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My Testimony

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posted by Fadi J. alias 001FJ on Thursday 29th of January 2015 09:45:00 PM

This is the story of how I came to know and accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour. It is a story of God’s faithfulness to an unworthy and unfaithful young man. It is a story of the Holy Spirit patiently and lovingly changing my mind and heart and arranging circumstances to lead me to Christ so I can be saved. Introduction My name is Fadi and I was born in late 1982 in Baghdad, Iraq, but I grew up in Kirkuk, a city about 240km north of Baghdad. My grandfather was Syriac Orthodox but my father was raised as a Roman Catholic because my grandmother, the one who cared about religion, was a Roman Catholic so she raised him and us--my sister and I--as Roman Catholics. My mother’s family is also Roman Catholic. In Iraq a person’s religion is part of their identification documents. Because of this a lot of people would be known by a certain faith even though they do not believe in it or practice it. A lot of Christians in Iraq are what I call devoted to their denominations, but as far as born-again is concerned I do not recall knowing anyone who was born-again. I also do not recall anyone ever teaching salvation is by faith in Jesus’ death on the Cross through God’s grace. Simply put, there was no Gospel: there was no good news because there was no message of salvation. And because there was no message of salvation people did not get saved and there were no born-again Christians. I also do not recall any teachings about the Holy Spirit; the only time I heard of the Holy Spirit is when we said “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. I actually thought the Holy Spirit was an invisible force; I did not understand that the Holy Spirit is a person of the triune God! Feeling Detached My ethnical background is Chaldean. Chaldeans are an ethnical group of a minority Christian community in Iraq. However, I never felt like I was a Chaldean. The main reason has to do with the fact I do not speak Aramaic—the mother tongue of Chaldeans. I never learnt Aramaic because my family does not speak it either; we speak Arabic (the official language of Iraq). That is why I always felt an outcast in Sunday school, and my Muslim friends often asked me, “How can you be Christian if you do not speak Aramaic?” So since my childhood I never felt like I belonged to any group: I did not feel like I was a Chaldeans, a Roman Catholic, or an Iraqi. I simply could not associate myself with any group whether ethnic, religious, or political. I simply saw myself as a human and that was good enough for me. This detachment from certain groups was negative socially as I could not relate to any group of people and I always saw myself as an outsider; therefore, I did not feel compelled to join any cause or group activity. Feelings of Inferiority I was a very shy and sensitive child and I never felt comfortable in social settings. Here is something that happened that set the course for my life. I have never told this story to anyone but I believe it is important to understand who I was before coming to Christ: On my fifth or sixth birthday party my cousin bought me a set of army vehicles and GI Joes as a gift and I loved it. I was playing with the toys and the house was full of people and everybody was having fun socializing and eating. When my mom saw me playing with the toys she told my aunt (her older sister), “Why did you burden yourself? You shouldn’t have gone through the trouble and spent the money and buy a gift.” I was confused: I did not know if I had done something wrong by accepting and enjoying the gift and if I should return it or what—after all I was only five years old! And I was not a street-smart child—I was very naive and innocent. Of course my mom was saying a typical thing in the Middle East: she was not trying to minimize my importance to her or the importance of my birthday. (And I am sure countless mothers have said something similar in front of their children.) But I was a very sensitive child and to my 5 years old brain I interpreted her words as saying: I am not important; I had done something bad; I am not worthy; I am causing people trouble and costing them money--I am a burden. You would think such a small insignificant incident would not have a long lasting effect, but ever since that day I always felt like I was a burden, always felt guilty, unworthy and stupid. So I shied away from people even more, and became nervous in social settings. And of course, the less social I became the less self-confident I became and started having really low self-esteem and self-image. However, out of all the negative feelings I have about myself the worst is the feeling of being stupid. I am not sure why I feel stupid sometimes but the feeling comes suddenly and so powerfully it is literally paralysing. To make things worse as I became a teenager I started gaining weight and I developed trichotillomania which caused my already low self-confidence to plummet even more, and I became even more withdrawn from people and detached from my surroundings. It is such a vicious cycle: the more anti-social I became the lower my self-confidence became, and the lower my self-confidence became the more anti-social I became; the less social I became the worse my trichotillomania habit got, and the worse my trichotillomania habit got the less social I became! I felt like I was standing in a hole and digging myself deeper in. Obedient but Stubborn I was a good and obedient kid so I rarely gave my parents hard time and I was never the rebellious type. I remember overhearing my mom telling our neighbour that she would have more children if she could guarantee they will be like me. I always listened and respected authority so that made me a good student on top of the fact I always studied really hard. I was very peaceful and a peacemaker. I avoided conflict and I was fair: for me or against me. I always tried to look at things objectively which made my friends trust me. I enjoyed telling jokes but I also was a deep thinker. I was quite liked and respected by my peers. Somehow everybody seemed to know me. I was very stubborn: I would not listen to anyone if I believed they were wrong. I had to be convinced and it was not always easy. My family used to joke that if doctors looked inside my head they would not find a brain but a rock--I was that stubborn! But I was never stubborn for the trivial things in life--I was only stubborn if I disagreed on things that mattered. I was never the follower type even though I never liked being a leader. I was not impressed by popular opinions and never tried to chase after the latest trends. For some reason what the world had to offer did not impress me—I wanted more from life than materialistic things and passing pleasures. I was not tempted to try things that I believed were wrong: to me wrong was wrong whether I am permitted to do it or not. I was a good storyteller and communicated my thoughts well but I almost never shared my inner feelings with anyone—I kept everything on the inside and dealt with it by myself. I loved to help and could empathize with others. I was always attracted to the meek and outcast than the proud and popular. I love to comfort others and encourage them. I was cautious and had a heightened sense of danger. There are a couple of instances when God by His grace warned me beforehand to avoid—if I had went along with others to these two places I would have been hurt really bad. The young liked my company and the adults trusted me. I was the kind of a boy where the neighbourhood girls could give me a friendly smile without having to worry about me interpreting it the wrong way. Even though I was smart, worked hard, punctual, and a perfectionist I still lacked confidence: I did not