WEATHERFORD, Okla. (BP)–If you pray for God to broaden your horizons, be prepared — his providential hand might greet you in the checkout line at Wal-Mart.
It did for Josh Hawkins — and Farhan Shakaeel is forever grateful.
Students at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford, Hawkins and Shakaeel have become close friends since providence linked them last January in the checkout line.
They were virtual strangers; Shakaeel recognized Hawkins and his wife, Heather, at Wal-Mart, having seen them at Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM) meeting he had dropped in on that week while wandering around a campus still quiet from winter break.
“We were at Wal-Mart at about 8 at night. Farhan had gone to get water. He asked us if he could have a ride. I said sure,” Hawkins said.
The night before, Jim Morrison, Southwestern’s BCM director, had given a devotional to BCM student leaders from 1 Chronicles 4:10, citing the prayer of Jabez that God might “broaden my territory.”
The devotional inspired Hawkins to likewise pray that his Christian witness would be expanded.
Earlier that week, Morrison, as a favor to an acquaintance at the college, had volunteered to drive to Oklahoma City to transport a new international student flying in from the United Arab Emirates. It was Shakaeel, and as they made the 90-minute journey to Weatherford, Morrison mentioned his work as BCM director and invited the new international student to visit.
The spring term was a week away and as Shakaeel walked the campus one evening, he saw the Baptist Collegiate Ministries building and stopped to find a group of students planning the spring semester’s events.
“I had a very negative view of Christian people because of what I had been told for 23 years,” said Shakaeel, raised a strict Muslim.
He said he was taught that all Americans were Christians who were morally loose.
“I was like, ‘What is wrong with these people? Why do they trust God so much?'”
Coming to Oklahoma gave him the chance to continue his education after being expelled from a military school in his native land for insubordination, he said. He was lonely, bitter — even doubtful of God’s existence despite his upbringing.
But from the Wal-Mart parking lot onward, Shakaeel’s path began to change.
“I felt very comfortable talking to him,” he said of Hawkins.
Hawkins recalled: “He came over one night, probably 10:30 at night. We just talked. He had a lot of questions about our faith. He had a lot of negative questions concerning life, and Christianity as well.
“He was very much seeking. I am not an eloquent speaker. It was definitely a Holy Spirit evening. We sit in our complacency, but God says be ready to speak a word and stand up for him. It was an awe-inspiring experience.”
About a week later, Hawkins and Shakaeel met with David Lawrence, a math professor at the university and bivocational pastor of Weatherford’s Trinity Baptist Church. Lawrence answered more of Shakaeel’s questions — then he prayed to receive Christ.
“That night, something just hit me,” Shakaeel said. “I started crying. I just felt so bad. I realized I was hurting God more than anyone else. I just felt like God was sitting next to me.”
Lawrence recounted: “It was very exciting. He prayed to receive Christ, and he wept for some time over his sinfulness. He felt he had said so many bad things about God, he was amazed that God would accept him.
“Farhan is like a sponge. He wants to absorb as much information as he can.”
Of 4,800 students, Southwestern has fewer than 100 international students and very few Muslims, Morrison said.
Shakaeel’s family no longer is providing financial support.
“They’ve disowned me,” he said. “My father doesn’t want his surname attached to mine. It’s really very harsh. But I’m trying to survive somehow. It could be worse. I still do get to go to school. I still get to eat. I could be out on the streets begging.”
Shakaeel works in the university cafeteria and said the Lord has provided for him.
He said Psalm 55:22 has helped him through a difficult transition. It says: “Cast your cares on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.”
“That’s what my prayer is basically. The whole book [Psalms] is inspiring. Me and my mentor, Josh, it’s like our prayer to the Lord.”
Six months after accepting Christ, Shakaeel admitted he sometimes feels guilty about his past.
“Grace is still hard to comprehend,” he said.
Shakaeel has eagerly shared his story, Lawrence said. His testimony brought a standing ovation at a Baptist associational meeting during the spring.
“We could have held an invitation,” Lawrence said.
“He’s in a position where God can use him, and that’s the thing that I’m looking forward to.”