My father was from Jerusalem – Palestinian. My mother is Lebanese. All five of us kids were born and raised here in the US. We were raised Muslim; my parents just wanted to have a peaceful home and be successful. We prayed to Allah, to God, and I was devoted. There was no promise of salvation, per se. We would say, “God willing.” Even if my good outweighed my bad, then Allah would still make the decision on that day. So, I never really knew, but I would live my best hopefully to be accepted.
After my first year of college, I went back home. At this time, we were living in South Florida. While I was on the beach, a high school girl came up to me and she actually started to share a little of the Christian faith with me and she ended up inviting me to this Christian coffee house. I wasn’t interested in going because it was Christian, but she was really cute, so I went. Not as cute as my bride, Melanie (Hancock ’95). That’s how it started. It was an invitation, and because Christians had loved me and accepted me and didn’t judge me even though I was Muslim – and maybe because of their prayers and love more than anything else – one night I was trying to sleep and I couldn’t sleep.
I didn’t have a dream or vision, but I just had a question. The question was, “Well, why am I Muslim?” And I started talking, really, to myself: “Well, of course I’m Muslim. My mom and dad are Muslim. They’re loving, they’re godly, they’re amazing.” And I’m thinking, “Islam must be right.” And then while I’m lying there, I thought, “Well, how come the Christians think they’re right?” There are Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, atheists – and I knew they couldn’t all be right. And that night I cried out to Allah. I said, “God, I just want to know the truth.” But I don’t want it based on my family, religion or tradition. And I said, “God, if you show me who you are I will serve you and follow you all of my life.” And I meant business.
Well, I started to just research and study. I became more confused and I started making a list of religions as I studied, and faiths and beliefs. I was kind of astonished at the numbers that were out there. And some of them I could quickly scratch off, but there were many I wasn’t sure about. I started going out at night by myself. My dad had some restaurants in Fort Lauderdale, primarily; we were fairly well-off at the time and lived on the water. I started going out on our boat by myself at night. And I didn’t know what I was expecting. I was just crying out to Allah – to God: “I just want to know the truth.” I prayed, “God, I’ll make it easy for you. Just give me a sign like a shooting star.”
It was interesting, because, as I studied different religions, even in the Christian faith, God spoke through a donkey, He spoke through a burning bush, He spoke through people, prophets, writings… I knew God was well able to speak, so I didn’t know how he was going to speak. I just wanted to know. Time went by and I wasn’t really getting an answer; I became pretty consumed with this. We had a good life, a good home, a good family, but I got to where I wasn’t sleeping much and was weeping through the night.
And this may sound strange, but I got so desperate, I said I was going to try each religion. I didn’t know what that meant. But I decided to get Christianity out of the way first. So, I went back to the coffee house – the first place I was invited. I wonder if the Christians had any idea of the influence they had with just connection, with prayer, with friendship… I didn’t want anybody to know what I was doing, because it was going to be between me and God. But I thought, well, in the Christian faith I’ll need at least one person to know, because I’m sure I’m going to have some questions about the Christian faith.
The director wasn’t there at the coffee shop; I ended up with the associate director. I told her what I wanted to do. (You’ve got to understand, there were hundreds of students praying for me for almost a year, by name.) And when I told her what I wanted to do, her eyes got so big. Then, she shared the story of God and then the Gospel of Jesus Christ. At the end, she gave me a prayer where you can confess your sins and become a born-again Christian.
And I understood that. Even to be a Muslim, there’s a confession, the Shahada, you know. So, there I was, and she said, “Would you read the prayer?” So, I read the prayer to myself and she said, “Would you read the prayer out loud?” Well, I went ahead to read the prayer out loud and when I got to the name of “Jesus,” I stopped. Now, as a Muslim, we believe in Jesus. As a matter of fact, Muslims believe that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, was sinless, did miracles, ascended to heaven and is coming back. Sounds pretty Christian, right? But they do not believe that He was the incarnate son of God, nor that He was truly crucified on the cross. So, our whole payment, justification and atonement for sins is not in there.
But in Islam, the way I was taught, the one unpardonable sin is to associate a partner equal with God. And I was taught that’s what you Christians did with the prophet Jesus – that you corrupted the Scriptures and made Him to be the son of God. So, for me to confess Jesus as Lord as a Muslim would condemn myself to hell. So that’s why I stopped at the name of Jesus. So, I’ve learned it’s not just what you believe, but why you believe it.
So, I stopped and I was so hungry and so desperate and she wanted to encourage me and she said, “Come on, you can do this,” almost like cheerleading. I was fearful of what would happen with my life and I said, “Okay, Je-… Je-… Jesus! Come into my life! For one week.” And she goes, “One week?” I said, “Yeah. Next week I’m going to the next religion, because I have a list.” Well, the moment I prayed that prayer – for most people, there’s joy or relief – and in all sincerity, my first thought was, “I just condemned myself to hell.”
The Christians just kept loving me and accepting me as they had. I was riding my bicycle home after midnight. It was a couple of hours since I prayed that prayer and I was fearful of what was going to happen and I caught myself singing a line of one of the hymns we had sang when I visited church: “Wonderful grace of Jesus; greater than all my sin…” I stopped myself: “Boy, what did you say?” I had never sung that song with the name “Jesus.” And I started singing that song with the name of Jesus. I had no idea that I had actually asked Jesus to come into my heart, into my life. I didn’t know He would actually come in. I thought, “I never knew God wanted to walk or talk with me.” I believed God was holy and sovereign, and if I lived right and my good outweighed my bad, then maybe, God-willing, I’d get to be with Him. I had no idea God wanted to be with me then.”
All of the sudden, I knew that Jesus was in my heart. Jesus was the son of God. Jesus was Lord of all. I knew my name was written in heaven. God had a plan for my life and I’d never be the same. I was crying, laughing, weeping. I got home and went out on the boat, like I always had at night. I started saying, “Father, God, I am so sorry. I’ve been praying, and every night, asking You to speak to me, to give me a sign.” I said, “Lord, I’m so sorry that I looked for a sign like a shooting star. You were speaking to me the whole time I was searching.” He was speaking through His people, the believers, and through the Word of God. When I was studying Christianity, I was in Romans and John, and that was the Spirit of God. And I said, “God, I don’t need a sign like a shooting star. I now know that Jesus is the Lord, and Jesus is my Lord.” And it’s like God said, “Amen.” Right then, I witnessed the first one I ever saw – the shooting star shot across that whole horizon and I was never the same. My life was radically changed.
I didn’t tell my parents right away, but I soon shared with them. And then during the next 10 years, all my brothers and sisters became followers of Christ. Then, after 23 years of prayer and when my parents were over 70 years of age, the Lord removed the veil from their eyes, and both my mom and dad received Jesus Christ as their Lord and savior. My dad and my mom moved back to their village, north of Jerusalem. Their apartment became the first underground church for Muslims coming to Christ in Israel. Since then, my dad has gone to heaven. My mom turned 90 in March. She’s now living here with my sister, and my mom is the wildest preaching machine for Jesus on the planet. And what’s amazing is, it all started with a girl giving me an invitation.