believe I was worthy or capable of succeeding. God Is Real In the 1980s Diego Maradona, the captain of the Argentina soccer team, was the biggest soccer star, especially after the 1986 FIFA World Cup where he single-handedly lead Argentina to win the title defeating West Germany in the final. So he was my hero because soccer is the most popular sport in Iraq. In the 1990 FIFA World Cup final it was Argentina versus Germany again and Argentina lost 1-0 because of a last minute penalty kick. Maradona, my hero, cried and so I was going to cry too (don’t forget I was only 7 years old at the time!) but I did not want my family to see me crying so I ran upstairs. (Because Iraq’s summer is hot and often times there was no electricity, a lot of people sleep on the rooftops. It is easy to set up beds on the roof since the houses have flat roofs with brick walls.) It was night time and I threw myself on my bed crying—it was very quiet because people were still watching the FIFA World Cup event. I bitterly asked God why He let Maradona lose--as a child I didn’t know any better! Then I got tired of crying so I just laid on my back on the bed and looked up: the sky was dark and full of stars. I could hear distance noises from the TVs but it was quiet where I was. I kept looking at the sky and kind of forgot about Maradona’s loss because it was such a peaceful sight. Then it suddenly became a fearful sight: I was lying on a bed that is sitting on a roof with nothing tangible attaching me to earth which itself was floating in a vast and dark universe! That is when I understood that there is a God: a God had designed and created the heavens and the earth. Until then I was told that God existed but on that night I understood that He existed. Who was He? I did not know but I knew He existed and He was great. Doubts, Disappointments, and Rebellion My dad was a devoted Catholic and he was an altar boy as a child but after two wars and the economic sanctions under a ruthless dictator he started to doubt his faith. So after the Gulf War, when I finally got to spend some time with him and know him, he imparted his doubts onto me. I was still young, in my early teens, so I was easily impressible and so I embraced his doubts as mine. On top of my new doubts I was becoming very disappointed with the Roman Catholic denomination for many reasons. When I was 12 years old I enrolled in Sunday school in the summer break to be prepared for my first communion. They seated me in the front and paired me with this beautiful girl who was my age. There was a boy named Emmanuel who was trouble (he was always up to no good) and they had seated him in the back. As usual I kept my distance from troublesome kids and minded my own business. I did not talk much anyway especially to the girls because I was very shy. We rehearsed everything and everything was going according to plan. On the day of the first communion a nun came and kind of escorted me by the shoulders all the way to the back of the column and gave Emmanuel my spot at the front. I did not know why and, as usual, I did not protest. Not long after I found out the reason: Emmanuel’s uncle was a deacon, so when his parents saw their son standing in the back of the line they asked his uncle to move Emmanuel to the front to stand next to the beautiful girl. I was not disappointed with Emmanuel, after all he was just a boy like me, or his parents, after all they are just ordinary people, but I was very disappointed with the nun and his uncle the deacon for showing favouritism. There were other incidents that disappointed me. One time in Christmas mass I was sick with the flu and I had asthma so I got up to go outside to catch my breath and go to the washroom. As I opened the side door a priest was walking in so he asked me where I was going, so I explained to him that I was sick and needed some fresh air and he said, “You liar! You probably want to skip mass to hang out with the bad kids!” I was taken back by his comment, first because he accused me of lying which is something I did not do and hated, second he had no reason to assume I was a liar, and third I did my best to avoid bad crowds. I was very disappointed by how unclean the priest’s heart was. Even though I became more and more disappointed with the Catholic denomination, I actually stayed a very devoted Catholic: I would still pray to the saints and follow the Catholic decrees. Instead, I started crumpling against God, doubted the Bible and especially disliked the Lord Jesus Christ to the point of disliking my name because Fadi means “Saviour” in Arabic! I had two dear friends, Ayad and Furat, who used to always try to restore my faith: they reasoned with me and quoted scripture but nothing helped. I was too stubborn to listen, too blind to see, and too self-righteous to believe—I had made up my mind that God was wrong and I was right, He was the bad guy and I was the good guy. I believed in Him, I just did not like Him! Not by Works Around the time of my first communion, my grandmother read the story of Joseph son of Jacob to my sister and me. I was very impressed by Joseph and set him as my role-model (until today) and I became more interested in spirituality, the Bible, and the Christian faith. In summer time I started going to church every morning and confessing my sins until the priest told me to stop confessing my sins every day! I started reading Catholic prayer books and did the Sacred Heart of Jesus month and the Immaculate Heart of Mary month readings and prayers. I reciting those shorts Catholic prayers such as “Holy Mary, pray for us” all the time. I felt peace when I did those religious tasks and felt closer to God. One Sunday school they were giving New Testaments away so I took one (even though we had half a dozen Bibles at home) just because it had an orange cover and I love the colour orange! Having nothing to do in Iraq’s hot summer afternoons and excited about my orange-cover Bible I started reading the New Testament. A couple of weeks later I asked my grandmother, “What do I have to do to go to heaven?” And she gave me the classic Middle Eastern answer, “When you die God will weigh your good words versus your bad works. If your good works are more than your bad works then you go to heaven. And if your bad works are more than your good works then you go to hell.” That sounded fair to me so I made up my mind that next morning I would be the best righteous Fadi I could be! The next morning I woke up early because lazy was “bad works”. I helped my sister with cleaning and resisted to rush to the streets to play with my friends, because helping and self-control were “good works”! I prayed my morning prayer and read some Catholic prayer book. I was obedient to my sister and did not give her hard time (probably the hardest thing to resist doing!) I also pushed all evil thoughts away from my mind and asked for forgiveness right away from any evil thought. Everything was going according to plan but by noon I was getting exhausted; a sinful human living a righteous life is as exhausting as if I had tried to live as a pig—it was contrary to my nature so it was a spiritual fight every second of it! But I still “prevailed” until the afternoon when the doorbell rang. I looked from the kitchen window and saw it was a beggar boy; it was common for beggars in Iraq to go house to house asking for money or food especially in the years of the economic sanctions. Of course on that day I had to outgive myself so I took double the amount of money I usually gave and went outside. It was very sunny and bright and it was hot. I tiptoed so I would not burn my feet because the ground was very hot. I gave the boy the money and quickly looked through the door to see if my friends were outside or not. They were not so I headed back inside. As I entered the hallway I realized I could not see anything because my eyes had not adjusted yet to the darkness so