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!

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