When I first met the striking young man with coal-black hair and dark eyes, there was a warm and welcoming presence about him. But his radiant smile belied a troubled, seeking heart. An immigrant from a war-torn Middle Eastern country, Ahmed* had arrived on Europe’s doorstep as a refugee. As he sought to get his bearings in his new place of residence, he ultimately found his way to the offices of a nongovernmental organization (NGO) where he learned he could receive a bag of groceries every two weeks and attend free English classes.
Often, however, he came simply to fellowship with other displaced persons from the Arab world. He felt welcome there. The hot coffee, tea, or cocoa, along with snacks and cookies, were bonuses. But it was the human interaction he desired and enjoyed most. There, Ahmed began attending a class for those seeking to learn more about Christianity, the truths of which collided with the Islamic teachings in which he had been raised. Then the questions began.
Seeking a Connection
Months earlier, back in the States, I signed up to be part of a small team of volunteers that would visit the Eastern European city where Ahmed lived as a refugee. Our team visited the city as part of a vision trip, exploring the possibility of engaging in a direct partnership with our missionary personnel serving there. Part of our trip included assisting with the daily ministries at the NGO office. I met Ahmed there, and little did I know what God was already doing in his life.
During the afternoon seeker Bible study, my colleagues and I were invited to each share a brief word of Christian testimony. I chose to center my remarks around John 3:16. It’s a familiar verse for believers—perhaps to the point of losing its punch—but not so for a Muslim hearing those words for the first time. To one unacquainted with such truths, the news that God gave his Son that we might not perish is mind-blowing.
“To one unacquainted with such truths, the news that God gave his son that we might not perish is mind-blowing.”
Ahmed hugged me after the Bible study that afternoon. And in the days that followed, every time I came to the NGO offices, Ahmed was there. He seemed drawn to me like a magnet and would often come sit with me. Ahmed’s English was minimal, but my knowledge of Arabic was absolutely nil. Fortunately, his phone had a language translator app, and he used it to convert Arabic words to English and vice versa.
One day Ahmed told me, “You are a good and kind man.” I tried to explain to him that this perceived goodness was the result of Christ in my life. I began to share with him God’s plan of salvation. Beneath his frequent smiles, I could see Ahmed was wrestling with these great truths, which were so different from anything he had previously known.
“A Disinfectant for Sin”
On our team’s last day there, Ahmed asked us to sign his small notebook, much like a high school yearbook. As I wrote out words of encouragement and a prayer for him, I shared my contact info as well. Just before we departed, Ahmed embraced me and wept, troubled by the fact he would not see me again. I assured him I would stay in touch and continue to pray for him.
Upon arriving back in the States, I soon received the first of a series of text messages from Ahmed, again stating how much the visit by our team meant to him. Over the course of the following weeks, we sporadically exchanged text messages, conversing primarily about spiritual things.
One day, however, I received a troubled message from Ahmed. He was feeling confused and fatigued. Many things were weighing on his mind, and he could not rest. He desperately wanted to know Jesus. He wanted to be set free from the negative thought patterns that had been impressed on his mind from a young age. He was looking for love and truth.
As Good Friday arrived, Ahmed finally came to know the truth that set him free. As I talked to him that day about the meaning of the cross, he said he previously had not known of Christ’s suffering. But that day, he believed in Christ as Savior and as a “disinfectant for sin.” He was convinced of the truth of the gospel. What a wonderful text message to receive on Good Friday!
“Ahmed finally came to know the truth that set him free. He was convinced of the truth of the gospel.”
Five weeks earlier, when my team and I set out on our vision trip, I never imagined God would allow me the privilege of seeing a refugee turn to Christ. Should no other fruit come forth from our trip, that one experience was certainly worth it all.
People are People
Ahmed was not the only refugee I met. I had opportunities to interact with several other Muslims—men, women, moms, dads, children, families—serving them, ministering to them, and simply showing them the love of Jesus Christ. I admit that most of my prior knowledge of Muslims had been from a distance, which, sadly, lends itself to misperceptions and stereotypes. But to engage in significant face time with those whose backgrounds are so different from mine was a healthy exercise.
I was able to see their humanity, and I felt compassion for them. And in feeling compassion for them, I recognized their need for Jesus. The faces of Ahmed and the others I met on my trip are now emblazoned on my memory. As I think of them—and I often do—I pray for them, hoping that in God’s time the gospel will permeate their hearts and set them free, just as it did for Ahmed.
Dr. Danny Davis is the director of missions for the Tates Creek Baptist Association in Berea, Kentucky. He previously served thirty years as a pastor and has made numerous short-term mission trips. You can follow him @Pastor3D or @TCBAofKy, as well as Facebook and Instagram.