I thought to myself “Be careful, you don’t want to hit your little toe against the stairwell!” So I slowed my steps down and still could see very little and that is when a verse from the Bible I had read few days ago flashed through my mind. It was Luke 17:7-10: “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” And just like that it occurred me: all my “good” works are not credited to me as righteousness! So I knew then that salvation is not attained by works because good works is my duty! However, I still did not know how to go to heaven! After that day I stopped trying to live a righteous life by obeying man-made strict religious laws. I was angry that I was given wrong information about how to go to heaven—there is no scale of good versus bad works! And how could my grandmother a devoted Catholic for over 70 years not know that? So I started paying more attention at mass and realized there is no message of how to go to heaven. Most of the time the priest made little sense and talked about things that were irrelevant to my daily life. To make it worse most of the mass rituals were carried out either in Latin or Aramaic and I did not understand either! Also, it seemed that the priest answer to all life problems was: “God wants to test your patience!” Why did this happen to me? “God wants to test your patience!” Why did God say this in the Bible? “You shouldn’t question God. God wants to test your patience!” What does this mean? “God wants to test your patience!” So I vowed after that day to never trust anyone with any spiritual teaching: I was going to test the faiths to see which one, if any, has any validity. If I found a faith that had any authority to its teachings then I would accept it as the truth and follow it. I did not mind people lying to me or misleading me in trivial matters, but going to hell was serious business—I wanted to know where I went after I died! The Reality of Death (Warning: This section is graphic so reader discretion is advised!) If you live in Iraq you cannot ignore death. Growing up in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war I occasionally saw taxis driving by with Iraq flag-covered coffins on top. That did not scare me as it was a common sight. However, three incidents occurred that made me understand that death is real, it is a serious problem, and it is inevitable. The first incident happened while watching TV at dinner time: the news showed two Iraqi soldiers captured by the Iranians. The first soldier was shot on the spot which kind of fazed me because I was about 7 or 8 years old and had never seen a person killed before, but the second soldier had his hands tied to two Jeeps. One of his arms was severed when the two vehicles moved apart, and he was shot afterwards. I was in shock because I had not known before that humans can be so evil and can inflict such violence and pain on another human. I thought people died peacefully in their sleep! The second incident happened in 1991 during the Kurdish uprising right after the Gulf War; I was 8 years old. After Iraq’s loss in the Gulf War the Kurds in the north and the Shias in the south were convinced that the Iraqi army was weakened to the point where they can overthrow Saddam Hussein. So the Kurds advanced south toward Baghdad and in the process took control of the city I lived in, Kirkuk. However, a couple of weeks after retreating the army advanced into the city to regain control. One day in the battle between the Iraqi army and the Kurd rebels (known as Peshmerga) I went up to the roof of our house without my mom’s knowledge to see an army helicopter firing its weapons. I did not know at the time that weapons were horrible—I thought weapons were “cool”. There were no deaths in our neighbourhood so I did not give thought to the consequences of war. Not long after the firefight started the army took Kirkuk back and for few days everybody was scared and the streets were quite empty. It was an unusually quiet time for a city that just went through the turmoil of mass looting and a civil war. Few days after the army recaptured Kirkuk, our neighbour--who lived across the street from our house--wanted to go see his daughter’s family who lived in Arafa (a mostly Christian neighbourhood on the outskirt of Kirkuk) to check on them because there were no phone lines and he was worried about them. His name was Matta (which means Matthew in Arabic) and he was an older man in his 60s or 70s, but because the government car he drove was stolen during the looting he asked if he can fill our car with gas to go see his daughter. My mom agreed (my dad was not home because he had to join the army) and her and I went with him. The streets were quiet but as soon as we reached the main road I saw two bodies covered in blankets. I was taken back by the view of two dead bodies lying on the side walk of the city’s main road. I had been through that street many times, and I never thought I would one day see dead bodies lying on the side walk! After Matta checked on his family we drove back and a checkpoint was set up at a roundabout so we stopped. As Matta talked to the soldier I looked to my left outside the car window to see a dead young Kurd in the centre of the roundabout. He was may be in his late 20s or early 30s. He had a dark curly hair and dark skin and had facial hair. I do not know how long he was dead for but he was not dead for long even though the blood running from his body was kind of thick and dry. I mostly remember the flies flying in and around his face—and I think this image imprinted this incident in my memory. Because I thought, “How helpless is a dead person? He can’t even shoo away a fly from his face? Is this how I will end up?” The answer was “yes”—that is the fate of all human beings. Death is our biggest problem. I was 8 years old then so I was not ready to see that but I understood then what death was, and I had never understood what death means before then. I knew when people died they were buried but I did not understand that death is ugly and tragic. For some reason, I kept trying to figure out who the dead young Kurd looked like then I realized he did not look like anyone I had known—he was a unique human being and his death was a loss not only to his loved ones but to humanity as a whole. I also understood that death is an ugly problem every human has to face. I realized when people die they do not just disappear as in action movies—in one scene they are killed and in the next scene they are gone. Death is real, ugly, tragic, and inevitable. I believe that incident trigger me to think about life’s meaning, searching for God, and know my place in the universe. But most importantly I really wanted to know what happens to me after death! I wanted to know if there was something more after life, or a corpse is all I was going to end up as! The third incident I definitely was not ready for. I was may be 9 or 10 years old when they showed on the news images of the Amiriyah shelter bombing which happened during the Gulf War. The shelter was located in the Amiriyah neighbourhood and it was bombed by two “smart bombs”: the first bomb cut through the 3m of reinforce concrete while the second one went through the hole made by the first bomb. Over 400 civilians, mostly women and children, died. The images shown on TV were graphic: amputated and charred bodies of mothers and children fused together; human skin stuck on walls; burned corpses of screaming victims. Again I was in shocked of the graphic violence of the incident and I was scared. At night I could not sleep because images of the dead kept flashing in my mind—images of their faces and corpses haunted me. And it was winter time so my mom would turn the electric heater from the evening until morning to warm up the bed room during the night, but I was too scared to uncover myself because of the images of the dead. I could not have a good night sleep because it