading the Gospels the first time, the respondent called his sister to see what she thought about his new interest. “Maybe we [Muslims] are wrong,” he suggested. His sister raised some common objections like “they believe in three Gods, we don’t.” Her suggestions seemed to make sense, so he called the counseling center to ask questions. The counselor/pastor clarified that Christians, in fact, do not believe in three Gods and explained the concept of the Trinity.

Having not realized it so clearly in the past, the respondent was, at that time, beginning to realize he had already, particularly as a teen, had doubts about Islam. The early-morning prayer during the winter months was particularly bothersome because it meant he had to wake up very early. He thought that was unreasonable, particularly on cold, wet mornings. He was also troubled by Islamic rules regarding inheritance, which were directly connected to the financial difficulties he faced at that time.

Through a contact from the counseling line, the respondent began to regularly meet with two Christian men, one Palestinian and one American, to discuss these particular issues and the Christian faith.

The process of conversion, or being convinced that Christianity was the correct way, took about two years of additional, regular (i.e., weekly) pastoral/evangelistic visits and daily Bible reading. When asked if by Bible reading the respondent meant the whole Bible or just the New Testament, he answered, “The New Testament. I don’t read the Old Testament because it is too close to the Jews.”

In the end, he said, “It came down to one question: Can I judge God?” He concluded that even though all his questions may not have been answered, he could not question God, whom he had come to believe was speaking through the New Testament. He could not remember a specific question that was not answered, which he noted, “doesn’t matter anymore.” He explained that sentiment by saying, “I believe in Jesus now, that’s all that matters.”

He said he “did not pray the sinner’s prayer,” rather he simply realized he had come to a point of believing that Jesus had died for his sins, and that forgiveness was the way that Jesus was offering him rest, bringing him full-circle to the magazine advertisement that included Matthew 11:28.

Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, Q and A, doubts about Islam/Qur’an, the kindness of Christians, crisis, the “sinner’s prayer,” an open witness, crisis counseling center, advertising, pastoral or evangelistic visits, and common objections to the gospel.

[1] The advertisements were in Arabic.

[2] In this region, “Christian Bible” is often code for New Testament. Similarly, the Old Testament is referenced frequently as the Jewish Bible.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #9

Download my dissertation as a free PDF!

Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #7

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

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

Dunning, CA (2014) Palestinian Muslims converting to Christianity: effective evangelistic methods in the West Bank. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Pretoria, PhD thesis, pp. 323-326.

Respondent Seven – male – Nablus

Respondent Seven was raised in a very religiously observant Muslim family. Not only did he pray five times daily, he awoke early to pray with his grandfather who was the area sheik. At the age of twelve he had memorized half of the Qur’an, and fully intended to memorize the whole text. However, while reading and memorizing the Qur’an, he came upon some troubling things, which eventually led to his openness toward Christianity.

When the respondent came to the portion of the Qur’an that deals with the crucifixion of Jesus,[1]he noticed what he thought was a mistake. He mentioned to his grandfather that he had come upon a problem and asked if his grandfather could help him. Of course his grandfather said he would. The respondent explained to his grandfather that while reading the Qur’an he got the impression that the Qur’an teaches that “Allah tricked people so that they thought Jesus was crucified on the cross, but it was really someone else.” He said he asked his grandfather if that is, in fact, “what we believe.” His grandfather answered in the affirmative that “Muslims believe that Allah tricked those who thought it was Jesus who was actually crucified, and that Allah would punish those who believe the trick.” While the respondent’s grandfather was very proud of his grandson’s sharp mind, the respondent was very disappointed and troubled by this revelation, which he believed “made Allah look bad.”

In addition to the most serious problem mentioned above, the respondent started finding other problems within the Qur’an. Many of those problems he characterized as “contradictions.”Over the next couple years, while he was approximately thirteen to fifteen-years-old, he began to intensely study the Qur’an and seek out Islamic scholars who could answer his questions. He said, “I wasn’t looking for a way out of Islam; I was trying to get answers that would help keep me in.” He wrote to Islamic authorities at various centers and schools in a variety of countries, and only became more disappointed by each answer he received. This disappointment led him to be less observant, though certainly not an apostate.

