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“I used to beat him”

What follows is an excerpt from Todd Nettleton’s “When Faith is Forbidden: 40 Days on the frontlines with persecuted Christians” and took place near Allawa, Ethiopia, in October of 2005.


The nickname “Haji” is a term of respect in the Muslim world, bestowed on those who have completed their haji pilgrimage to Mecca, one of Islam’s five pillars. It’s not commonly combined with the title pastor!

We met “Pastor Haji” at his grass-roofed house in the southern part of Ethiopia, an area where a rising tide of radical Islam was threatening the church and Christian believers. Outside the house, there was a burn mark on the wall. One week prior, radical Muslims tried to set fire to Haji’s house. Thankfully, he put out the fire.

As we sit, drinking orange sodas Haji graciously offered us, we can look up to see sunlight streaming through holes in the tightly packed grass roof. The holes are the result of neighborhood Muslims throwing stones onto the house, trying to pressure Haji and his family to leave the area or return to Islam. Thankfully, none of his family was injured by falling stones.

Haji understands the hatred of radical Muslims. He used to be one of them! He was so devout, he was sent to Saudi Arabia for special training.

As we stood outside the hut, Haji had his arm around the evangelist that brought us to meet him. Nodding his head toward the evangelist, he said five words I will never forget.

“I used to beat him.”


“I used to beat him.” Haji went on to tell us that he was the leader of a radical Islamic group of young men, and part of their holy duty to their Prophet was attacking and harassing Christians. One of those they attacked was this very evangelist, the man now smiling with Haji’s arm draped loosely across his shoulders.

In spite of beatings, the evangelist refused hatred for his attackers. Instead, he showed them love and offered them blessings and good news. Haji had no explanation for such a response. How could a man you were beating show love to you? How could he not grow angry and fight back?

Eventually, Haji’s heart was won by the gospel message and the love of the Christian man he was attacking. He left the vitriol and violence of Islam for peace beyond his understanding.

Islamic friends were not happy with his decision. Haji would spend a year in jail. He would face some of the same tactics he’d used against Christians. Now he was facing rocks through his roof and attempts to burn down his house. But he would not give up his faith in Jesus.

Once again, I’m struck by the joy the men and women of our persecuted Christian family possess. Haji is a happy man. His smile is huge. His laugh comes easily and often. This is not a man who lives in constant fear, though the threats against him are real and constant. This is a man having fun, living an adventure, and serving a great King.

Haji is having kingdom impact. Who better to talk to Muslims about Jesus than a former Muslim, one who completed the hajj, one so devout he was sent to Saudi Arabia for special training? Who better to spell out the differences between a god who will weigh out your good deeds and bad deeds to see whether you’ve earned the right to enter paradise, and a God who knows our good deeds can never outweigh our sinfulness, and so sent His own Son to pay the price for our bad deeds and purchase our entrance to heaven with His own blood?

Haji’s story is not unique. One of the church’s first great missionaries was a man so zealous for his religion he asked for the assignment of hunting down men and women who didn’t follow their teachings. Then that man ran into the very One he was persecuting, and was forever changed.

One of our VOM contacts in Colombia has a saying: “A racehorse can run just as fast in either direction.” One who is zealous for sin will often become zealous for Christ. One who beat Christians might eventually accept beatings with joy in service to his King.

It’s easy for us to look at someone with holier-than-thou religious eyes and write them off spiritually. He is so hard-hearted nothing could reach him. She is so trapped in sin she can never get out. But the testimony of Pastor Haji—and the apostle Paul—is that none of us is beyond the reach of God’s grace and mercy. And those saved from much are often the racehorses that run fastest for Christ and furthest to reach others for Him.

“I used to beat him,” said the pastor. Said the persecuted Christian. Said the kingdom worker. With a smile.

This was taken from “When Faith is Forbidden: 40 Days on the Frontlines with Persecuted Christians” by Todd Nettleton & The Voice of the Martyrs (©2021), published by Moody Publishers ( and used by permission. Each chapter is a story of a Christian who shared God’s good news with those around them, come what may. They shared that good news despite the dangers because they knew that the relatives trying to silence them, the mob trying to intimidate them, or even the policemen coming to arrest them, all needed what God had already given to them. This is a story of Christians far braver than we, but more importantly, it is the story of the good God who sustained them. In a few instances, He did so by way of big miracles: Muslims with no access to the Bible are reached in their dreams, police tossing a house find a lost sewing needle but miss the three large boxes of Bibles in the middle of the room. In others, the miracles were maybe less spectacular, but exactly what was needed: a woman whose husband was murdered is able to forgive the murderers, a drug addict who turns to God is instantly freed from his addiction. These persecuted Christians want us to understand that for God’s people, persecution is to be expected (John 15:18-21) but it need not be feared because our God is greater than the world and what we might have to suffer is nothing compared to what we have gained in Him. A longer excerpt of the book can be found here and you can watch the book trailer below.