was too hot to sleep and I was too scared to come out from underneath the blanket! As usual, I never shared my struggles and feelings with anyone. This went on for a couple of months until summer. After that summer I was never again scared of the dark or death, but death became a reality of life that I could not ignore. Death has its way of maturing a person: you never live life the same after taking death into consideration. So many things and dreams become unimportant and so many things and dreams become important if you only keep in mind that you will die. So knowing who God is, who I am to Him, why He created me, and where I am heading after death became very important topics to me. A Precious Gift Around the age of 14 I started to become lonely because as teenagers all my close friends (aged 13 to 17) were interested in doing teenager things but I was never interested in joining them. Suddenly they stopped playing sports and decided to go downtown to chase after girls, which I wanted no part in. They spent time, energy, and money to look their best and buy the latest fashion to impress girls, which did not appeal to me. The summer break and fall of when I was 14 was very depressing; I was alone and the fall weather was gloomy and cloudy with no sun. I spent a lot of time thinking about life and asking: it can’t be that a great God exists but He is not interested in me! It makes no sense for Him to create me and create all those amazing and beneficial things for me then forgets me! There must be more to life than chasing girls and getting the latest in fashion! I know I am going to die but what am I supposed to do with my life in the meantime? And how do I go to heaven? We only had one complete Bible in our house which belonged to my grandmother and it was a really old book; the other Bibles we had were only the New Testament. My sister wanted to read the Old Testament so she asked our neighbour and my friend, Furat, to get her one. (For some reason the Old Testament was not easily acquired at that time, may be because Iraq is a predominantly Muslim country and the Old Testament is all about God’s chosen people—the nation of Israel.) Furat was active in the church and had many friends so he was able to get a hold of a new copy of the complete Bible. He refused to get paid back for the price of the book (even though 400 dinars at the time was a lot of money)—he said it was a gift. For some reason my sister did not read the Old Testament so I took ownership of it. I started reading it starting with Genesis and I was amazed by it: here was an account of earth and human history from Adam, the first man, to 2,000 years ago! I remember sharing with two of my younger Muslim friends about how amazing the Bible was and they listened, but few weeks later we left Iraq to Jordan. I cried a lot on the way to Jordan: I missed my home, my friends, my neighbours, and my country. Until that moment in my life Iraq is all I had known. We did not have the Internet so all things I did and knew were Iraqi things done the Iraqi way! We settled in Amman the capitol of Jordan and started our immigration papers to come to Canada where the rest of my mother’s family is. Few months later my aunt’s family joined us in Amman (they were the last family we had in Iraq) to do their immigration papers to go to Sweden where my cousin lives; it was my aunt (my mom’s oldest sister), her husband (who is also my dad’s uncle), and my two cousins. Being the insecure and shy kid I was meant I made no friends in Jordan, and being bitter toward the church meant I did not even go to church with my family. I would watch them take the stairs down to the main road (Amman is built on mountains so there are long stairs wherever you go) but I could never bring myself to go with them. Also, my insecurities and low confidence prevented me from meeting new people and made me feel very uncomfortable in social settings. I simply stayed home and read the Old Testament for hours every day; I would read over a dozen of chapters every day. I was amazed by the God of the Old Testament and I wanted to become a Jewish Rabbi because I had found the true God! My uncle told me, “Israel has borders with Jordan. It’s not that far if you are serious about becoming a Rabbi!” I liked the God of the Old Testament but I still did not like Jesus Christ; I guess it was Satan’s last efforts to prevent me from getting saved. Also, because I spent a lot of time by myself I started to realize that my mind and thoughts were always changing (which is a common thing for any human especially a teenager), but I was not reaching a point of knowing. I tried to explain life and live by following rules I had learnt from experiences but my experiences always changed and I always changed so my rules changed and I was again at the start point: Why did this happen? How should I respond to this situation? Is this action right or wrong? I did not know the answers to these questions and more. I was frustrated because my life events had no clear purpose or pattern I could understand and follow. Every time I looked back at myself from a month ago I realized I had yet again changed in no certain direction—I just randomly changed. This pattern of continuous random change scared me: how will I know to make the right decisions in the future if my thoughts keep changing? How will I choose the correct career and wife if I do not know who I am and what I am looking for! It is like trying to measure a length using a ruler that is always changing! Experiences, feelings, opinions and beliefs were not good enough for me: I wanted to know, I wanted truth! Wrong Attitude While I was getting all this information about God and how He works from reading the Old Testament, I still had the wrong attitude toward God. One day my sister came back from church and told me how it was wrong to pray to the saint and that was a shocking thing to say to a “devoted” Roman Catholic! I was upset with her words and told her, “How can you say we should not pray to the Virgin Mary?!” As far as I was concerned, what she was saying was sacrilegious! It is sad how I liked Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the other “saints”, but I did not like the Lord Jesus Christ Himself! One evening in Amman, our neighbour--an Iraqi Catholic named Emad--came to visit us. He was in his 30s and was sitting at the table looking outside the window while I was sitting on a mattress on the floor (we did not have much in Jordan). I was making my case against God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Bible—mostly doubts I had heard my dad say (I was not that original!) I kept going on and on but he rarely looked at me and he did not seem fazed by my arguments against God. When I finally finished talking he looked at me and said in a scoffing manner, “So you are telling me that you know better than the Son of God?” WOW! That was all I needed to hear! First, I shut my mouth because I realized I was “arguing” with a man twice my age which is a shameful thing to do in the Middle East. Second, and most importantly my spirit was quieted because I realized there is a huge problem with my belief system: how could I say that I believe God is great and all-knowing and all-powerful yet claim to know more than Him? How could I trust His knowledge if I knew more than Him? What’s the point of following God if I am smarter than Him? Why would He gives us truth in some things while mislead us in other things? Jesus Chris is the Son of God—I am not fighting against a man but God Himself! So two things happened that evening: first, I started liking Jesus Christ because I finally understood He deserved the respect I gave the God of the Old Testament because He is the Son of God; second, I stopped questioning God’s Word to prove I am right and God is wrong, and started asking God to explain to me His Word. There is a big difference between the two: