LOS ANGELES (BP)–At the age of 18, John joined the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). In 1978, he went to jail for bombing a passport services office in the Gaza Strip. While in prison, a missionary going from Australia visiting from cell to cell gave him a Bible.
His father’s connections with Gaza authorities enabled his release from prison eight months later and he came to the United States seeking political asylum. John (unable to use his real name due to death threats/attempts since becoming a Christian) didn’t come to America as a Muslim. He came as a Christian.
“By the time the missionary got to my cell,” John recounts, “I was so angry with him for what he was saying. I punched him in the face and threw his New Testament through the bars onto the floor.”
John says he will never forget what happened next. “He looked at me with love, although at the time I didn’t recognize that’s what it was. He said, ‘I love you. I’ll pray for you.'” The next day, the missionary came back to John’s jail cell. “I thought, ‘This guy must be crazy.’ I didn’t know Christian love.”
John took the New Testament and put it under his mattress, intending to discard it when the missionary left. That night, he dreamed about the Bible, and he next morning started reading it. “I just opened the book,” John says. “The first verse I saw was Matthew 5:44: ‘… love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.’ That verse really got hold of my heart. What I read in the Bible I had seen demonstrated two days before by the missionary.”
Christianity was a foreign concept to an 18-year-old Muslim terrorist, yet, “I knew what I read in the Bible must be heavenly teaching.
“Islam teaches heaven as food and pleasure; Christianity teaches heaven as love, joy and peace. That’s heavenly language, not earthly,” John says. “Islam teaches no relationship with God, no conversation. Basically you just recite, kneel and bow. I was shocked at having a relationship with God.”
In the eight months John remained in prison, it took him that long to make a decision for Jesus Christ.
“I was confused. I didn’t know how to pray. So, I kept reading the New Testament and one day I knelt on my cell floor,” he says. “I knelt as a Muslim kneels, with my face on the floor, and I started talking to God. I didn’t know what to say. There was no one to teach me. But the name Jesus Christ kept running through my mind. So in my heart I said, ‘Jesus Christ, I put my trust in you.’ I was having conversation with God. Immediately, there was amazing peace.”
Now, John is married and living in California. His ministry is sharing God with Muslims, mainly internationals in university settings. “Muslims are really special people. They have been stereotyped as a bad, violent people. Some of their culture and traditions may be violent, but Muslims aren’t all bombers and terrorists.”
John also has a heart for the Jewish people. “If you had told me 20 years ago that I would hug a Jewish person, I would have killed you. But I’ve hugged Jews in the middle of crowded city streets.” John is part of an Arab Baptist congregation that has committed to help start a church aimed at sharing the Messiah with Jews.