WEEK OF PRAYER: Former atheist shuns fear by 'walking together' with God

EDITOR'S NOTE: This year's Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is Dec. 2-9 with the theme of "BE His heart, His hands, His voice" from Matthew 16:24-25. Each year's Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions supplements Cooperative Program giving to support Southern Baptists' 5,000 international missionaries' initiatives in sharing the Gospel. This year's offering goal is $175 million. To find resources about the offering, go to www.imb.org/offering.

 
CENTRAL ASIA (BP) -- Omar Khan* loved his father but rejected his religion. In his early 30s, Khan was a self-proclaimed atheist. He didn't believe in any god, especially Allah.

Khan would listen out of respect as his father waxed philosophical about the Quran's mysteries during their frequent road trips to the city to buy merchandise for the family's small clothing shop.

One mystery in particular plagued the elder Khan: Why did the Quran refer to Jesus as the Spirit of God? Didn't that mean Jesus was God? But Khan's father would never get his answer -- at least not in this life.

Khan was walking about 20 yards behind his father in one of the capital city's crowded markets when he tripped over a curb. A split-second after Khan hit the ground, a violent explosion ripped through the market -- a rebel rocket attack. Dazed by the blast, Khan picked himself up and tried to make sense of what he saw. Dead bodies lay all around him. But not just bodies -- scattered bits and pieces of charred and bloody remains. Khan looked at the spot where his father had stood only moments before. It was a smoking crater.

He filled a plastic bag from one of the shops with chunks of flesh. Khan didn't know which pieces belonged to his father, but he wanted to give his mother something to bury. He held the bag in his arms during the seven-hour bus ride home.

"Mother, here is my father," Khan remembers saying as he offered her the bloody bag, sobbing uncontrollably. This was all that was left of the person he loved more fiercely than any other in the world. But what Khan didn't yet realize was just how much of his father lived on through him -- including the question he had planted deep within his son's heart: Who is Jesus? Little did Khan know, God was already preparing him for the answer.

Dreams and visions

Within a year of his father's death, Khan found himself wrestling with yet another spiritual question. By chance, he'd met a Western Christian who told him that God loves him, a concept foreign to a Muslim, much less an atheist.

"How does God love me? He didn't give me any money or anything," Khan wondered. As his relationship with his Christian friend grew, Khan was given a New Testament Bible translated into the local language.

"I put it on the cupboard," Khan remembers. "I said, 'This thing is a lot of history. I don't want to read this.'"

That night he had an unusual dream. A man dressed in white came to him, His face made of light. He was carrying the New Testament Khan had received earlier that day, wrapped in a white handkerchief.

"He asked me, 'Why didn't you read this book?'" Khan recounts. He remembers ignoring the man, explaining that he had lots of books and didn't want to waste time on ancient stories. But the man in white persisted, asking Khan to read just one page. "Maybe it will help you," he told Khan -- and the dream ended.

When Khan awoke the next morning, the New Testament he'd placed on top of the cupboard was next to his pillow, wrapped neatly in a white handkerchief.

"'Hey, did you put this book here?'" Khan asked his wife. "She said, 'No.' I said, 'Please try to find out if somebody came inside my room [last night].' She said, 'No. Nobody came to you.'"

Remembering his dream, he decided to honor the man's request to read a single page. Khan didn't know where to start. He opened the Bible to 1 Corinthians 14, but he didn't stop at one page. He read everything -- first, the whole chapter, then the entire book. "On that day I think God touched my heart," Khan says.

He took the New Testament and the handkerchief to his brother, Amir*, and told him about the dream. Amir thought he was crazy, but Khan convinced him they should read the Bible together. Within days the men knew they needed to talk to someone. They called their Christian friend and invited her for dinner.

"We asked her, 'How can we know this book? ... This is a good book,'" Khan says. Since it was inappropriate for a woman to disciple a man, she connected Khan and Amir with a Western Christian man who began to meet with them every two weeks to guide them through the Gospel. After a year and a half of study, both Khan and Amir accepted Jesus and were baptized.

