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

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