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. najemoi.com

 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 #23

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

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

Dunning, CA (2014) Palestinian Muslims converting to Christianity: effective evangelistic methods in the West Bank. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Pretoria, PhD thesis, pp. 385-387.

Respondent Twenty-Three was raised in a secular Muslim home in East Jerusalem. Religion never was very important to him. In fact, he said that he had different ideas (apparently unflattering, though he would not say what they were) about Islam. While he personally identified himself as a Muslim and continues to be registered with the Palestinian Authority as such, he said that Islam never had any active meaning in his life.

At the time of his interview, he had adult children and had been widowed for some years. Together, he and his wife had maintained a secular Muslim home.

The respondent said that he was surprised that one day he “suddenly felt drawn” to read the New Testament that had been on his bookshelf for many years. He was not sure how long it had been on the shelf because he could not remember how he got it, but was certain that it had been many years. At the time he felt drawn to read the New Testament, he had a casual relationship with a bi-vocational Arab pastor. Over the years the pastor had been kind to him and occasionally suggested the respondent should read the New Testament. However, the respondent said that he did not believe any of the pastor’s suggestions were involved in this sudden prompting to read the New Testament. In fact, he could not identify anything external that had prompted him to want to read the New Testament.

The respondent reported being “pulled by something” to read the New Testament a couple times over the course of two months. “Each day,” he explained, “I felt something, someone pulling me toward the New Testament.” This particularly surprised him since he had never been interested in religious issues of any kind; if anything, religion was a turn off for him.

Each day, he read more and began to see logic in the New Testament that made it “a different world” from the Qur’an and Islam. He said he saw “love and forgiveness in the New Testament and in Jesus.” The more he read about Jesus, the more he felt drawn by Jesus himself. “Jesus’ teachings were so different and logical” he said, “I didn’t feel I was being drawn spiritually; it was so logical, I had to move toward it.” He certainly never expected to be interested in the New Testament, but he could not stop reading it.

Because he was so surprised by his new interest in the Bible, he began to ask the pastor for some guidance in this new pursuit. The pastor suggested that the Holy Spirit might be drawing the respondent to believe in Jesus, which surprised him because he had never given any thought to believing in Jesus or being religious.

Over the course of about three weeks, the respondent and pastor spoke several times about what the respondent was reading in the New Testament. These were not particularly evangelistic conversations; mainly they were comprised of the respondent reporting to the pastor the surprising things he had discovered in the New Testament like how “logical it was, and how everything fit together so well.” The respondent explained, “each conversation led the pastor to believe that I was a step closer to believing in Jesus, and the best part is that I was discovering this by reading the New Testament on my own, and not by him trying to persuade me.” When asked if the pastor never said anything but only listened, the respondent said, “I’m sure he said something, but I don’t remember anything specific. We had normal conversations; I told him about the things I was seeing, and he encouraged me to keep reading. Now that I look back at it, I think he was letting the New Testament evangelize me because he saw that it was already doing that when we first spoke. I didn’t have any real issues about leaving Islam like some do because I never was really in Islam, so he didn’t really need to answer a lot of questions.”

According to the respondent, the pastor was very patient, allowing things to develop according to the speed God was bringing the respondent along through his reading the New Testament. Eventually, the pastor sensed the respondent was ready and asked if he wanted to pray the “sinner’s prayer,” but he had no idea what that meant. The pastor explained that it was “a prayer in which the person admits they are a sinner and need forgiveness, and that they believe Jesus died for their sins so they can be forgiven.” The respondent said that seemed a little odd at the time, but it did express what he believed, so he prayed with the pastor. It was short, “I just told the Lord that I was a sinner and believed that Jesus died on the cross for my sin.” After praying, the respondent said he “never felt better” in his life.

Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, “drawn/compelled,” the kindness of Christians, the “sinner’s prayer,” and lack of interest in religion.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #24

Download my dissertation as a free PDF!

Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #22

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

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

Dunning, CA (2014) Palestinian Muslims converting to Christianity: effective evangelistic methods in the West Bank. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Pretoria, PhD thesis, pp. 381-384.

