I went to a church service during Ramadan for the sole purpose of interrupting them, but for the first time, I heard about a God who loved me
In Central Asia, believers, especially former Muslims, live under increasing persecution from a variety of sources, from dictatorships to a surrounding culture generally dominated by Islam. In many of these contexts, being a Jesus-follower is extremely difficult. But we know that God is not slowed by dictators or cultures—Jesus has the power to break into any context and change hearts and lives.
FROM PERSECUTOR TO CHRIST FOLLOWER
A few years ago, Christians, especially those from a Muslim background, were the No. 1 target for Roman*, a devout Muslim in Kazakhstan. He considered them “betrayers of the real faith.”
“By ‘betrayers,’ I meant Christians with a Muslim background,” he says.
Roman had no problem confronting, challenging and persecuting Christians. He was like many fasting Muslims during Ramadan who intentionally confront Christians, drilling them with questions about their faith with the purpose of tripping them up and even making them question their faith.
Last year during Ramadan, Roman went a step farther to express his devotion to Islam. He decided to pay a visit to the local Baptist church in the area for the sole purpose of interrupting “betrayers of the real faith.”
“I went to the church service during Ramadan because I considered myself to be a devout Muslim,” he says. “I [wanted] to prove my faith to Allah.”
Roman walked through the church doors, sat down and began to make his plan. But as the church service started and the pastor began to speak, Roman couldn’t force himself to do what he came there to do. He couldn’t bring himself to stand up and cause a scene. The words he heard the pastor say touched him too much.
“For the first time I heard about a God who loved me,” he says. “I never knew the Almighty God loved me even though I am not perfect.”
The surprising and healing truth of a God who loves His creation unconditionally began to wash away a lifetime of guilt.
“That thought [of being loved even though I’m not perfect] seriously never entered my mind. I always felt guilty. I felt that I had to earn His attention.”
The words Roman heard that day focusing on love, mercy and forgiveness grabbed the heart of the persecutor. And then something happened he never expected: tears, prayers to Jesus, repentance and joy. Sitting in that church service in a Baptist church, the man who had devoted his life to persecuting Christians became a follower of Jesus. Roman’s story isn’t unlike another former persecutor of Christians who 2,000 years ago penned the words we read and cling to today:
“For I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
Says Roman: “I never want to go back to the Muslim faith.”