Praising His amazingness: abducted pastors miraculously released in Middle East

Report: Bibles for Mideast and the ALG Church in the Middle East

On a Sunday evening two weeks ago, Assembly of Loving God (ALG) pastors Firos* and Altaf* were visiting an Arab Muslim in his home in the Middle East. The Christians shared the gospel with the man, and his entire household had gathered around, listening intently.

As leaders of an underground ALG church** in the area and with families of their own, the men used their ‘spare time’ to engage in personal evangelism and distribute bibles among local Arab Muslims. About 50 former Muslims now met regularly with them for prayer, worship, and learning more about their new and living faith.

This particular country has extremely harsh attitudes towards proselytizing, especially attempts to convert Muslims to Christianity. As the men shared the Gospel of Life that Sunday evening, a neighbor noticed the goings-on and informed the imam of the local mosque.

Late evening namaz (prayer) was ongoing at the mosque, a requirement called Isha’ [Muslims are supposed to perform namaz five times per day, with Isha being the fifth—Ed.]. When Isha ended and the people learned of the evangelical activity in their neighborhood, an angry mob formed under the leadership of the imam. They armed themselves with a variety of weapons and headed to the home. Bursting in on the family, they brutally attacked the evangelists. They dragged the pastors to their mosque, tied them to a pillar, and kept up the beating. Firos and Altaf clutched their bibles to their chests, but the mob snatched them away. Shouting and laughing wildly, they set the men’s bibles on fire.

The imam told the pastors to leave Jesus and come back to Islam, offering them a number of official state positions if they agreed.*** But they turned down his appeals.

The ONLY fire and sword that matters

The ONLY fire and sword that matters

"Jesus is our Lord and Savior,” they bravely declared. “He saved us from the sin and death we knew and experienced in our own lives. Now we are new creations in HIM. You may kill our flesh, but we will have an everlasting life with our Savior in Heaven. So we will never lose our faith in Jesus, no matter what happens."

This provoked the people even further. They dragged the men to a cellar and abandoned them there for three days, without even a drop of water to drink. But the pastors looked to their Lord. For the entire three days and nights they praised and prayed. Being so with their Lord in Spirit, they didn’t feel any pain, hunger or thirst, nor were even aware of the passing time.

After the three days, the mob handed them over to a terrorist group, who threw them into a cellar in another location. For nine days they endured more brutal torture and again, no food or water. They were given dire warnings that unless they return to Islam and join the fight against Christians and Christianity, they would be killed and their bodies hung in a public place.

This proved hardly a threat to the pastors. For the sake of Jesus, they knew they could endure any persecution. They personally prepared themselves to die, assured of the greatest high hope of living even closer with Christ. 

Yesterday (Friday) morning, the terrorists tied the men’s hands behind their backs and took them out into an open area. Midday approached and temperatures soared. They told the pastors to kneel down. When they did, they tied their legs together as well.

Two men stood behind the kneeling pastors, wielding razor-sharp blades.  The killers tried to cover the Christians’ faces, but someone told them not to bother.  ‘Let them see and experience even more fear as they are being executed,’ they explained. 

Instead, the pastors looked to their Lord. They watched in amazement as a cloud formed overhead and they began sensing a refreshing coolness. Within the cloud, they saw Jesus seated on a throne! Thousands of angels surrounded Him.  They began praising the Lord joyfully and enthusiastically as they knelt under the shadow of His Presence and the cloud-like formation of angels around Him.

The killers, now even more determined due to the men’s praises [we’re fairly certain no one but the pastors saw the spiritual reality—Ed.], brandished their knives over the men’s necks. But as they prepared to bring down the blades, both they and their weapons unexpectedly fell to the ground.

Fear gripped onlookers as they heard the pastors’ loudly praising their Lord, and only intensified as they watched the would-be assassins fall over, helpless and disarmed.

The evangelists then witnessed rays of fire emanate from Jesus and down through the cloud towards the witnesses of the ‘execution’. Overcome with terror and the now-extreme heat, the crowd fled.

Somehow the pastors’ legs and hands were then loosed. Instead of standing up, however, they remained on their knees, praising and thanking their mighty Savior. Both then observed two angels appear, and felt themselves being lifted up. The next thing they knew, they were standing in front of a house.

They heard sounds of praise and worship from within the home, so they knocked on the door. A man came and opened the door slightly to have a somewhat fearful peek. When he saw the pastors outside he could barely contain his joy, praising the Lord loudly and shouting for the others to come. They were all members of the men’s own church … in the midst of prayer and fasting for their pastors’ immediate release!

Adding to the miraculousness of this story, this was not the location the church had been meeting in before the abduction. Soon after the pastors disappeared, worshippers had noticed several suspicious-looking characters watching the home they’d been meeting in.  Concerned, they moved their ‘church’ to a place many miles away. Since they had lost their leadership, some elder believers now led services, which was what was going on when the pastors ‘reappeared’. But the pastors of course had no idea their congregation had moved.

