At the request of many, Pastor Paul tells his story
I was born into an ancient, prominent and orthodox Muslim family in South Asia, the fourth child of a retired higher secondary school principal. Besides being a former principal, my father was an Islamic scholar and President of the Jama’ath (parish of the mosque) Committee.
More than 4,000 Muslim families lived in our area, and some Hindus in the suburbs. As far as I know there were no Christians at all, not even in the schools where I studied.
The mosque we attended is around 1,000 years old. My ancestors spread the religion of Islam in that area and established the mosque very close to our ancestral home. My grandfather founded the present mosque. The land, revenue and auxiliary records of the mosque were kept in my father’s name well into my boyhood.
I was brought up to love and highly regard my family as well as Islamic teachings and practices. I did my religious education before regular schooling. No bad habits existed in our family life. As a young man, I even wrote and published a book on the Qur’an.
I went to a Christian institution for my college education, so the vast majority of my classmates were Christian. As the only Muslim, I at first had difficulty mingling with others there, but gradually became close and intimate with many.
This, however, led me into evil associations and wretched habits. I started smoking, began to use drugs and alcohol and became known as a rowdy character in the city. Damaging reports and ugly pictures concerning me began to appear in the newspapers. As a result, my parents, brothers, sisters and dear ones became greatly concerned. It began to look like I’d have to discontinue my education.
By that time I’d become addicted to drugs and alcohol. My body began to shiver and I became very tense if I did not use drugs at the habitual times. I was even on the police watch list. When I had money in my pocket, I had lots of friends, ready for any adventure. But when my parents cut off the money they’d been giving me regularly, those ‘friends’ became my sworn enemies. I lost my peace of mind.
At this juncture, some missionary students gathered enough courage to come and talk to me. They claimed that Jesus is the Son of God, and was crucified for all humanity. He rose from the dead and He is the King of Peace, they told me. They further claimed that if one believes in Him and confesses all sins, he will become a new person.
I could not even imagine that Prophet Isa (Jesus) could be the son of God, or that he was crucified and rose from the dead. So I in turn exhorted them to reach heaven by believing in Islam, which I told them is the true religion. I had heated arguments with them on many occasions. They could only find fault with my wretched life, but could not prevail over my arguments or prove my ideas wrong.
But without losing heart, one day they brought some gospel tracts. They were based on the bible which I considered forbidden, for it is abrogated [most Muslims believe the teachings of Mohammed override, or abrogate, earlier Christian and Jewish scriptures—Ed].
Hence I went into a rage. The thought that the advice I had given them earlier regarding Islam had made no impact on them only increased my anger. I tore the tracts into pieces. With despicable words I threw the pieces into their faces and threatened to destroy them if they continued misleading others.
It was a serious matter that students of the priesthood were publicly insulted and persecuted, especially within the walls of a Christian institution. It looked almost certain that I would be expelled from the college. I could also expect trouble from many other directions.
The next day I went to the college armed with weapons and intent on using them. When I entered the class, the missionary students ran up to me and embraced me with love and joy. They surprised me by expressing regret for having caused me mental distress. Had the college been run by my religion and I found myself in the place of those missionaries, I know my reactions would have been very different. I was so touched by their love, kindness and gentle nature. The Holy Spirit, which reminds us about sin, righteousness and judgment, began to work upon me.
That night I found a piece of paper in a text book in my room. On it was written: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, for whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim 1:15). On the reverse side of the paper I read, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23). I did not know they were verses from the bible. But I was overcome.
All the sins and violations I had committed since childhood began to appear before me as if on a screen. I recognized all my iniquities, big and small. Each one of them seemed to transform into a blister on my body. The blisters burst open and became sores. The flesh and bones, from where pus began to flow out, became very hot and began to melt. Worms were competing to get at the marrow of the bones. The pain was unbearable. The stench could not be described. I was being pulled into a bottomless pit. There was nobody to save me.
“God, save me!” I cried out.
Then a man, holy, white and bright, descended from heaven and touched me. I understood it was Jesus. For a moment I closed my eyes with heavenly joy, for His touch cooled my body and mind. When I opened my eyes, all the blisters and sores had disappeared. It was as if I’d been washed with perfumed ointment. But Jesus, who came in bright and spotless, was now infected with blisters and sores. Pus and discharge was flowing out of them and worms and maggots roamed freely on his body. He now appeared as an abominable, foul-smelling creature.