questioning comes with the wrong attitude of fighting against God, while asking comes with the right attitude of desiring to know God. On that day I humbled myself and gave God the respect He deserves—I laid down my arrogance and self-centeredness. So far God had arranged my circumstances and changed me to know He is real, give me enough discernment to know we are not saved by works, gave me time to think about life and death and what happens after death, have knowledge of His Word (especially the Old Testament which I was not familiar with before), quieted my spirit and humbled me, but I still did not know what is the next step. The big questions were always: How do I go to heaven? What does all this mean to me? Three Books, One Message My aunt’s family had a Syrian neighbour who was Christian (born-again or not, I do not know) and his immigration papers came to Sweden so he took his family and stuff and immigrated to Sweden but left some things behind. One of the things he left behind were six books (two copies of three books) written by Josh McDowell titled: Evidence That Demands A Verdict, More Than A Carpenter, and Jesus: A Biblical Defense of His Deity. My uncle took one of each copy and gave me the other, so I started reading those books. It all made sense because I had just finished reading the Old Testament and knew the prophecies about Jesus—I finally understood who the Gospel writers were quoting! But I still needed something more to be convinced, more than good arguments and a testimony—I wanted tangible evidence. So what really made an impact on me are these three points: 1) Prophecies. Prophecies are very important because a lot of people can write “holy” books but what prove their authority are prophecies because no one knows the future but God. And this was not one prophecy or two, but hundreds that all came true in one person--the person of Jesus Christ! And they were not some random prophecies that did not have anything to do with each other. No, they were all parts of one plane: God’s plan to save mankind from sin and hell through the death of His Son Jesus Christ. The strange part is that they were written by different men in different places from different times, so how could all these prophecies agree on the message and make so much sense unless they were inspired by God! Prophecies also give witness to Jesus Christ. So many religions were started by one person with no witnesses to His authority; Jewish law required at least two witness for a trial otherwise it would be one person’s word versus another person’s word. By what authority does a person start a religion? Self-righteousness? One’s own words? Who is to back him up? That is why some religions started by the sword: if people were not convinced by evidence they were persuaded by fear. But that is not how it is with Jesus Christ (apart from His miracles and the Father witnessing to Him) those prophecies witness to Him as the promised coming Saviour. And He did not need to harm anyone for people to follow Him. 2) The character, life, and death of Jesus Christ and His followers. Nothing made sense: why would His disciples die for Him? He did not give them money, fame, or earthly power, or allowed them to have carnal desires, or anything of that nature. On the contrary, they lived difficult lives full of hunger, chased, persecuted, put on trials and executed but still refused to deny Him as their Lord! And Why would He or they die for a lie? Were they crazy or delusional? They did not sound like it! Unless, they saw something supernatural in the person of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit is real. Nothing else could explain to me their lives. Jesus Christ definitely was not crazy for how can a crazy man teach such noble things? And He definitely was not lying for how can a liar—a sinner--perform miracles? 3) How bizarre is Christianity comparing to all other world religions! Seriously, have you thought about how difficult it is for a dozen of men who lived in different times and places to conspire to write about the same God with the same salvation plan? And what an unlikely story for one person to come up with, yet they all had to agree on the following: a. God is three Persons in One. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. b. The Son of God became a human. That is God in His entire glory and greatness manifest Himself as a human child. c. The Son of God is born of a virgin! (Do you see now how bizarre it is for a man to come up with this story?) d. He is born in a manger. He leads a simple and poor life, often times persecuted. (Remember, we are not talking about some monk here, we are talking about God Himself taking a form of a meek human being!) e. He was a miracle worker to the likes of nobody! He opened the eyes of the blind, raised the dead, and walked on water. f. Salvation is not by human works but by faith in the Son of God, that is: believing God’s Son died for your sins. (When was the last time you heard of a religion that teaches salvation is not by human good works?) All world religions teach: we must reach up to God—humanly it makes sense! While Christianity teaches that God reached down to us! g. Not only the Son of God dies but He rose from the dead! h. His followers will be indwelt by the Holy Spirit who will live the life of Christ through them! And the list goes on and on—such an unlikely story to be written and die for! I do not know about you but if I made my own religion it would not sound something like this! It would be a simple “do good, go to heaven; do bad, go to hell”. Love those who love you (who teaches to love their enemies and expects large followers?) There is one god made up of one person (so much easier to be accepted than three persons make one God!) And enjoy life on earth as much as you can (power, fame, comfort, all kind of pleasures) because I know the there is no god and no heaven or hell—I made them up! Christianity’s unusual doctrine and events are not made for the sake of making it a “strange” religion. Each one of these doctrines and events had a purpose and was designed this way. There is a reason for the virgin birth. There is a reason for the death on the cross. There is a reason why the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead. There is a reason the Son of God had to die and not somebody else. There is a reason why we cannot gain righteousness by works. And the list goes on and on: everything has a purpose to fulfill God’s divine plan to save mankind. A lot of religions have very noble and admirable teachings but they still lack authority. You see the problem is that truth is truth: it is not about how much I like it, whether I accept it or not, or I agree with it or not. Jesus Chris is the truth and I could not avoid this fact. Saved at Last One day I was laying on a straw carpet close to a window in the afternoon and the sun rays were shinning on me and I was reading the last chapter of the last of the three books. At the end of the book, the author Josh McDowell wrote his own testimony of coming to Christ and his struggle to forgive his old drunkard father prior to coming to Christ. He asked if the reader wanted to give their lives to Jesus Christ and there was a short prayer (also known as the sinner’s prayer) and I desperately needed this 3- 4 years spiritual crisis to be over with because I had made up my mind that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour and I need to surrender my life to Him. So I prayed asking God to forgive my sins because I was a sinner and I accepted the death of His Son, Jesus Christ, on the Cross as payment for my sins, and I invited the Holy Spirit into my heart to change me into the likeness of Jesus Christ. For the first two days I was the happiest I had ever been--I felt like I was floating on air; as if the weight of the world was taken off my shoulders! I did not know what happened to me but