About three years later he was introduced to some members of the Christian Student Association at Bir Zeit University. It was these students who presented the respondent with the first New Testament he had ever seen, which he read several times within a year. He explained his experience of reading the New Testament as a process of increasing attraction: “Though I read it from a Muslim mindset, each time I was more attracted to it than each previous time.” When asked what he meant by “Muslim mindset” he clarified: “Still believing in Islam and the basic teachings of Islam, especially that God can not be a man.”

After about one year of continuously reading the New Testament and becoming friendlier with the Christian students, the respondent thought it would be good to meet with a priest to get some answers. He made an appointment and eventually went to meet with a Catholic priest in Ramallah, who politely listened to his first few questions. Very quickly, though, the priest asked the respondent to go to the Palestinian Authority ministry of religious affairs to change his religious status from Muslim to Christian so that they could continue their discussions. The respondent refused to change his religion and demanded to know the answers to his questions. The priest’s response was to refuse to continue talking with the respondent. In hindsight, he suspects the priest was afraid of being accused of converting Muslims.

After the failed effort to get some answers from the priest, one of the Christian students offered to introduce the respondent to “a[n evangelical] scholar.” During their first meeting the scholar started to preach, saying, “You need the lamb whose blood protects us, the lamb who was resurrected after three days.” Because he had read the New Testament several times, the respondent understood that the scholar was talking about Jesus, but the approach was quite shocking. Additionally, he said, “I didn’t know how to believe in Jesus, so I asked him how can I believe?” The scholar’s answer was equally shocking and unhelpful: “Tell him you are a sinner and give him your sin,” he said. “But, how?” the respondent pleaded for clarification. The scholar gave another aggressive and unclear response: “Let’s pray! If you believe the words, accept them. If not, don’t.” The respondent followed in prayer not knowing whether he believed or not.

One thing became clear, though: there were some definite cultural and religious issues to overcome. “How could I view the Lord as my friend?” he asked. “Islam believes that God is untouchable, unreachable by humans. So, how could I relate to Jesus, who Christians believe is God, like a friend? It was hard enough to think about Jesus, a man, being God. But it was nearly impossible to think of him as a friend.”

Still unclear of his status, believer or unbeliever, the respondent “read the New Testament faithfully for the next three years, or a little more.” During this period, he came to think that he “already knew everything [he] needed to know,” so he was puzzled why it was “so difficult to follow Jesus.” As he thought through the decision, he decided to make a chart listing all that he might lose or gain if he decided to follow Jesus.

What he saw was a lopsided chart that revealed overwhelming risk and no gain, which helped the respondent push away the idea of believing in Jesus. But only temporarily because the thoughts of following Jesus continued to regularly resurface, often with thoughts of how his original chart was incomplete. On the gain side, he realized he should have listed peace, love, eternal life, forgiveness, and honor through humility. Finally, after four years of consideration, he firmly decided to believe in Jesus. At that time, the respondent called the scholar who he had prayed with previously and said, “I’m ready to believe.” Immediately, the scholar prayed the sinner’s prayer with the respondent.

When asked if there was a decisive event or specific information that changed his mind, the respondent said his conversion was dependent on several things: A personal problem with Islam; the willingness of Christians to give him a New Testament and his own desire to read it; the availability, willingness and patience of a Christian to answer his questions; and a Christian’s willingness to challenge him to believe in Jesus.

Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, Q and A, doubts about Islam/Quran, the kindness of Christians, the witness of a friend, meeting Christians/MBBs, the “sinner’s prayer,” and common objections to the gospel.

[1] See, Sahih International Translation, [Accessed 10 Sep 2012]. 4:156-159 “And [We cursed them] for their disbelief and their saying against Mary a great slander, (157) And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah.” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain. (158) Rather, Allah raised him to Himself. And ever is Allah Exalted in Might and Wise. (159) And there is none from the People of the Scripture but that he will surely believe in Jesus before his death. And on the Day of Resurrection he will be against them a witness.”