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our inequities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5)
Christ had taken on himself all my afflictions. I should have been condemned to death for all my sins. But I saw Christ taking on all my sins and being crucified in my place, for my sake.
Earlier I had never believed that Christ had been crucified. I used to ask how our sins could be washed away by his death, even if he was crucified. But now I was convinced how and for what Christ died.
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21)
I saw Jesus break the tomb and rise up from the dead, glorious and resplendent. I fell at his feet crying, “My Lord and my God!”
I do not know whether this experience was a dream, a revelation or a vision. I wasn’t a believer in anything like this. But it transformed me into a Christian. It enabled me to throw away the old man and become new. I received joy and peace, the like of which I had never known before.
I shared my conversion of mind and my new joy that same night to my parents. Although they listened, they tried to dissuade me, saying this was only a trick played by Iblis (Satan). But I was convinced that the loving God had saved me through His only Son, and that I would inherit eternal life.
I was baptized in water as soon as I accepted Him as my personal Savior. The Lord also baptized me with the Holy Spirit and granted me the gifts of the Spirit.
But mine has by no means been an easy path. Some of the community I formerly belonged to felt that my accepting Jesus Christ was an act of betrayal and they tried to take revenge. Someone once sprinkled sulfuric acid on me.
One day, I was narrating my Christian experiences to some of my friends near the mosque. Suddenly one of my cousins stabbed me, splitting my lower jaw. Everyone thought I might die. But God saved me and made me a witness again at that place.
My cousin began planning another way to kill me, and to try to make it look like suicide. While tying a noose for me to the top of a tree, a gust of wind knocked the branch he was on to the ground. We found him there near death, and I instinctively wished he would die. But Jesus ordered me to love and nurse him as He had loved me when I was His enemy. He was taken to the hospital and was in plaster for more than six months. When he recovered, he accepted Jesus as his Savior.
When yet another person became a Christian, the Jama’ath (mosque) authorities chained me, shaved my head, and locked me in an underground cellar. When I tried to escape, they sprayed me with acid. I was beaten up several times and even lost a few teeth. I considered these experiences as lucky tips in the name of Jesus and as a symbol of my spiritual fervor.
The Lord visited a few more people who had caused me trouble, and most of them have come to believe in Jesus.
I have two sons and one daughter. A terrorist group once sent a division out to destroy my entire family. Their commander managed to make my children consume poison, and all three were taken to hospital in critical condition. My daughter remained in a coma for close to 30 days. Her remarkable recovery so resembled a resurrection from the dead that the man who had wanted to kill my family became a follower of Jesus Christ. He has dedicated himself to working as a missionary and winning many souls into His fold.
Another time, I and one of my assistant pastors were severely beaten in a village by a mob of radicals who also burned down our prayer hall. God alone has saved me, over and over.
Recently our Lord enabled me to overcome a murder attempt. Someone ran their motorcycle into me intentionally, trying to make it look like an accident. While I was in the hospital recovering, my wife and children faced murder threats at home as well, but God preserved us all miraculously.
I must mention that my parents, brothers and sisters were all devout Muslims. Most of the seniors are Hajjis (men who have made the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca*) and Hajjummas (women who have done the same). Having let Jesus Christ into my life, I was ex-communicated and for quite some time was not allowed to have any contact with my parents and extended family.
I and my wife felt sad about this, and brought it to the Lord in our prayers. Gradually, I began to re-establish links with my people through letters and telephone calls. Finally, a day came when they had accepted the fact that I worship Jesus Christ, visited my place and stayed with us and our children. I spoke to them about the love of God. We have maintained good rapport since then.
Two days before his death, my father had a vision of Jesus with the marks left by the nails on His hands and feet, and accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. My mother too became a believer shortly before she died.
My deep desire is to take the gospel to the unreached, especially to the world of Islam, and win them to the salvation of Jesus Christ.
* The Hajj is an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holiest city for Muslims, and a mandatory religious duty for Muslims that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by all adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey, and can support their family during their absence.