I knew few things right away: I was happy and worry free; I had peace and joy; and I started to see things differently. Suddenly I started to know good from evil and it stayed that way--the next day, next week, or next month--the good did not become evil and evil become good. I grew in my knowledge of the truth but the truth never changed. A couple of months later we immigrated to Canada. In Canada, I still did not know what had just happened to me, and if there were other people out there who had gone through the same experience of salvation. Because I still did not go to church and did not socialize with others, I had no idea what was going on and so I kept praying the sinner’s prayer every day to remind myself that I was saved by faith through God’s grace and not by works. Not long after coming to Canada (may be a year or so) I was watching TV on a Sunday evening when I came across the InTouch program by Dr. Charles Stanley. That is when I understood what happened and I gradually grew in my Christian faith and still growing. One Sunday while I was listening to Charles Stanley on TV my uncle asked me, “Do you really believe in this nonsense?” I simply answered, “Yes, I do.” My uncle’s words and attitude reminded me of myself, not long ago, before coming to Christ: I also was an enemy of Christ, but God in His grace not only sent His Son to die for my sins but also sent the Holy Spirit to draw me to Him so I believe and be saved. Giving up my Roman Catholic identity was a much harder battle. I still prayed to the Virgin Mary for three years, mainly out of habit, after coming to Christ. Until one day when I realized it was idolatry and had no spiritual value. The work God had done in my life in the last 15 years and His love and faithfulness are more than I can include here. The testimony you read here is just the beginning because I could write about His love forever. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Final Words Here I would to discuss issues that are related to my testimony but I did not include them in the testimony because I did not want to disturb the flow of the story. The Birthday Incident I had forgotten about the birthday incident, but about two years ago I prayed, “Lord, why do I hate my birthday? Why don’t I celebrate it like everybody else? Why don’t I like receiving gifts? Why do I always feel guilty and as if I am a burden on others?” A couple of weeks after I prayed that prayer I remembered the birthday incident—it all makes sense now. God has been faithful in every single way. He has been faithful in trying to heal my heart and emotional scars. Salvation Is God’s Work Salvation is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Bible says, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:44) I did not come to Christ through my own intelligence or effort—my testimony is a testimony of God’s faithfulness. When I did not understand He exists and He is great, He showed me His amazing creation. When I did not know where my life was headed, He showed me the reality of death. When I was busy, He provided me with a quiet time and the opportunity to read. When I did not understand who the Lord Jesus Christ is, He gave me the Old Testament to read and understand that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah. When I had doubts, He gave me books that answered my questions. When I had the wrong heart attitude, He humbled me. When I was too shy to go to church, He reached me through books. When I fought against Him, He was patient because He saw my ignorance and confusion and lovingly led me to become His child. (Romans 2:4) I would love to tell you that I was this genius kid who had this great spiritual discernment and understood God’s mind! But it was not like this at all! God saw my confusion, took me to a place and a time and patiently waited for me to open my eyes and see, then He did the same thing over and over again until I reached a point where I was ready to accept His Son, Jesus Christ, as my Lord and Saviour! How much more shall I say about God’s goodness and faithfulness? Everything happened to me was God’s divine work to bring me to Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ. It was not my self-effort—I simply responded to His moves and when I did not He waited and used other methods to reach me. None of the things I mentioned in my testimony can be considered “miraculous”, actually a doubting person can simply look at these events as mere coincidences. However, so many things happen around us are God’s divine work and design but we cease to see them as such—we brushed them off as coincidence. Even painful events God can use for our good. There were many instances before I came to Christ where God worked in my life—not because I was His child but because He wanted to lead me to Himself to become His child. The sinner’s prayer does not save anyone—the “sinner’s prayer” can simply express the desires of those who are ready to be born-again. Simply asking someone to read the “sinner’s prayer” will do no good if the Holy Spirit has not led that person to the point in their lives where they are ready to repent of their sins and turn to Christ as their only hope of salvation. Also, saying the “sinner’s prayer” is not a proof that someone is saved; the Bible says that the fruit of the Spirit--that is, us abiding in Christ so the Holy Spirit can live Christ’ life through us--is the proof that we are saved. “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” (Ephesians 1:13) None of that “I prayed the sinner’s prayer” or “I felt Goosebumps” is evidence of our salvation. If you have to keep rededicating your life to Christ then maybe you do not want to be part of Christ—may be you are not saved, may be you are not a child of God. I am not saying the sinner’s prayer does not work: what I am saying is that it only works for those who the Holy Spirit has prepared to be born-again. The Bible says, “Very truly I [Jesus Christ] tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3) And in verse 6 it says, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” Why did our Lord use the birth experience to explain the born-again experience? Because being born-again is the work of the Spirit—it is not your work and it is not someone else’s work. Others can help the Spirit (just like a doctor and nurses help a pregnant woman), but it is the Spirit who has to do the work (just like it is the mother who has to give birth). And just like there is a nine month period of time for a child to be ready to be born, so there is also a preparation period for our sinful hearts to turn to and accept Christ. A person does not come out of a strip club for a smoke, then you ask him if he wants to go to heaven (who doesn’t?) then ask him to read the sinner’s prayer if he wants to go to heaven, then he goes back to the strip club and does so for the rest of his life and then you declare him to be born-again! It does not work this way! Remember, it is not your work to save someone else. Often times you are only one link in the process of leading someone to Christ. Do not be discouraged or dishearten if you do not see the fruit of your labour right away; after all, sinners are not rejecting you—they are rejecting Jesus Christ. "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” (John 15:18) I thank the Lord that by His grace and mercy He kept giving me chances to come to Him after rebelling against Him for years. Just like He never gave up on me, we should never give up on another person who is so blinded by Satan that he or she cannot see the truth of God’s Word. The hymn “At Calvary” perfectly explains my salvation experience. Peace Through Works Believe it or not, I actually had peace before I came to Christ! It was not permanent and it was not fulfilling. It was peace acquired through doing good works and following decrees; it was peace tied to my performance, feelings, and