When I began doing research for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, I came to a friend who put me in contact with Jamal, a Christian in the Middle East who has experienced severe persecution firsthand. He sent me his story and it is my privilege to share it with you...TJ
This week as we focus our content on the heartbreaking matters of persecution, we also seek to recognize a very humbling reality: Most of us on the Engage team have never had to experience anything remotely like the persecution we are writing about. It is not our intent to place ourselves on some lofty pedestal of understanding and experience, but rather shine a light in the midst of darkness. One way we are able to do that is by using our own unique talents to discuss the issues surrounding this difficult topic. But we are also honored to lend our platform to two fellow believers who have themselves experienced persecution. Where appropriate, we have omitted or changed certain details to protect the identity of these two individuals. However, their words remain their own.
I am Jamal Zarka, a former Muslim Imam. Now I serve as a Christian pastor in the Middle East.
The majority of people where I live are Sunni Muslims. My ministry is with the majority. We can divide this majority into three groups: fundamental, moderate, and non-practicing Muslims. Sometimes you can quickly figure out which group they are in, but normally you have to engage them in conversation to find out.
One day my niece, who is a Christian, was getting in a taxi to go home. The taxi driver could tell she was a Christian by what she was wearing. He asked her some questions about Christianity, but she told him, “My uncle is a pastor. If you have any questions, you can ask him.” He gave her his cellphone number so I could call him. It was an opportunity to share the gospel with him I gladly took advantage of. We set up a time for him to meet with me at my office.
Later that day he walked in. I noticed that he looked to be about 42 years old and had a thick black beard. He asked me many questions, and I answered them all to the best of my ability. He seemed genuinely interested in learning about Christianity. I shared the gospel with him, and he told me that he would think about it. I gave him a small copy of the New Testament. He was a very kind person the first time we met.
The next day he called me to tell me that the book I gave him was too small and he could not read it. I told him to come back so I could give him a bigger one. I was alone in my office, as I usually am, when he came in. Something about his face looked different. I could tell that he was angry. He asked me more questions, one of which was about Islam. I knew the answer would make him upset and angry, so I suggested that he search for the answer on Google, as the computer was right next to me. I sat down, and when I turned my face to look at the screen, I heard him scream! In a loud voice he was insulting me with very bad words. He then pulled out a long, sharp screwdriver he had been hiding. He attacked my back with it, trying to kill me, but because I was moving to use the keyboard, the screwdriver just wounded me. I turned back to him, and he tried again to attack me in the chest. I caught the screwdriver, and we both fell hard to the ground.He caught the speaker of the computer to use it to smash my face, but I resisted him to protect myself, and I shouted loudly hoping for someone to hear me.
My wife was at home, upstairs from my office, and heard the fighting going on. She called my brother, a strong boxer, to help me. When he saw my face bleeding, he became very angry and wanted to kill the man that tried to kill me. But I covered him with my body to save him from my brother. I told my brother that I forgave him and not to hurt him. I asked my wife to bring him a glass of water to drink. He was very afraid because so many people were surrounding him. I just asked him, “Why did you do that?” He replied, “If I kill you then I am serving God.” At this, I remembered what Jesus said in John 16:2: “In fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.”
My brother called the police. They came, took us away, and imprisoned us together at the police station. They questioned me four times, and I kept telling them the same story about what had happened. They questioned him also, and he told a different story each time. They knew that he was lying and not telling the truth. They released me and imprisoned him. They asked me to come back the next morning to sign some papers. When I came back, I asked the police office manager to allow me to see that man again. He told me to stay in his office and he would bring him to me.
After a while, the manager brought the man who tried to kill me to the office, and he sat before me. I told the man that I just wanted to see him to say, “I love you, and I have nothing against you, as Jesus said on the cross when He forgave the people who crucified Him: ”Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
The man told me that he now could tell that I am a Christian and that Christians are better than him. My brother was there and later told me that the police manager was tearing up when he heard me forgiving the man who tried to kill me. The manager said this was the first time in his life, and as a policeman, to see a person forgive someone who tried to kill him. I told him this was not me, but Jesus who lives in me. He helped me to be able to forgive.
What happened to me encouraged me to be more courageous and to do more ministry with Muslims. My experience showed me that my death and life are in God’s hands. Also, this gave me the opportunity to witness to the policemen, a person I would never have had the opportunity to minister to if this had not happened to me. Also, I now have more credibility among Christian leaders and believers as I teach that persecution should not prevent us from sharing the gospel. The believers in my country started to use my story as an example of how to face persecution. I thank God that I am still alive to serve Him, but we have other brothers who were killed because they did not deny their Lord Jesus. Either in life or in death, all the glory be to God.
(This blog first appeared on engagemagazine.net at http://www.engagemagazine.net/world-view/blessed-are-the-persecuted-jamal/)