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What man set for evil, God used for good


PARIS (BP)–The devil wanted Joseph* dead before he was born, but God had other plans.

Joseph’s father first sought to abort his unborn son, conceived out of wedlock. When that failed, he abandoned him. Joseph was 3 years old when he was sent from Mali, West Africa, to live with relatives in the Ivory Coast.

His relatives tried to lure spirits they believed would bring them money. Joseph began a descent into a world of witchcraft, Islam and despair — a journey the Lord ultimately would use to transform him into a powerful witness for Christ.

FROM THE DEPTHS

Joseph awoke to the sound of his uncle’s voice at 4 a.m. — time for the first prayer of the day. Though his aunt was a witch doctor, Joseph’s uncle was a strict Muslim who prayed five times daily. Joseph’s compliance wasn’t as much motivated by a desire to please Allah as it was to avoid being thrown out of the house — a threat his uncle used often.

At age 16, Joseph learned to do drugs and use a gun. He joined a gang and began to steal. In the evenings he chased women at local nightclubs, sometimes raping those who refused his advances.

“We even wanted to kill women that were pregnant,” Joseph said. “We had nothing else to do but drugs and violence…. We would say to each other, ‘God no longer has a plan for us. We don’t have any hope.’ We believed that our lives meant nothing.

“But at the very bottom of my heart, I knew that there was a God who knew me.”

It wasn’t long before Joseph’s lifestyle caught up with him. During a fight he slashed a man in the stomach with a broken bottle. The man survived and went to the police. Joseph was now a wanted man; he ran but had nowhere to go.

For two years, Joseph slept in the street and ate from trash cans. He stole money and spent it on drugs and prostitutes.

TRYING TO ESCAPE THE PAST

Though he successfully escaped arrest, Joseph’s life in the Ivory Coast was in ruins, and he eventually returned to his home in Mali. He hadn’t seen his parents in more than 15 years. Neither knew anything of their son’s past. With counsel from his family, Joseph recommitted his life to Islam.

“I began to pray correctly, five times a day, like I was supposed to,” he said. “I became a man that was repentant of his past. I believed that through these prayers I could escape all the bad things I did.”

Despite his faithfulness, Joseph’s heart remained empty. He prayed to know the way to God.

Nearly 10 years passed. During that time Joseph was nearly killed in a motorcycle accident; later he seriously considered suicide.

PROVIDENCE AND SALVATION

That’s when Providence stepped in.

Providence came to shop at the Paris clothing store where Joseph worked as a clerk. Now 30, Joseph had traveled to France two years earlier looking for a higher paying job. He had found more money, but finding closeness to God still eluded him.

Providence invited him to church, and again the following week.

The pastor prayed, “Someone in this room slept with women outside of marriage. He was possessed by demons…. This person is here today, and the power of God is about to come down on this man.”

Joseph fainted.

When he came to, the service had ended. The pastor asked, “Do you want to accept Jesus in your life?” Joseph’s answer was an unequivocal “yes.” With the pastor’s guidance, he prayed to receive Christ as his Lord and Savior.

Joseph spent the rest of the day poring over the Bible Providence had given him. He remembers tears streaming down his cheeks as he read Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (HCSB).

“I thought about all the bad things I had done to people, innocent people…. I said, ‘God, forgive me, I’m a sinner. I love You. I didn’t know who You were.’ That night I slept in a peace I’d never slept with in all my life.”

JOSEPH’S CALL

Less than 24 hours later Joseph was back at work, sharing his faith for the first time. He hasn’t stopped sharing what Jesus did in his life and what He can do in the lives of others.

He tells customers. He tells people he used to do drugs with. He tells strangers on the Paris subway.

“God gave me a heart for evangelism,” he said. “Everywhere I go, the Spirit seems to tell me to preach.”

But his decision hasn’t come without a cost. Embracing Christ has alienated Joseph from his Muslim family, many of whom believe he’s joined a cult. They’ve tried repeatedly to force him to return to Islam — even threatening his life.

But Joseph believes God has given him a vision to take the Gospel back to West Africa. In the meantime, he’s working to share Christ among the more than 500,000 West Africans in Paris with Southern Baptist missionary Craig Kendrick, who has helped train and mentor Joseph.

“Please pray for me,” Joseph said. “Pray for my country. … Because our God is alive, He’s not dead. He is risen. His name is Jesus Christ of Nazareth.”
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*Name changed. Don Graham is a writer for the International Mission Board.

    About the Author

  • Don Graham