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #8

Download my dissertation as a free PDF!

Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #6

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

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

Dunning, CA (2014) Palestinian Muslims converting to Christianity: effective evangelistic methods in the West Bank. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Pretoria, PhD thesis, pp. 320-322.

Respondent Six – male – Nablus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #7

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Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #5

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

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

Dunning, CA (2014) Palestinian Muslims converting to Christianity: effective evangelistic methods in the West Bank. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Pretoria, PhD thesis, pp. 317-319.

Respondent Five – female – Nablus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #6

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Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #4

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

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

Dunning, CA (2014) Palestinian Muslims converting to Christianity: effective evangelistic methods in the West Bank. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Pretoria, PhD thesis, pp. 309-316.

Respondent Four – male – Nablus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #5

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Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #3

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Three, 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. 305-308.

Respondent Three – female – East Jerusalem

Respondent Three was born and raised in a Muslim family in Jerusalem’s Old City. Her parent’s and siblings were observant Muslims, but not overly religious, as demonstrated by her learning in a Christian school near her home.

In fact, she said that many moderate Muslims learn at private Christian schools based on the idea that Christian schools provide better educations than public, or even Muslim schools. She was quick to point out that her parents allowed her to attend the Christian school for this reason and because “it was well known that none of the [traditional] Christians would speak to her about becoming a Christian.” And they did not. From elementary through high school, no one ever spoke to her about becoming a Christian.

During the respondent’s final year of college, a CBB (Christian Background Believer)[1] classmate offered to help her improve her English. After a short period of practicing English together, the Christian asked the respondent, “Do you have any idea why I offered to help you with English?” Having no idea, the respondent asked, “Why?” The Christian girl’s answer was shocking: “Because I see Jesus on you!” “I am a Muslim not a Christian!” the respondent said to herself, as many questions came to mind. For example, she wondered, “How can she see Jesus on me?” and “What does that even mean?”

Soon after, the CBB invited the respondent to a three-day student retreat. These retreats are designed to allow Palestinian Christian and Muslim students to spend time together in an environment that emphasizes Palestinian culture, though some also include decidedly Christian themes.

At this particular retreat, the respondent became very angry when the host pastor declared, “Jesus is God.” Among Muslims, the idea that Jesus is God is anathema and often one of the primary barriers to faith in Jesus, and it certainly was for this respondent.

Following the pastor’s shocking statement, the respondent spent three hours asking him questions. However, the respondent said, “He could never give good answers. The best he could do was to encourage me to read the New Testament, particularly the gospels.” He also asked to pray for her, and in his prayer he said, “God, please speak to her.” These two things – encouraging her to read the NT and asking God to speak to her – would become the catalysts for her to come to faith in Jesus as savior and God.

After returning from the retreat, the respondent began to read the New Testament and think about Jesus a lot. In fact, for the next year, she read the New Testament diligently, seeking to hear God speak to her. Additionally, she worked for a Christian businessman who had daily devotions with the staff. In those devotions she heard a regular gospel witness, focusing on the death and resurrection of Jesus. Still, the deity of Christ was offensive to her. “A prophet? Yes. God? Definitely not!” she remembered thinking at that time.

During her year of Bible reading, in addition to the staff devotions at her workplace she also attended Bible studies with an Arab pastor, and on occasion, she also discreetly visited his church services.

Toward the end of her year of reading the New Testament, she had several recurring dreams that lasted throughout the night. Jesus continually appeared in her dreams with long hair, brown eyes, a beard and wearing a white robe. In all but one dream, He remained silent. In the one dream in which Jesus spoke, He said a single word: “father.”

