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

Download my dissertation as a free PDF!

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