circumstances. I had peace if I read the Catholic prayer books or read the Immaculate Heart of Mary devotional book. It was a momentary peace tied to my works. The Lord Jesus Christ does not say we will not have peace in this world but that the peace He gives us is different than the world’s peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) Of course this worldly and work-based peace is very damaging because it deceives us into thinking that we can acquire more peace if we do more good works. So we end up becoming more religious and busier trying to please God all the while we are heading straight to hell. The peace I have now is not based on me or my circumstances—the peace I have now is based on God’s Word. I live by faith knowing that I am saved only because Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, paid for my sins on the cross. Nothing can take this away from me. Worldly peace is a counterfeit trying to mimic true peace which is the fruit of the Holy Spirit through abiding in Christ, but it will never be able to withstand trials and the test of time. Satan will give you his version of peace--actually he will give you anything--to keep you away from Christ. The worldly peace I had was misleading: it misled me into believing I could have peace apart from Christ, and it misled me into thinking I could approach God my way. Approaching God The problem we have is not that we do not know God, but that God does not know us! If I went to the White House asking to see the president of the United States telling the guards that I knew him, will the guards let me in? Of course not! For me to get in the guards have to first verify if the president knows me! We have not separated ourselves from God; no, He separated Himself from us! He is the one who banished Adam and Even from the Garden of Eden—they did not leave voluntary! He is the one who has problem with sin because He is the Holy and Righteous one; we are sinners—sin is what we do, we love it! If I am a man who wants to ask a lady’s hand in marriage then I have to meet her requirements and the requirements of her parents. Why is that? Because I am the one who wants to marry her and so I have to measure up to her expectations of being a godly husband and father and a leader and protector of the family. Therefore, I cannot approach her my way—I cannot offer what I want to offer. No, I have to approach her the way she expects and offers her what she wants! It is the same thing when we approach God: we have to approach Him the way He says is acceptable to Him and that is through His Son Jesus Christ. In all religions God forgives by forgetting; that is, God’s mercy is not balanced by His justice. His justice book is not balanced—it does not add up to zero! Our sins are somehow forgiven but are not paid for! In Christianity God forgives by placing the punishment for sin on His Son Jesus Christ. His justice and requirement punishment for sin, namely death, is balanced by the death of His Son. God’s holiness, justice, mercy, and love are all satisfied. His justice book is balanced because Jesus paid it all! In all religions God is holy and hates sin but He is not so holy and hates sin to the degree where He can’t just forget about it! If you do a bit of this and that and ask for forgiveness then He is merciful and will just forgive you! But in Christianity God is so holy and hates sin so much that there is no way He is just forgetting about it—justice must be served and the punishment for sin is death! He is infinitely holy and we are infinitely sinful, therefore, we are infinitely separated from Him. But He is also infinitely merciful and loving and to save us He sent His only begotten Son, the sinless Jesus Christ, to die for our sins. This way His justice is satisfied because sin’s death punishment is satisfied through the Cross, and the infinite gap between sinful man and holy God is spanned. It is not only spanned but God came to live inside man through the person of the Holy Spirit! “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) “…the Spirit of truth...lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:17) Not Blind Faith I do not like the phrase “blind faith”. I actually had not heard of this phrase until I came to Canada! I do not like the phrase because I do not agree with it. To agree with it is to say that God is unwise, unreasonable, and scared! God knows that there are many beliefs and religions out there, so if He did not give us enough evidence of who He is and His plan then we would not be able to discern which prophet is sent from Him and which is not! Which faith is true and which is not! They all cannot be true because they have conflicting teachings! All gods cannot be the One true God! It would be unwise of Him not to give us evidence of His truth when He knows we could easily follow the wrong faiths. And it would be unreasonable of Him to not to give us reasonable proofs of His identity and will and still expect us to know Him and obey Him! Unless He is scared that we find out He is not real! May be He is keeping us at bay because He does not want us to discover the reality that He does not exist! Growing up in the Roman Catholic denomination I had a feeling that God was very insecure, so you can imagine my shock when I read Malachi 3:10 in the Old Testament, “Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty! The reason I am bringing this up is that our faith should not be a blind faith—it must be built on a foundation. Sometimes in life when we go through trials and pain we have to preserve through faith—you may call it “blind” faith—but how do you know the Bible is God’s Word? I will go back to the three points that convinced me of the authority of the Bible and that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Suppose I told you, “Our friend Chris will come in a rental car” and he shows up in a rental car, what would the first thing you would ask? It would be, “How did you know?” Why? Because you know that the chances of me guessing accurately on that day Chris will show up in a rental car are very slim. Now suppose I also said, “Christ will show up in a yellow shirt” and he does, now you know that I did not simply guess but I knew these things! It is the same with prophecies: they are God’s way of wanting us to know who is sent by Him and who is not because we know that no one knows the future but Him—it is not blind faith if you know! For the sake of the argument, let us assume that Jesus Christ had planned to fulfill some prophecies to impersonate the coming Messiah, namely: to die on the cross. How did he manage to plan the prophecies concerning His birth? Let us assume His disciples lied in the gospels about Him fulfilling His birth prophecies. Why would they die for a lie? Not only they would have died for a lie, but they gained nothing a human would want in return: long comfortable life, wealth, power and fame. They received none of that! Jesus Christ promised them two things: eternal life and persecution! Eternal life they could not see but persecution was very much real! To make their story even more bizarre they were not only following but also worshipping who in public opinion was a convicted and executed criminal! When was the last time the idea of worshiping an executed criminal appealed to you? Exactly! They saw and experienced someone very real--the Son of God and the Holy Spirit—to give up everything including their lives for this God! Personal testimony is good but I wanted to base my faith on more than stories. I am sorry to word it this way, I am not trying to dismiss testimonies—they are the work of God—otherwise I would not have written my testimony. But I understood that people are emotional creatures and anything could change us, I knew that first hand because my thoughts were always changing. If someone told you his testimony of how boxing changed his life, how he was a street kid