Interestingly, that word was spoken in French, a language she recognized but did not speak. This required her to find someone who spoke French, which was a fairly easy task in East Jerusalem. When she found out the word Jesus spoke was “father,” she felt like she was getting close to believing in Jesus, God’s Son. However, rather than be relieved to finally come to this conclusion, particularly given these circumstances, the respondent was quite unsettled by what she thought she now believed because she was the first Muslim that she knew who might believe that Jesus is God’s Son and that He is God. She had never heard of a MBB, which indicated another barrier to her coming to faith: ignorance of the possibility.

Realizing that she may actually already believe that Jesus is God frightened her for a few reasons: 1) she had never heard of a Muslim becoming a Christian, 2) she felt like becoming a Christian might be betraying her family, and 3) she worried what others would think of her. This fear of the unknown caused her to cry for hours each day for one week, asking God to give her the Holy Spirit. Throughout the day she would cry and pray and read the New Testament. Finally, at the end of the week, the words “Jesus is God” finally escaped her mouth, confirming for her that she really believed because those words so closely matched what she read the day before: “. . . and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3 NKJV).

When asked what was the most decisive factor in her coming to faith, the respondent noted several critical factors: The initial contact with her college classmate opened the door. The picnic retreat planted seeds. The devotions at work and Bible study with the pastor gave her information and answered most of her questions. Reading the Bible gave her greater understanding of God’s plan and Jesus’ identity. The dreams confirmed what she had been told and had read. And finally, the confession that “Jesus is God” was evidence in her mind that the Holy Spirit was working in her, which had been her prayer.

Having noted all of those as important, she said that two factors were the most important in her coming to faith. Both were personal interactions with other believers. First, that her boss (non-MBB) was patient, kind, and not pushy while she considered the faith. Second, she added that consistently spending time with older female believers (non-MBB) made an important impact on her decision as they prayed with and for her, studied the Bible with her, and encouraged her to seek God.

Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, formal Bible studies, Q and A, the kindness of Christians, the witness of a friend, prayer, dreams, retreats/conferences/special events, meeting Christians/MBBs, uncertainty, the deity of Jesus, ignorance of other Muslims believing in Jesus, and fear or shame as a barrier to the gospel.

[1] Within the Palestinian Evangelical paradigm, a Christian Background Believer (CBB) is a person from what is considered a “traditional Christian background” (e.g., Catholic or Orthodox) who becomes a “born-again” (i.e., Evangelical) Christian.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #4

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Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #2

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Two, a female from Bethlehem. Feel free to interact in the comments or download my dissertation as a free PDF here.

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. 301-304.

Respondent Two – female – Bethlehem

Respondent Two was born and raised in Jordan, a Palestinian in exile. Her father was a teacher who encouraged his children to read, especially in English. This emphasis on reading gave her the opportunity to think and explore things outside of Islam and to question her family’s religion.

During her childhood years, her father’s answer to any questions that were raised about Islam was always, “don’t question Islam, just accept it.” This answer did not satisfy her, so she continued to read and think independently.

When the respondent reached high school, she began to notice what she described as “contradictions, logical tensions, and other problems,” in the Qur’an. However, she was always reminded that she should never “question Islam, just accept it” and that she should “believe in Allah, Muhammad, the Qur’an, and angels.” The more she read, the more she noticed what she thought were problems in Islam and contradictions in the Qur’an. One specific issue she found objectionable was that “Allah can’t forgive one mistake.” She also mentioned that her mind would wander during prayer and that she started to think that Islam might not be true.

While studying in college she became friends with a Christian, which not only was a new experience for her it provided a new way of thinking about religion in general, and Christians specifically, even though her new Christian friend never suggested that she should become a Christian.

It was at that time that her initial set of dreams occurred, but it would be almost ten years before she understood their meaning. In the first dream of this set, all the stars in the sky came together in a single bright mass before falling one by one to the ground beside her. Having no idea what the dream meant, she asked trusted friends and family members who either laughed at her or said they could not interpret the dream. She wondered if the stars represented jinns – evil spirits. The last dream in this series of dreams was once again of all the stars in the sky coming together, but this time, they gathered together in the shape of a Christian cross. Like the previous dreams, she had no idea of the meaning of this dream, but this time she was too afraid to ask anyone for help.

