The Golden Age
Following a recent trip to Jordan and Iraq, Charles Morris reports on God at work in the shadow of ISIS.
“The first time I saw Jesus Christ I was surprised. I was sitting on the stairs when He appeared, wearing a white robe that wasn’t a robe – it was light. I told my husband ‘I saw Jesus!’ but he said that I was always talking about Christians and that it was probably just an illusion. But I knew it was Him. I just knew.”
Fatima – not her real name – has a testimony that is increasingly common today. Born into a Sunni family in Northern Iraq, she is one of countless Muslims whose lives were transformed following a supernatural encounter with Jesus.
With a half-smile and a matter-of-fact-delivery, she explains how her first vision of Jesus was followed with a second the very next day. This time she shared it with a friend who was a Christian, who told her that it was a miracle as Jesus does not appear to just anybody.
“The third time I saw Him I was sick. He came and held my hand and said ‘My daughter, do not worry. I will take care of you.’ I didn’t know how to pray but I said ‘I want my whole life to change.’ There were some struggles that I was going through in my life at the time…”
At this, Fatima’s voice chokes in her throat. The half-smile fades. Her eyes fill with tears.
“Mama?” says her eight-year-old son, who finally puts down the phone he’s been playing with ever since the interview began. He crosses the room to give her a hug.
On a recent trip to the Middle East, I met so many people like Fatima: people who had met Jesus in dreams and visions, and whose lives were in danger as a result. Their courage left me speechless.
Ameena – who gives her false name without batting an eyelid – was born a Muslim in Baghdad. When her husband became a Christian, life became both complicated and dangerous.
“I told him that he should go back to believing in Mohammed but he said that I should go and talk to the Pastor at his church. I went there but couldn’t find the Pastor. So I started to pray, saying ‘God, please do something. I have to save my husband.’ I felt nothing. So I changed my prayer: ‘If my husband is right, then let me know.’ That was when I felt it – a great hand on my shoulder. I opened my eyes to see who had touched me, but nobody was there. That was the moment that I believed. It was the start of my new life.
“After that everything changed so quickly. I was free. There was no more fear, just peace. I saw Islam differently after this. There’s something in the Koran that forces people to act, and feeling free as a Christian was completely new. The love, the respect – I had never known them when I was a Muslim.”
While Ameena’s attempts to convert her husband back to Islam resulted in her own encounter with Jesus, her husband’s best friend was a vocal supporter of ISIS. As rumours about the couple’s apostasy spread, the threats came in. Eventually they had to leave Iraq.
In Jordan Ameena and her husband have found a community of Christians who not only support them financially, but spiritually as well. They have taught Ameena about living in community, about prayer and about forgiveness.
“Last month my best friend back in Iraq was attacked, raped and burned. She was a Christian. My husband had a friend who was a Christian too, and they killed him as well. They sent us a picture of his body with the words, ‘You will be next.’
“How do I respond? I feel angry for a couple of days, crying, not talking to anyone. Then I accept it and keep on praying. I pray to Jesus, I pray for their family, for the killer, that they might learn something about Jesus. Sometimes I pray for ISIS: ‘Jesus, just let them know who you are.’”
I met Fatima and Ameena in the relative wealth of Jordan, where local Christians had helped them and so many other refugees. 500 miles north east in Northern Iraq I was reminded that God works through rich and poor alike.
Though he has zero political influence or personal wealth, the man who asked me to refer to him only as Pastor S is one of the most courageous men I have ever met.
He was not raised a Christian. He was born in Northern Iraq into the Yazidi culture. Before August 2014 few of us had ever heard of the Yazidis, but when ISIS unleashed its murderous intent on the population and 40,000 of them fled to Mount Sinjar, the world took notice.
Before he became a Christian, Pastor S was a factory worker and faithful follower of the complicated religion that blends early Islam with Christianity and Zoroastrianism. Once Jesus appeared to him in a series of visions, he became a Believer. Almost immediately he found his life in danger. He was beaten, his car set on fire and his family threatened. He lost his job and had to move home. Yet he chose to continue risking his life for the sake of the gospel.
Twenty years after becoming a Christian the danger is as real as ever. When asked how dangerous his life is, Pastor S locks his stare and says simply “I move house every month.”
We meet in a quiet corner of a building in a quiet corner of a busy town. Pastor S sits so he can see the entrance and introduces the two young men in their twenties that have come with him. “I am discipling them,” he says. “They are new Christians. They are each in charge of a team of ten other Christians in the refugee camp. They lead Bible studies, pray together and help other refugees when they can.”
They have to be careful and meet in secret, but are seeing God in action as He uses them to reach others – even those whose suffering has been immense. Pastor S explains how his congregation of eighty contains eight Yazidi women and girls who had been captured by ISIS, raped and sold repeatedly as slaves. Eventually they had been smuggled out and made it to the camp. “One was pregnant when she arrived, and these guys just went up and hugged her and prayed. Now they are all Christians.”
According to one Middle East-born evangelist I met, Fatima, Ameena, Pastor S and his two young co-workers are not alone. With more than forty years of ministry across the region behind him, he is convinced that something truly remarkable is happening today.
“In the last 25 years there have been more conversions from Islam to Christianity than in the whole preceding fourteen centuries combined. This is the Golden Age of Muslims coming to Jesus Christ.
Why is this happening? The Evangelist outlined three influences; prayer, the growing disillusion among Muslims with their faith, and finally, God Himself. “There are times in scripture when God remembers a nation, and all of a sudden they come to Him. Did Nineveh find God through Jonah’s eloquence? Did it come to faith in God through the preaching of one man? No, it was a sovereign act of God. And God is still interested in seeing whole cities, whole groups of people com to Him like never before. I believe it is His intention for all Muslims to know His love. That is why He has come to them through dreams and supernatural encounters as never before.”
When she regains her composure Fatima carries on with her story. She explains how her brother in law is a member of al-Qaeda and when the family discovered that she had become a Christian her husband divorced her, the death threats followed and she went into hiding.
Eventually she fell in love with a single man, who happened to be a Pastor working nearby. But when ISIS overtook the town nearby in 2015, she knew it was time to leave. Her husband was allowed to go to Sweden, a country that has tightened its rules on refugees in recent months. So far Fatima’s application has been met with nothing but silence.
“I know that God loves me. I feel His hand in everything I do in my life. I feel it’s a personal relationship. I don’t do anything before getting His answer. But we’re waiting. Everything is suspended.”
Charles Morris is Speaker and President of Haven Ministries, a radio ministry on more than 600 stations across North America with half a million daily listeners. He has been a broadcast news reporter, editor and bureau chief for United Press International, and press secretary for two former U.S. Senators. He and his wife Janet have co-authored numerous books including Saving a Life and Missing Jesus. They are parents to three grown children and live in California. Check out his newest book Fleeing ISIS, Finding Jesus: The Real Story of God at Work.
Image courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: January 5, 2017