by Haythem Gataa on Unsplash

He put his hand on my shoulder

How a Tunisian student met Jesus

My name is Aalim*. Most people would consider me a contradiction. I’m a Tunisian Christian.

I grew up in a Muslim family. My life was straightforward. I never questioned Islam. I never considered Christianity.

But then one day I met a Christian, who was living in my hometown.

He was a kind person and very open-minded. I thought he would make a good Muslim; I should take him to the mosque. But as we talked I found that he was very convinced of his Christian faith. His lifestyle surprised me. He didn’t drink alcohol and he didn’t believe in sex before marriage. He was pure-hearted. Contrary to what I’d expected, he made me want to look into the Christian religion and read the Enjeel (gospel).

He invited me to go to church with him. Part of me was reluctant; part of me was curious. I wanted to see the way Christians prayed and worshiped. The biggest surprise for me was finding that there were Tunisians there who had converted from Islam to Christianity. Astonishing!

The first sermon I heard was from Luke 6:32–36, when Jesus taught about loving your enemies.

I was struck by the differences between Christianity and Islam. Jesus taught that we should actually love our enemies! As a Muslim I had been taught to love my neighbours and hate my enemies. The Christian faith was not at all what I’d expected. It was much more beautiful.

The searching begins

I started to ask questions. Of both Islam and Christianity. The Muslims in the mosque did not appreciate that. I spent months searching for the truth, comparing the Quran and the Bible.

I met an ex-Imam who had converted to Christianity. And others too. I was touched by their testimonies, but it was inconceivable that I would make that decision myself. In our culture it is a shocking, shameful and dangerous thing to convert. You can be killed for it.

After a year of searching, I sank into depression. I was lost. I’d lost all my faith in Islam, but I was too afraid to become a Christian. I didn’t know how to face society, how to deal with the traditions I’d grown up with, my family, my neighbours. Many people from my home town would speak about me as the person who wanted to change his religion and become a Christian.

It was a tough year. I failed my exams because I’d spent all my time reading and comparing Christianity and Islam. My friends and neighbours were waiting to celebrate my results with me, but when they heard I’d failed they told me that this was God’s way of punishing me. They told me to repent and turn back to Islam.

By the summer of 2005 I was totally depressed. I didn’t want to meet with people. I just stayed in my room, and cried.

I was blaming God in my prayers. He had brought me to this situation! Why didn’t he show me the truth? I felt that he had turned his back on me. Other people had met him in dreams, but not me; I was still lost. I felt desperately alone and hopeless.

Meeting Jesus

One day in September that year I was in my room, alone at home, trying to take a nap through my tears. I was half asleep when someone came into my room. He sat on the bed next to me, and put his hand on my shoulder. He was very strong but didn’t hurt me. I couldn’t look at him or even move away from him. And he said:

“Aalim, you’ve spent all this time looking for me and you didn’t know who I am?”

I asked: “Who are you?”

He answered: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me; who ever saw me saw the Father!”

He took his hand from my shoulder and as he walked away he said to me: “You need to follow me.”

He left the room, and at that moment I woke up. I started looking for him. I thought maybe it had been my father, trying to make fun of me. But nobody was at home. And in my heart, I knew that it was Jesus.

I realised that the words he had spoken were familiar — somewhere in the New Testament! I only had the gospel of John at home (I had to hide my New Testament and my copy of the whole Bible from my parents). So, I opened John’s gospel and found this verse:

“Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.’” John 14: 8,9 (NIV)

Straight away I knew that it was the Lord Jesus himself who had come to me in my hopelessness. I had no excuse not to follow him now.

That day changed my entire life. I became so happy and my mood changed. I remember the first time I sang and the first time I worshipped the Lord. It was so joyful!

Ten months later I was baptised.

A costly decision

It was not easy for my family. They told me that I’d brought shame to them. My father tried to convince me to change my mind. My mother told me she felt like I was not her son. I lost my relationships with many members of my extended family. I lost the friendship of my neighbours.

As a Christian student I faced many challenges. It’s not easy to share your faith at university.

I later applied for a job and was refused because of my Christian faith. They told me: “We know that you are an evangelist and you will make problems for us in our company. We don’t want to work with infidels and people who eat pork.”

Encouragements along the way

But there have also been encouragements along the way: my brother has become a believer, and his wife also. My mother is not yet a believer but she has seen Jesus in a dream. My father is now more positive about Christians but he says he wants to stay a Muslim.

The government allows us to meet in a public church building in downtown. This is really God’s grace! The rest of the Arab world can’t do that. Normally in Islam converts would be killed, but since the Revolution we’ve had more freedom of religion and more freedom to share our faith.

Recently, people have been questioning the Islamic faith after seeing the real face of Islam with ISIS. Some are asking more about Jesus; some are becoming Christians. But radical Islam is also rising, and there is a strong Islamic political party that may take power in the next elections.

Please pray for us. We need your prayers.

*name changed

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