Akif* was 15 years old. He was far too old to be reading children’s picture books. But there was something about this one that he found strangely compelling. It was a Bible. His parents would confiscate it if they found it, so he read it in secret. It didn’t make any sense to him. But he couldn’t get it out of his mind.
Not long after that, one of his Muslim friends invited him to go to an event to find out about the prophets. As soon as they walked through the door, they knew there had been some terrible misunderstanding. They had thought they were going to a mosque, to attend an event organised by Muslims. But this wasn’t a mosque — it was an apartment. And these people weren’t Muslims — they were Christians! Akif was horrified. How had this happened?! He had never met a Christian before, and here was a whole room full of them! What would they do to him? Would they kill him?
The two teenagers stumbled their way through the meeting, utterly bewildered and unsure of what to do. The offering basket was passed around, and Akif’s friend, thinking perhaps they were bribing him to become a Christian, took money out of the basket for himself. Worse was to come: they somehow got caught up in the altar call. This was a nightmare! “God, forgive me”, Akif desperately prayed. “They’re making me a Christian!”
People in the room came up to congratulate them. Amid all the confusion, Akif was invited to an Alpha course, to explore the basics of the Christian faith. Quite why he accepted the invitation, he doesn’t know to this day. There was just something about these people that attracted him. A warmth of welcome, a sense of safety he’d never experienced before.
He will not be silenced
At some point along the 12-week alpha course, Akif genuinely did become a Christian, and the transformation was unmistakable. No-one told him to do evangelism. But the grace of God was such incredible news — how could he possibly keep it to himself? Before long, all his friends and teachers knew, and they were not happy about it. Again and again they warned him to stop. But he just couldn’t.
Around that time, an Islamic extremist group started to grow in that city. Young members of the group beat him up and threatened to kill him. They told everyone he was a blasphemer. His friends refused to shake hands with him. After one year, his family found out, and their reaction was even harder to bear. His mother threatened to kill him, but when she found out that he was willing to die rather than deny Christ, she threatened to kill herself instead. His father broke down, begging him not to bring such shame on the family. Every week his relatives would come and try to convince him to give it up.
Growing in Christ
For two years, the persecution raged.
At the age of 17, Akif went to university, and to his surprise the persecution stopped as suddenly as it had begun. For the next four years, God had different spiritual lessons for Akif to learn. He was amazed to find fellow believers among the other students. He joined the IFES fellowship and learned about discipleship and accountability. It was a season of comfort, peace and personal growth.
Akif is now working for the national movement, and he’s still passionate to see others come to know Jesus. A couple of years ago, Akif felt God call him and his family to move to a new city within the country. That city had no church, no Christian students, and perhaps only four or five local believers. He now runs a business in the city and through it has found many opportunities to meet some of the university’s 5000 students. 15–20 of them have been coming along to study the Bible. Several are seeking. But for students who choose to become Christians, life in this country is not going to be easy. It could mean death, and it would almost certainly mean persecution and opposition.
As if the work isn’t hard enough already, the movement are keen to consider how they can pioneer work in a neighbouring country that is even more closed to the gospel. Though humanly speaking this is impossible, please pray for them to keep praying big prayers. Pray that there would be many more stories as remarkable as Akif’s. And pray that God would open doors to establish student ministry in both of these closed countries.