Sharing and suffering

"We started to share our ideas [about the Gospel] with our friends," Khan says. That's when the trouble began. At that time, Islamic radicals were attempting to overthrow the government. It seemed like anyone was a potential target, especially Christians.

"A lot of people were being killed," Khan says, noting that he personally helped bury 45 people during the violence. "It was a very bad time.... Every night I had bad dreams and was afraid." Despite the dangers, Khan and Amir continued to discreetly introduce others to Jesus.

But the police were closing in.

One night, Khan was sharing the Gospel with several men at a local home when the police knocked at the door. Khan quickly slipped out a window and escaped but left behind the Bibles and other Christian materials he'd brought for the meeting. Authorities confiscated them during a search of the house; they now had proof that Khan was guilty of "proselytizing" -- a crime punishable by death. He left town the next day and spent the next two months in hiding.

When Khan finally returned home, he was arrested almost immediately. "They beat me," he says. "They wanted to kill me."

With help from Amir and a friend, Khan escaped once again. This time he fled the country, leaving behind his wife and children, and sought refuge in Europe. It was a difficult decision, but Khan knew his family would be safe -- it was him the police wanted.

Khan would remain exiled in Europe for five years, a time he says God used for tremendous spiritual growth. But his heart was torn apart by the suffering that continued in his country and by the invisible wall that kept him from his family.

"Every day I cried because of my father and because the [religious authorities] had killed a lot of people [and] because of my children," he says.

During this time, Khan continued to experience dreams and visions. They seemed to be pointing him back home. In one dream, a man took Khan by the hand and led him over a mountain to a valley covered by darkness.

"He tried to push back the darkness," Khan says. "It finally became very light and there was grace and it [the valley] became a good place."

A vision soon followed. Sitting at his dining room table late one night, Khan felt the urge to draw. As he put pen to paper, an outline of his country emerged. "It was very exact with all the provinces divided," he says. Khan also placed a cross on it. Then he showed the map to his pastor.

"He put the map out on the table, and everyone came and laid their hands on it and prayed [for my country]," Khan says. "Nearly everyone was crying."

Another dream confirmed what God was asking Khan to do. "God gave me four provinces … and showed me on the map, 'You will go and work here.'"

But "here" was the same city Khan had escaped from years earlier. Would coming home cost him his life?

Pushing back darkness

It has now been more than seven years since Khan returned to Central Asia. He is working diligently with Amir to spread the Gospel. He's also partnering with Southern Baptist workers, like Christopher and Tabitha Ryan*, to reach the same four provinces that he believes God revealed to him in a dream.

Today, Khan helps disciple more than 20 home groups spread across those provinces; some of his students are beginning to carry the Gospel to other provinces.

"When I sit together with my groups, we are praying to change mosques into churches," Khan says. "My big hope is to bring our people from this darkness. Our people must know who the real God is and how He can make their lives better."

But it's still risky work. One of Khan's sisters has turned him in to the police several times. Some of his believing friends have been arrested. He's even seen lists of people targeted by the police as known or suspected Christians.

"Right now it is very dangerous. Everywhere people follow us," Khan says. "But I am with God and God is with me. We are walking together. And I am never afraid because of that."

Ironically, Khan says that one of his most powerful witnessing tools is the question his father used to ponder during their long trips to the capital: Why does the Quran refer to Jesus as the Spirit of God? Khan has used it to lead dozens to Jesus and often shares the story of his miraculous encounter with the man in white.

He still keeps the white handkerchief.


*Names changed. Don Graham is a senior writer for the International Mission Board. Southern Baptists' gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and through the Cooperative Program help Southern Baptist missionaries around the world share the Gospel. Gifts for the offering are received at Southern Baptist churches across the country or can be made online at www.imb.org/offering

where there are resources for church leaders to promote the offering. Download related videos at www.imb.org/lmcovideo.

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