Respondent Twenty-Two grew up in a non-observant Muslim home. Her knowledge of Islam did not come from the home or the mosque, rather it came from school, “where everybody learned about Islam.” Her interests, though, were much more focused on politics, not religion.

At the age of sixteen she was very involved in the political process, supporting the PLO and publicly identifying herself as a Marxist. Though she was not certain of the existence of God, neither could she deny God’s existence. So, through her teen years she fasted and prayed during Ramadan “just in case.” However, politics was the main focus of her life, and continued to be throughout the remainder of her teen and early college years.

In her work with the PLO, she had her first personal encounter with a Christian: she met a Christian girl from Nazareth whom she liked, and even spent the night in the girl’s home. However, distance and other issues prevented them from becoming close friends.

By her early-to-mid twenties, the respondent was married and the draw of political issues began to fade in favor of the pressing necessities of being a mother. In an effort to help support her children she took on a professional career. Eventually, her husband abandoned the family and she was left with the responsibility of raising her children alone.

Because she had no religious interests, she provided no religious training for her children, though they, like she had been, were taught about Islam in school. By the time her children were in school, she no longer fasted or prayed during Ramadan. Though she was still agnostic in her belief about God, she no longer felt the need to do religious things “just in case.” Raising her kids had become the main focus of her life.

In the midst of her daily struggle to raise her children, two particular things caused her thoughts about religion, especially Islam, to start changing: The first was the growing presence and influence of Hamas in her neighborhood. She noticed that her neighborhood was growing increasingly more religious, or as she put it, “more restrictive.” More women were “covering up,” and the parade of men going to pray at the mosque was growing larger and larger.

Observant women began to visit her home in an Islamic version of door-to- door evangelism, encouraging her to become religious and dress the part. These visits grew more frequent and intense as she refused their efforts to persuade her to their point of view.

In concert with the regular visits from the women, the respondent could hear the sermons being broadcast by loudspeaker from the nearby mosque. She said she began having emotional problems because of the harsh messages coming from the mosque coupled with “the pressure from the women to conform to an Islamic lifestyle.”

The second influence on her thoughts about religion was what she observed at her place of employment. Both Christians and Muslims worked in her office, and as much a reaction to the increasing Islamization of her neighborhood as an interest in religion, she began to actively evaluate their lives. She never told them; she simply listened to the things they said and watched the things they did.

Her observation was that the Christians with whom she worked “were much more calm and peaceful” than their Muslim counterparts. Additionally, from observing and interacting with her Muslim co-workers, she concluded “Muslims are angry and complicated.”

These observations coupled with the growing influence of Hamas in her neighborhood caused her to “consider looking at Christianity as a possible religious alternative.” Shortly thereafter, she met the headmaster of a Christian school in her region who, in turn, introduced her to a local pastor.

The respondent asked the pastor to introduce her to some believers with whom she could speak. As it turned out, he introduced her to the Christian girl (now woman) with whom she had spent the night in Nazareth almost fifteen years prior. This woman now lived in the West Bank near the respondent. The respondent was excited to now be able to develop a relationship that she had longed for as a teenager. In hindsight, she said she came to realize that her desire to get to know that Christian girl back then was so that she could actually get to know Christ.

The pastor also gave the respondent a New Testament, which she read without any understanding in about a week. Over the next month she read the New Testament three more times, each time with improved understanding. The more she read, the more she wanted to read and the more questions she had. Her questions reflected her understanding of Islam and the social context that she knew. For example, she wanted to know if it was really possible for Muslims to become Christians. What would happen if they did? How could Jesus be God?

During the second month of reading the New Testament, the pastor invited her to church even though she was not yet a believer so that she could see the community. During the sermon, which was about faith and love and forgiveness, she “sensed a change in her heart toward the idea of religion,” and specifically toward Christianity. She reported actually feeling peace enter her heart, but she still did not understand enough.

On the way home from the church service, thinking she might actually be on the right path, she began to cry. By the time she arrived home, faith and love and forgiveness became clearer. She wanted them all, and clearly in her “heart and head believed in Jesus for the forgiveness of [her] sins.” She clarified: “I didn’t pray the sinner’s prayer or talk with anyone at the moment, I just believed in my heart that Jesus died for my sins.”