Our Lord of course knew, and He Himself arranged and rearranged everything according to His purposes. While the underground believers’ Friday prayer and fasting session would have normally drawn to a close by 3:00 p.m., this one continued many more hours, on into the night.

Both pastors’ wives and children had been sick with desperation when the men disappeared two weeks ago. Now of course they, and all who gather with them, are overjoyed.

Please pray for both families, and the believers who meet with them. The pastors want to specially thank all who have been praying for them, and know that it is only because of prayer that our Lord so mightily intervened.

____________________ 
* Names changed for security reasons
** the umbrella organization for Bibles for Mideast churches
*** We can’t know if this was a deception to tempt the pastors, or if the imam did have the authority to offer the positions since many religious leaders in the Middle East do have high influence in government.

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From Islamic enforcer and Christian killer to underground church leader: a modern-day Muslim Saul

For years, Zakkir* and his father lived to uphold the many religious rules governing their 100% Muslim country, one of the strictest in the Middle East. They followed Islamic ritual practices fanatically, and if they witnessed anything or anyone ‘out of order’, had no compunctions about resorting to violence. 

While Zakkir’s father served in the often-merciless Islamic religious force known as Muttawa, his son headed up an outlaw gang of angry young militants. All were fully committed to punishing anyone daring to defy the stern laws and practices of Islam.

Taliban religious police beating a woman because she dared to remove her burqa in public

Taliban religious police beating a woman because she dared to remove her burqa in public

“If anyone passed along the road by the mosque at the time of Namaz [Islamic prayer], our gang would stop and brutally beat them for not attending,” Zakkir explains. 

One day, he noticed some Christians distributing sample gospels and, he says, trying to convert several Muslims. The gang determined to put a stop to the evangelical activities.

“We attacked their office,” Zakkir relates, “and killed three of them.” Pleased with themselves, the men were jubilant when they discovered later that the ‘infidels’ had also been secretly translating bibles into Arabic.

Soon they were back at their post, stopping those passing by the mosque at the time of Friday prayer, insisting they come in.  They pulled over one man in the midst of rushing his sick child to hospital, and refused to take even that as an excuse.

“I dragged him out of the car myself,” Zakkir confesses. But as he did, the distraught father grabbed a gun from his glove compartment and fired off three shots directly into his assailant’s chest. Zakkir fell to the ground, and the man jumped back into his car and drove off.

The young militant’s friends sped him to the hospital. Surgeons managed to remove only two of the bullets, deciding that taking out the third, lodged in a dangerous position in his chest, would mean certain death.

He remained in a coma for several days, and doctors gave up hope for his recovery. Friends and relatives who had been by his hospital bed from the beginning gave up as well, leaving him alone in the hospital to die.

Bibles for Mideast director Pastor Paul ‘just happened’ to be visiting the country with several other missionaries at the time. In prayer for their mission, he received clear instructions about Zakkir and his condition in a vision, even though the two had never met.

“Not only did the Lord ask me to visit him,” he recalls, “but He told me to bring him back with me from the hospital! We fully trust our Lord, so without any doubts we went. My coworkers suggested we take along separate clothes for him, since he would be in a hospital gown.”

He, Pastor Rahim* and two other evangelists headed off to the hospital, found Zakkir’s room, and began to pray over his comatose body.

“At this moment,” the militant remembers vividly, “I had a dream that Jesus Christ came to me and said, ‘I am your Lord and Savior, I have been wounded for you, and by my stripes you are healed. I choose you as one of my vessels to bring many to my fold.’"

He says the Lord then touched his wounds with His own nail-scarred hands. “Suddenly, the remaining bullet jumped from my chest automatically, as I felt new blood flow through my veins!” He opened his eyes to see four people praying over him.

“I thought they were angels of the Lord,” he says. Pastor Paul made clear they were simply servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that they’d been given instructions to come and pray for him. He also explained to him the way of salvation.

“He is the author of life, believe in Him and you will be saved." 

Zakkir hardly needed convincing. He got up, accepted Jesus as his Lord and savior, and surrendered his life to the Lord of Life. The missionaries helped him into his ‘new clothes’, and then secretly whisked him away.

“No one knew about my escape with the pastors,” he explains. As only Jesus could work it, Zakkir now heads up an underground Bibles for Mideast affiliated church in his country.

“I am not worthy to be a pastor of our Lord's Church, for I was persecuting the Church,” he says, sounding for all the world like the Apostle Paul writing to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15:9**). “But I am pastoring an underground ALG church. We are taking care of the persecuted Christians who were former Muslims.”

Please pray for Zakkir and the Christian colleagues he lives with as they work to spread the Kingdom of Jesus in a dark and restrictive kingdom of this world.

____________________________
* names changed for security reasons
** "
I don’t deserve to be included in that inner circle, as you well know, having spent all those early years trying my best to stamp God’s church right out of existence." [1 Cor. 15:9, The Message]