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Adult biographies, Book Reviews

i am n

Inspiring Stories of Christians Facing Islamic Extremists by the Voice of the Martyrs 293 pages / 2016 The “n” in the title is Arabic shorthand for “Christian,” and Islamic extremists will paint it on houses owned by Christians as a means of intimidation. It is, in some places, the equivalent of being marked for death. This was a very different and much better book than I thought it would be. I was anticipating something hard to endure: story after story of Christians getting beat up, beheaded, or jailed. I started reading only because I knew the topic was important. As the front cover puts it, we must "not let our brothers and sisters suffer in silence, nor...let them serve alone." So I started reading out of a feeling of duty. However, I kept reading because I am n is encouraging, and challenging, and just too awe-inducing to put down. Encouragement It was encouraging to see what God is up to in the  Islamic East, even in the midst of severe persecution. As one story details, before 1983 Christianity was almost unknown in Algeria. There were "no Christian bookstores, no indigenous churches, and virtually no access to Bibles." But then a few Christian tourists invited the locals to play a soccer game. The invitation was declined because the local team's best player was sick. These Christians then asked if they could come pray over the young man, and they were allowed to do so. The next day the young man was fully recovered and able to play in the soccer game. News of his healing quickly got around, and these tourists, while not missionaries, were very happy to answer the many questions that came their way. While they eventually had to go back home, the gospel news they shared stayed behind. "I felt that the stories they told were not just stories, but real," recalled Hassan. "It made we want to leave everything and follow Jesus." Hassan and other Algerians began turning to the God of the Bible. The "soccer miracle" is credited with initiating an explosion of faith in a country where Christianity was once rare. With the growth in numbers also came a growth in persecution – it is not easy to be a Christian in Algeria. But what a wonder to hear about how God can gather a people for Himself using even a soccer game. There are many other encouraging stories throughout. In chapter 43 we learn about Alejandro, from the Philippines, who was "a cold-blooded killer, a terrorist for Allah" before turning to God and becoming a pastor. And as remarkable a turnaround as his life is, God wasn't done with the amazing. "During the final evening of conference, Alejandro conversed deeply with an attendee grieving the lost of relatives – a pastor, his wife, and children – who had been killed by Muslim militants several months earlier. Only God could bring together a former Muslim murderer of Christians to comfort and pray for believers who were suffering at the hands of Islamic extremists. Challenging Now, it was challenging to read story after story of Christians who lost everything: their businesses, their homes, their friends, their family connections, even their own lives, or those of their children or spouses. They gave this all up because they understood that what they were losing paled in comparison to what they have in Jesus their Lord. In a section of the book titled " JOY" we meet Jon, a Malaysian Christian, who was able to laugh as he was beaten, expressing the joy he felt "for the honor he was feeling. 'I was okay with being beaten,' he recall. 'They beat Jesus too.'" Then, in the next chapter there is Musa, a North African who was able, for a long time, to be a quiet Christian. He wasn't sure what he would do if he was confronted about God. But then the moment came: one of his coworkers wanted to know why he didn't take a break with them to go do their prayers. "Musa realized. This is it. This was the moment he had to decide if he was for Christ or against him. A phony or the real deal. All in or all out. After a long pause, he looked his friend in the eye. 'Prayer,' he began, 'is an intimate conversation with God, and it should be done all the time, in my heart, rather than at specific times using the same phrases and postures.'" This is a world away, but a situation we can understand. We have co-workers too, who ask us questions. But the stakes aren't nearly so high for us. Musa knew he faced the loss of his job, and even the loss of his family just by making it known he follows Jesus. But still he professed his Lord. Awe-inducing Why then am I so slow to speak the name of my Savior? Why don't we profess God's name loudly and constantly? This is the challenge that I am n throws at western Christians. We have so much, and we risk so little. Why are we so quiet? What do these persecuted Christians understand about God that we still don't? They know that God is all. While we can get distracted by the abundance around us, they often times have nothing but God. And they know He is more than enough! Cautions When it comes to cautions, I can think of some minor quibbles. Mention is made of how The Jesus Film was used as an evangelistic tool. Visually depicting Jesus, and having an actor portray Him is not something we would do. But we also know that God can use even bent sticks to draw straight lines. At another point a new convert refers to himself as becoming a "son" (rather than brother) of Christ. But we should expect new converts to have some misunderstandings. Finally, there are many descriptions of persecution, but none are graphic. Conclusion I am n is a book to delight in, pray over and pass along to others. The 300 pages are broken down into 54 chapters with 48 of the accounts from the present day, and another half dozen from the pages of Church history. The short accounts make this a very easy read, and while many atrocities are described, it is always done delicately, so this may be appropriate for children as young as 10. The front cover subtitle has made this a controversial book. It reads "Inspiring Stories of Christians Facing Islamic Extremists." Yes, most of the persecution Christians face around the world is at the hand of Muslim radicals. That is not a fact that many want to acknowledge, but when we ignore it, we do so at the expense of the Christians suffering at their hands. No, not all Muslims are violent and no one is saying they are. No one is calling on us to hate Muslims. This is, in fact, a book full of Muslims who have been brought to God through the love of their Christian neighbors and family. So yes, this is an account of the Muslim persecution of Christians, but it is also an account of how that persecution should best be met: by loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute the body of Christ." (Matt. 5:44). I am heading out to an abortion protest in a couple days, and after reading this, I am not nearly so intimidated as I might have been. It is indeed an honor to face persecution for the sake of God. This review first appeared on the Dykstra book blog

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