The implications were many. She lived near a mosque in a neighborhood that was increasingly displaying the influence of Hamas. What if they found out? What about the kids? What about not being a Muslim? Even though she had never really practiced Islam, there was still an internal tension about leaving it. As each of these issues were raised in her mind, she reminded herself of what she had come to believe: “Jesus died for me and my sins had been forgiven.” She said that she never had anything like that in Islam, “so why worry about Islam?” Continued reading of the New Testament settled those kinds of issues as they occasionally popped up. In addition to the tensions related to leaving Islam being settled, she realized that her pre-conversion emotional problems were no longer an issue either.

Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, Q and A, crisis, meeting Christians/MBBs, the “sinner’s prayer,” common objections to the gospel, and lack of interest in religion.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #23

Download my dissertation as a free PDF!

Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #21

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

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. 377-380.

Respondent Twenty-One’s conversion was intimately associated with the mass conversion of her family; she was the last of her immediate family to convert (See Respondent’s Four, Five, Six, and Nineteen).

The family’s introduction to Christian faith occurred due to a health issue of the respondent’s younger sister. At the time, they were a family that was satisfied with their Muslim identity and involved in the community; the father was very religiously observant and becoming more so, the mother was less interested in religious things, but not completely uninterested. However, that would start to change, though unknown at the time, when a Muslim friend suggested the respondent’s father meet some Christian men who had been in the area recently. The friend said those men were from an eye hospital in Jerusalem and might be able to provide an eye surgery the respondent’s younger sister required.

In summary,the respondent’s father initially rejected the offer to meet the Christian men, but eventually agreed to meet them. The family’s conversion was not immediate. In fact, the respondent’s father went through a lengthy process of alternately inviting and forbidding the men to come to his home. In the end, as a result of the men’s continued witnessing, the influence of Bible reading, the Jesus Film and other Christian broadcasting, as well as dreams, all the members of the respondent’s family came to faith in Jesus one by one.

The conversion process of the various family members was pretty openly displayed in the home in that the Christian men were allowed to teach the Bible, distribute literature, and pray openly. Because Respondent Twenty-One was the last person in the family to believe in Jesus, this open display played an important role in her conversion. She was able to hear the various arguments and answers presented by the Christian men, and as each family member came to faith, they also tried to persuade her.

When the Christian men were allowed to visit the home, the respondent listened respectfully, but completely refused to accept their testimonies and arguments because she was a committed Muslim. She hated that the men were allowed to visit, and rejoiced inwardly during the times her father was angry with them and refused their visits.

She described the process of her family members coming to faith like a wave approaching the beach: “You see it in the distance coming toward you. At first it appears to be coming slowly, but the closer it gets, the bigger and faster it appears until it covers you over.” She explained that in the beginning she feared that someone in the family would believe, but it looked so far off that maybe it really would not happen. However, each time the men came to visit, the wave appeared to be bigger and coming faster until it finally overtook them. Eventually, like dominoes, one falling into the next, family members started believing. That led to more open sharing in the home, which eventually resulted in more pressured sharing of the faith.

As each domino fell, the respondent became more angry and depressed. She worried for her future: “How can I get a good husband if people know about my family? How can I remain part of a family like this? How can I continue to share a room with my sister who has shamefully betrayed Islam? I felt ashamed, angry, isolated, and even considered suicide or divorcing the family, if it was possible.” Perhaps more realistically, though, she said, “I worried the family would kick me out if I would not believe.”

The more the family pushed her to believe the angrier, more discouraged, and more depressed she became. Though her family members did not notice, the respondent’s emotional changes were so obvious that teachers and school officials became concerned and called a doctor and the police who initiated an investigation. They asked the respondent if anyone had done anything to her, or something had happened at home, but she protected her family. She thinks she refused to say anything partly because she would have been humiliated if anyone found out her family had left Islam, and partly because she still hoped they would return to Islam.

When the family found out about the investigation, they realized they had pushed too hard, and subsequently stopped pushing the respondent to believe. They continued to speak openly of their faith in the home, but they stopped directing religious comments toward the respondent. While this change was somewhat helpful, it did not prevent the respondent from feeling like the odd member of the family. “But it was better than before” she said. They continued to read their Bibles and she continued to pray, wear the hijab, and read her Qur’an.

