Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #12

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

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

Dunning, CA (2014) Palestinian Muslims converting to Christianity: effective evangelistic methods in the West Bank. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Pretoria, PhD thesis, pp. 341-344.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEXT: Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ: Story #13

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