but now he has a purpose and stays away from bad influence, does this make boxing a religion or his trainer a prophet? Of course not! Testimonies are good to strengthen our faith, but not to base our faith on them because for every Christian testimony I can bring you a testimony of someone of a different religion. God wants us to know! Why Christ? I often asked myself: Why did I doubt the Bible? And why did I hate the Lord Jesus Christ? If I was disappointed with the Roman Catholic denomination, then why did I not hate being a Roman Catholic? If I was disappointed with the priest who called me a liar, then why did I not hate him? If I was disappointed with the nun who moved me to the last row at my first communion, then why did I not hate her? If the teachings and decrees of the Roman Catholic denomination did not make sense to me, then why did I not hate those teachings? Why did I not hate Moses, or King David, or Elijah, or the apostle Paul? If I had doubts, why did I not doubt God’s existence? Why did I not doubt the teachings of the Roman Catholic denomination? Why did I instead hate the person of Jesus Christ and doubt God’s Word? The answer is simple: Satan blinded me and focused my doubts on God’s Word and turned my disappointments as hatred toward the Lord Jesus Christ because Satan knew that God’s Word can lead me to Jesus Christ who can save me. Satan did not care if I was a devoted Roman Catholic or not. Satan did not care if I believed in God, a god, or gods. The Bible says, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder.” (James 2:19) These things do not save me! What saves us from our sins is faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and His death on the Cross as payment for our sins. How do we come to this knowledge? Through God’s Word! And that is why Satan is willing to give us everything else but knowledge of God’s Word and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Death When I came to Canada at the age of 15 I was surprised that Canadians live as if they are not going to die: they live only for this world and for now. The objective is not to focus on death--death is only a gateway--but to focus on our lives after death. Not long ago my 11 years old nephew told me about all those things he wants to accomplish when he grows up—things the world is concerned with—and how he would retire as a rich old man. So I asked him, “And then?” He thought about it for a second then answered, “I guess I die.” I asked him again, “And then?” And he looked baffled because he had thought of everything except death and he definitely did not think about eternity. He made the classical error of seeing death as an end when in reality it is the beginning. Satan distracts us with so many present worldly things just so we do not plan for eternal heavenly glory! If we remember every morning that one day we will die then we will be more focused spiritually and make decisions with eternity in mind. Praying, giving, serving, forgiving, and loving will become our priority. The Difference So how am I different now than before coming to Christ? Well, I am saved now and have the Holy Spirit and God is working in me, through me, and in my life. But also God addressed my problems. Do I still have trichotillomania? Yes, I do. It is not as bad as before and I have learned not to focus on it. Satan wants us to focus on our problems—whether big or small—but the Lord has taught me to focus on Him so I do not miss His plan for my life. Do I still have low self-confidence? Yes, I do. However, I have learned to be confident in the Lord. Before I could not make decisions because I had no self-confidence and no other source of confidence, but now I have the Lord as my source of confidence. The good part is that I am always drawing closer to Him because I know I will not be able to function and make important decisions without Him; this way I also know those decisions will be blessed because their source was Him. Do I still feel anxious in a crowd? Yes, but now I can have courage in Him. Just like He replaced my low self-confidence with His sufficient confidence, He also replaced my anxiety with His sufficient courage. Am I still shy and feel awkward in social settings? Yes. But I learned that God can use us different ways: maybe I do not have what it takes to stand in front of a crowd and talk, but I can write! Not everyone comes to faith by hearing—some, like me, come to faith by reading! God does not see my shyness as a problem, after all He created me and He knows I am an introvert. Personality traits are not a sin: being funny versus serious is not a sin, being an introvert versus extrovert is not a sin, being talkative versus quiet is not a sin, excelling in math versus the arts is not a sin! He created every one of us to be unique, to fulfill a certain purpose in His plan to preach the gospel to the lost. Sin is a problem, shyness is not—not once did the Holy Spirit convict me of my shyness as being a sin! He did not solve my shyness problem because to Him it is not a problem. Do I still feel guilty over past sins and do I still feel stupid? Yes, sometimes I do. Satan would bring something silly that happened in my childhood to mind to make me feel guilty or stupid, and the Holy Spirit would always remind me that I am forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ and I have a new identity in Him. Those feelings and thoughts do not hinder me: I can confront them now with God’s truth and quickly move on. As many times as Satan attacks me I keep reminding myself that the war has been won 2,000 years ago at Calvary and Satan is just trying to win a pity battle here and there. There is nothing Satan can do to send me to Hell, but he sure will try to make me ineffective for God’s Kingdom. Am I still searching for the truth? No, I found Him who is the truth. Does a runner keep running after reaching the finish line? Of course not! Before coming to Christ my thoughts were always changing: my thoughts were going in random circles toward no clear end. But now my thoughts are growing and being build up to know more of His truth. While I am still learning and growing, the knowledge the Holy Spirit taught me is not obsolete, on the contrary He is building my current knowledge on the previous lesson He taught me. My thoughts and knowledge are growing toward more of His truth; these are not some baseless thoughts with my ever-changing experiences as their reference. No, these are God’s truths written in His Word and carried out in my life. The hymn “It Is Well with My Soul” best describes my Christian walk. Lastly but Not Least I am still friends with Ayad and Furat. In fact, they both now live in Toronto as I do! It is strange how 20 years ago they preached to me but now I preach to them the Good News of salvation by faith alone! One day in Amman a tailor lady told my mom, “Why isn’t your son enrolled in school here? You don’t know how long you will stay in Jordan. Don’t waste his youth—let him continue his education here!” I often reflect back on those words: how many of us, with good intentions, give similar advice? Imagine if I had gone to school for that one year we spent in Jordan: imagine how busy I would have been, imagine how little time I would have had to read God’s Word, reflect on it, and read those evangelical books. Often times we try to help others but in reality we are interfering with God’s work. Give God the space and time to do His work—trust Him. He has never ever let me down. I was delayed a year in high school, so what? I gained eternal life instead! Do not rush God’s work; not everyone has to graduate from high school at the age of 18, go to university and graduate at the age of 22, find an office job and get married at the age of 26! I will leave you with Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Toronto, ON; winter 2015.)

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