After a few months in this new environment (i.e., no persuasion to convert to Christianity), the respondent began to have a series of dreams, which occurred over a period of about one month. She had the “same dream three or four times,” in which appeared “a man dressed in white surrounded by a bright light.” He did not speak, and she did not know his identity at the time. When she mentioned the dreams to her family, they concluded the reason for the dreams was her rejection of Jesus. Though she did not like their conclusion or the possibility that they may be correct, she had no alternative ideas about the source or reason for the dreams. After the third or fourth occurrence, the dreams stopped for about four to five months.

During this four to five month period, which was leading up to the family’s relocation, the respondent’s thoughts about the dreams were continually provoked when she heard members of the family discuss the Bible or pray. When the Christian men visited, which they did fairly often during this time, her thoughts returned to the dreams. Eventually, word of the family’s conversion spread through the area and a mob of teens attacked their home. These external threats necessitated the relocation of the family to a new area as well as a reconstructed identity.

In the new location, the respondent continued to wear the hijab, pray five times each day, and read the Qur’an. Shortly after their relocation, the family, including the respondent, went to a MBB family conference for the weekend. At the conference, one of the leaders politely asked the respondent to remove her hijab. Although the request to remove her hijab was offensive, the respondent complied. However, the request and her compliance somewhat dazed her. As she sat in the meeting, many thoughts raced through her mind as she witnessed uncovered women mixing with men who were not their husbands or family members: “How can these women feel so comfortable among these men while uncovered? How could he ask me to remove my hijab? How could I remove it?” The respondent said she wanted desperately to run away, but she did not. She remained at the conference and listened and observed what was happening there.

During the program, the respondent sat dutifully with her family, though she did not participate as the crowd worshiped the Lord in song. During this time, she prayed, “God, what are they doing? If this is the way, please convince me.” And within minutes, “the worship leader stopped and said, ‘someone here is asking to be convinced. Listen to the Holy Spirit.’” Then he continued leading worship. Immediately, the respondent said to herself, “That’s me! He’s talking about me.” However, she did not immediately tell anyone else because she wanted to process what had happened.

Later that night, she privately “prayed the prayer of salvation” that she had heard mentioned many times in her home, and that her brother, Respondent Nineteen, had reported praying. When asked to explain what she meant by “prayer of salvation,” she said that it was a spontaneous prayer in which she admitted to God that she “was a sinner and accepted the blood of Jesus as payment for [her] sins.”

Themes that emerged in this interview: Q and A, prayer, dreams, crisis, retreats/conferences/special events, the Jesus Film, meeting Christians/MBBs, an open witness, and fear or shame as a barrier to the gospel.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #22

Download my dissertation as a free PDF!

Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #20

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

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. 373-376.

Respondent Twenty was raised by a single mother who became a MBB when he was about three years old. However, his mother had a very laissez-faire approach to passing her faith to her children, preferring to allow them to choose for themselves, which meant the children received no direct Christian instruction and only passive Christian influence. Instead, he had mostly Islamic influences from the neighborhood and Islamic teaching from school. However, occasionally, his mother did try to offer opinions from the New Testament when the children brought Islamic ideas into the house. In spite of the two varying religious views that were available to him, the respondent was not interested in religion. And while he recognized himself as a Muslim, he was not an active Muslim in any meaningful way during his early-to-mid teen-years.

When he was fifteen, the respondent suffered an extended and serious illness. The MBB community responded in ways that surprised him and that would be instrumental in his conversion. Even though he was a Muslim and did not believe the way they did, members of the MBB community visited regularly to pray for him and provide food for his family. They prayed openly and fervently for his full recovery, and he said, “God answered their prayer and healed me.” However, that did not immediately change his lack of interest in religion, though he admitted, “it probably softened me a little.”

About a year later, he went to a MBB family conference with his mother and sister. This was the first time he had been in an environment where MBBs expressed their faith in Jesus so openly. Of course, a number of them had openly prayed for him during his illness, but that was confined to his home; this was occurring in a semi-public gathering. When asked why he went to the conference, he said, “I was curious about my mother’s beliefs.” However, what he saw made him angry since he “was still a Muslim.” Although he was not religious, he did not like to see men and women praying and worshiping together, and he was bothered by the free references to Jesus as God, as well.

When the respondent and his family returned home from the conference, he asked for explanations of what he saw at the conference. What was all the singing? What was all the teaching? His mother tried to explain, but he dismissed her explanations. When his mother’s explanations proved unsatisfactory, he called a young man about his age that he met at the conference, to see if he could explain things any better.

As the respondent looked back on these events, he came to realize that calling this young man was an important event in his conversion process. “When [name redacted] answered my questions, I was partly convinced,” he admitted. Somehow, that a middle-to-late teen from a Muslim background could believe in Jesus made the answers more palatable for the respondent and lessened the anger he had toward his mother.

Although he did not immerse himself in this new community, the respondent did begin visiting his mother’s church and remain in touch with the teen that had somewhat satisfactorily answered his questions. This same young man invited the respondent to view the Jesus Film, which, looking back, he marked as another very important event in his conversion process. In fact, he said, “I was very influenced by the abuse Jesus suffered. No one suffered like him. And this drew me toward him.”

He began reading the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, but admits, “It didn’t seem like a special story and was difficult to understand.” His mother’s explanations about what he was reading were helpful, but not enough to maintain his interest in reading.

About three months after seeing the Jesus Film, some of his mother’s friends came to visit. During their visit, they prayed for the family, and during the prayer, the respondent’s mind vividly replayed scenes from the Jesus Film in what he called “a vision.” Once again, he was very moved by the horrors of Jesus’ suffering. After the people left, the respondent told his mother about the vision and told her he wanted to know more so he could “know if Jesus is the right way.” He confessed to his mother that he felt like he needed to believe, but could not yet do so. “I need to be sure,” he insisted. This opened the door for fairly regular discussions with his mother about Jesus and how He died for the respondent’s sins.

A short time after his mother’s friends visited and he saw the vision of the Jesus Film, the respondent began to have a series of nightmares in which a power was controlling him, holding his body, and pressing him to the bed. These dreams were terrifying and vivid. He could not discern the identity of the power that was controlling him, and each time he awakened in a pool of sweat and breathing hard as if he had been in a struggle for his life. After a few occurrences, he told his mother about the dreams; she told him to “demand that it go away in the name of Jesus.” Within a few days he had the same dream again, but he was afraid to say the name Jesus in his dream. However, in the next dream, the third, which occurred about one week later, the power was strangling him to the point he thought he was going to die, and in desperation he began to speak the name of Jesus. Each time he said, “Jesus,” the power weakened until it eventually released him.

Once he spoke the name of Jesus and the power subsided, he had a different type of dream twice within the next week. In these dreams, the respondent heard a male voice (there was no image) that said, “You can be certain.” When asked if it was an audible voice that he heard with his ears or only an inner voice, the respondent said, “It was an inner voice that sounded like it was on the phone.” When he told his mother about the voice, she suggested the voice might be that of Jesus, which seemed correct to the respondent. This specific dream was the final event that moved the respondent from unbelief to belief.

In an effort to understand better what the respondent believed were the pivotal events that led him to believe that Jesus died for his sins, he was asked to fill in the blank in the following sentence: If it were not for _____________, I don’t think I would be a believer. He answered very quickly: “The power of the dreams, Jesus’ help, and fellowship with MBBs.”

He was asked to elaborate briefly on those answers, which he did: “The dreams were so real and powerful and frightening that they grabbed my attention. Jesus helped me when I was sick and also in my dreams, the Qur’an and Muslims didn’t. When I was sick, the believers came to help my family and pray for me. They were also patient with me when I was angry about my mother’s belief. All of those things were important in me coming to believe in Jesus.”

Themes that emerged in this interview: Personal Bible reading, “moved,” Q and A, the kindness of Christians, prayer, dreams, retreats/conferences/special events, the Jesus Film, meeting Christians/MBBs, an open witness, common objections to the gospel, fear or shame as a barrier to the gospel, and a lack of interest in religion.

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #21

Download my dissertation as a free PDF!

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