TORONTO, Ontario (BP)–A former Muslim, North American Mission Board missionary Zayan’s* conversion to Christianity set his life on a path of sharing his faith no matter the cost.
Born to Muslim parents in Pakistan, Zayan was raised like most Muslim children in the upper caste. By age 8, he had studied the entire Quran and learned how to follow the practices of Islam.
Zayan left Pakistan to pursue a Ph.D. in Europe when he was 25. When he met a group of Christian students who told him about a loving God who meets people’s needs, Zayan heard the message at a time when he felt utterly hopeless, and he gave his life to Christ.
It took him awhile before he found the courage to write to his family in Pakistan about his new life. His father became angry and didn’t accept Zayan as a Christian.
“My family said I was dead to them and to never come back home,” Zayan recalled. “But I have no regrets. Praise God, He took me from there and gave me love I never knew.”
Eventually, God sent Zayan back to Pakistan to share the Gospel with his people and help start churches.
“There was so much joy going back with a different mandate and challenge.” Zayan said. “The people there are very hard, disappointed and disoriented, but you love them and that makes the whole difference.
“We had a tremendous opportunity to share the Gospel.” He saw many people convert to Christianity, even his own sister.
In addition to starting churches, Zayan helped start schools for Pakistani Christian children living on the streets with no means of getting an education.
After many years of ministry in Pakistan, Zayan began to receive letters from the Pakistani government warning him to leave the country because his life was in danger. He and his wife Aiza* escaped to Canada, where they found “such a freedom here we never knew.”
Zayan and Aiza were surprised that a neighborhood of Toronto seemed so much like Pakistan and southern Asia.
“There were more people with the turban and Pakistani and Indian dress who spoke the same language,” Zayan said. “We started building friendships and sharing God’s Word with them.”
Toronto is one of North America’s most ethnically diverse cities. More than 50 percent of the population was born outside of Canada, according to Jeff Christopherson, NAMB missionary and church planting strategist for southern Ontario. Christopherson is always on the lookout for indigenous leaders from people groups around the world who have a heart to reach their people. When he met Zayan and Aiza he asked if they would help reach south Asians in Toronto and eventually start a church.
The invitation resonated, with Aiza noting, “I knew God had a different plan for us in this city.”
Many Pakistanis and other south Asians use public transportation to get to and from work, so Zayan and Aiza began traveling the city by bus looking for people who speak one of the nine languages they speak.
“We sit next to them and start talking,” Zayan said. “We get their names and addresses so we can visit them. It’s a good way to reach out.”
Because they speak so many languages, the Zayan and Aiza are able to connect with many people groups.
“God’s words will speak to their heart in their own language,” Aiza said. “It has much deeper meaning and value than any other language. It’s much sweeter to them.”
When immigrants first arrive in Toronto they are in culture shock and “lonely and desperate,” Zayan said, so he and his wife help them find apartments, furniture, even jobs as they adapt to their new surroundings.
Zayan and Aiza have been working primarily among Hindu, Sikh and Muslim groups. They have started a couple of Bible studies that they hope will grow into a church. Many of these people would never be in the same room in their home countries. One meets in the home of a Sikh family who accepted Jesus two years ago.
“We have a such a passion for these people,” Aiza said. “We see them struggling in the same way as they struggle in Pakistan. Our heart breaks because they are not free in this country. So we really want to share God’s love with them that they may understand all this freedom in Christ.”
Carol Pipes is a writer for the North American Mission Board.