About six years later, the respondent received an emotionally crushing blow when her six-months old son died suddenly. Many of the questions she had about her son’s fate were answered in a set of dreams. In the first dream she saw a white dove that told her that her son was okay. This was both understandable and comforting to her. However, in the second dream, “a man dressed in white with a face of light” appeared and said in Arabic, “come to me,” which did not make any sense to her at the time.

Although she was comforted by the thought that her son was okay, she did have a terrible nagging fear that he died because she “was not religious enough.” That resulted in her praying more regularly and more fervently, but she never could get beyond the fear of death. She said that she constantly worried that “someone else might die because I was not religious enough.”

During this episode of increased prayer and uncertainty, a family friend began to regularly visit the respondent and her husband. The focus of his visits was to talk with the couple about Jesus. It did not matter if they wanted to talk about Jesus or not, the visitor always seemed to get the conversation turned in that direction. This friend would regularly point out problems within Islam as well as testify of how his life was being blessed by Jesus.

Within a couple visits the friend gave the respondent and her husband a Bible, which she began to read immediately. Over the course of about twelve months, the respondent “read the New Testament five or six times and the Old Testament three or four times,” and she sensed her thoughts about Christianity becoming more positive. However, even though she was starting to gain a level of acceptance about Christianity and the possibility of becoming a Christian, the deity of Jesus remained a major barrier. She simply could not embrace the idea that God could come to earth in human flesh.

Soon after that first year of reading the Bible, she had her third set of dreams. The initial dream of this set took her to a large mountain upon which stood “a person of light” that spoke to her in Arabic. She asked the person of light, “Who are you?” Immediately, without giving the person of light an opportunity to answer, she answered her own question: “You are God.” Then she asked her final question, “What do you want from me?” The person of light answered, “It’s time to tell you about your first dreams. You can get the answer to your questions from Christians.”

The family friend introduced the respondent to a pastor in Jerusalem who interpreted her first dreams. He told her that, “the stars falling from the sky to the ground represented [her] leaving Jordan and arriving in Palestine, and that the stars in the shape of the cross represented [her] believing in Jesus.” This interpretation made some sense to her since she had come from Jordan to Palestine. The second portion was also reasonable, to a point. She could believe in Jesus as a man. However, she still could not accept Jesus as God.

This internal tension lasted another six months, but she continued to read the New Testament in large quantities. The more she read, the more she loved Jesus, the man and the prophet. However, the more she read, the more clear it was to her that “the New Testament presents Jesus as more than a man and more than a prophet. It presents Jesus as God, too.” “Obviously that’s one of the parts of the New Testament that Muslims believe was corrupted,” she offered as an apologetic against what she was coming to understand at that time.

Her husband had lost interest in their friend’s regular discussions about Jesus and Islam within the first three months, but she had not. In fact, she had become more interested, but she had to be cautious in order to avoid upsetting her husband, who eventually suspected she had become a believer and sent her to her father to be sorted out. Since she had not yet believed, her father could not get a confession from her, and with a stern warning sent her back to her husband.

Immediately upon her arrival, the respondent’s husband warned her that if she ever became a Christian he would divorce her and send her back to her father, who would certainly kill her for the family’s honor. Fearing for her safety, she replaced the Arabic Bible that she carried in her purse with an English one since her husband could not read English. She also began listening to the New Testament on an mp3 player, which gave her safer and easier access to the New Testament while riding the bus or cleaning the house.

Shortly after her return home from her father’s home, she informed the man who had been witnessing to her and her husband that she was “really close to believing,” but that she still could not believe Jesus is God. Within a couple days of this conversation, she had her final dream, in which “Jesus appeared dressed in white with a glowing light in his face.” In Arabic, he said to her, “I am the way.” At that moment, she awoke from her sleep “believing in Jesus.” She immediately got up and called the person who had been witnessing to her and whispered, “I believe Jesus is God!”

Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, doubts about Islam/Qur’an, dreams, a crisis, uncertainty, and common objections to the gospel.

Download my dissertation as a free PDF here.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #3

Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #1

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent One, a male from Bethlehem. 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. 298-300.

Respondent One – male – Bethlehem

Respondent One was raised in a traditional Muslim home that was not religiously active, which created a general lack of interest in religious issues that was compounded by his negative experience both with religious Muslims and orthodox Christians in the Bethlehem area. One thing he was certain of was that he did not like the Christians; “They didn’t care about the Muslims, only themselves,” he said.

About ten years prior to our interview while living in Bethlehem, he started working in Jerusalem and met a “Jewish woman who believes in Jesus.” She was friendly and began to talk with him about spiritual things. At first he was not interested in such discussions, but because she seemed genuinely interested in him as a person and also “loved Jesus very much” he was provoked to continue the conversations and to begin reading the Arabic Bible at home.

He read the Bible side by side with the Qur’an to see where they agreed or disagreed. In his studies he began to notice some problems in the Qur’an, particularly what he described as “logical problems and errors.” It is important to note that his personal studies were not guided studies; he simply read and compared both texts.

As questions about Islam and the integrity of the Qur’an began to mount, he started to attend a Hebrew language Bible study in West Jerusalem. At the Bible study he learned more and began to see “how the Bible fit together much better than the Qur’an.” The topics of study in the Bible study were the books of Genesis and Daniel. As he continued to read and study the Bible he began to sense a confidence in what he was reading, and he concluded that, “Faith is the natural outcome of honestly reading the Bible.”

The evangelistic stage lasted about three years, when finally, “all the pieces were in place” and he “believed that Jesus is God who died for [his] sins.”

Shortly after coming to faith, he arranged to be baptized a couple of times by different Arab pastors, but for various reasons the pastors backed out. Finally, the Jewish pastor, whose Bible studies the respondent had been attending for three years, baptized him in West Jerusalem. The respondent’s family – wife and five children – witnessed his baptism.

Two days after his baptism, the respondent had a dream in which appeared a man with a glowing face dressed in white. The man told him two things: “You are on the right path, continue on” and “You need to tell others about your faith, don’t stop.” In his mind, this dream served two purposes: To confirm his conclusions about Jesus and to give him a “calling” for his life.

The respondent has spent the last seven years learning more about Jesus and telling all who will listen. His witness has been effective in about fifteen others coming to faith in Jesus. He doesn’t have a planned approach to evangelism, he “just starts talking about Jesus” to people as he visits their homes. His approach is to speak highly of Jesus and encourage others to read the Bible, which he assumes, will be as effective for them as it was for him. Along with printed Bibles he also distributes mp3 players loaded with audio Bibles and other Christian literature.

His conversion resulted in tensions with his family. The respondent’s conversion to Christianity has been an open topic amongst his family – wife, children and siblings – all of whom have remained Muslims. Soon after his conversion, he told his wife that she could choose to let him stay at home or send him away. “But,” he added, “whatever you choose, I will always follow Jesus and tell others about him.”

His evangelistic efforts have also created tensions in his village and problems for him personally. He said that he was arrested, incarcerated, and beaten by Palestinian Authority police because he “would not stop telling others about Jesus.” According to his testimony, telling others about Jesus “is the red line for the Palestinian Authority.” He is currently in exile due to threats on his life as a result of his evangelistic efforts. In this case, exile means that he does not live with his family. Instead, he moves about from host to host – both in the PA and Israel – staying a day here, a few days there, perhaps a week somewhere else.

The respondent said that the most important things for his conversion were Bible reading and an openness to listen. And he added that the latter was definitely the result of Christians showing a true interest in him as a person and being very patient with his questions. Arabic language Christian programs on satellite television also were helpful in building and maturing his faith, as has been his continued contact with believers in Jerusalem.

Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, formal Bible studies, the Qur’an vs. the Bible, doubts about Islam/Qur’an, the kindness of Christians, and dreams.

Download my dissertation as a free PDF!

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #2