By Ali Arhab, ALGERIA (now FRANCE)
I was born in 1965 into a large Muslim family in Algeria, North Africa. We were happy as a family, living a normal village life. All my relatives were also practicing Muslims, fearing God and practicing the rituals. We children grew up with the idea that we should follow in the footsteps of our forefathers, attending the mosque and praying. For us Islam was the only choice of religion. We didn’t have the right to question Islam or the Koran.
Life was not easy for my mother. Our village had poor electricity. She cooked and baked bread over a fire in a hole in the ground in the small hut behind the house. I have vivid memories of Mother cooking all the time for her large family. (I have two brothers and eight sisters.)
My father had been an officer in the colonial French army. After Algeria’s independence he became a prison guard. Father was very much respected because he had been a freedom fighter and had defended his country. He had lived in France for a time, so he was a little different from the other authoritative fathers, a difference reflected in our home. In an African society the boys are treated better than the girls. The boys receive more food and are given a better education. Due to my father’s broadened attitude, my sisters were fortunate to get the same education as my brothers and I.
I began my schooling at the age of six. Basically I memorized Koranic verses, learned Arabic and mathematics. I am from an original African people group, so Arabic is a second language to me.
We children did not really understand the Arabic verses. We just repeated them. The teachers didn’t talk about the context or the history. However, they did tell us stories of warriors that added to the prestige of Islam and its power. I was taught that Islam is the only religion and the only true way, and Mohammed was the prophet. I was introduced to the practice of prayer five times a day. I can remember the prayer call of the cleric because our house was just a few yards away from the mosque. I used to watch the people go into the mosque, especially during Ramadan, the month of fasting. A lot of people fasted. We believe fasting, attendance and participation in the mosque add benefits. If we participate, we earn more of the blessings.
I excelled in my schooling. I had six years of primary school and then junior school when I began learning English. My parents were very proud of me because I made good progress.
I began to have problems when I got to high school. I started to ask questions. I began to examine my beliefs and outlook on life in a rational way (based on reasoning). I was also sidetracked by Western music. The music was my only connection with the outside world. However I remained a fervent Muslim, performing all my Muslim duties.
My mother wanted me to be a doctor because in our area there was a lot of sickness and disease, but a lack of doctors. Things did not work out for me to train as a doctor, so I studied to be an electrical engineer. I met students from other parts of Africa at our university. Interaction with them led to more questions in my mind.
I began my career working for a company that built power lines. Some villages didn’t have electricity, so we would build brand new projects that provided power to the homes. I was in charge of the department that did the studies and developed the plans. It was my responsibility to see that the work was done according to plans and that everything was in place until the project was finished. I was with the company for four years.
In the summer of 1983 I went to Germany as a tourist for a month. I went with my parents’ approval. In fact, my father and a brother helped me financially. One day I was walking along a city street and enjoying myself when I came across a group of people who were singing. I wondered what they were singing. I found out they were all Christians and they were singing and witnessing about Jesus, that He is the Son of God and a Savior who is all powerful. I had no clue who they were talking and singing about. But I was attracted by the music, and I just stood there like someone who is interested. When they stopped singing a young lady came over and said, “Did you understand who we were talking about?” I told her I didn’t.
“We were talking about Jesus. Do you know about Jesus?”
“No, I do not know about Jesus. All I know about Jesus is that he is a prophet. We honor him and we believe in him, but we have a prophet, Mohammed. He is the last prophet,” I replied.
The young lady began to tell me about Jesus, that He is a Savior and that He died for me. I laughed. How could Jesus die for me? He lived 2000 years ago. She kept telling me that God was all good and loving, and that Jesus died on the cross for me. I said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t have involvement in his death and I don’t want to hear any more.”
I realized that we had two world views and that we were clashing. The woman was telling me something and I was interpreting it from a Koranic point of view. She invited me to come to church, but I declined. I told her I wouldn’t go because that would be an offense to a Muslim and I didn’t want to offend my family. But she kept pressing the invitation until I finally gave in and agreed for her to pick me up for service.
What a misconception of Christian worship I had! I thought Christians held rituals and worshiped statues and idols. But the service was not like anything I had expected. It was lively and joyful and people were happy. After the service people greeted me warmly. The young lady came to me and asked if I wanted the pastor to pray for me. I told her I was not interested and that I was not a candidate for this. But she persisted and took me to see the pastor. He led me through a sinner’s prayer. Nothing dramatic or spectacular happened, but I definitely felt I was changed.
When I returned to my home, I realized that something had been sown in my heart. I began asking questions like, “For what purpose am I in this world? What is the purpose of God creating me and then I die? What is the purpose of me gaining all these riches and then I die? There must be a reason God brought me into this world. If He has a purpose for me, there must be another way out of this world to live forever. I loved my life; I loved Nature. It’s all here and then I die. That is a disaster.”
As I struggled to find the meaning of life, I thought of the many ideologies we looked into at the university: psychology, sociology, socialism, communism, etc. But I didn’t find any that answered my questions. I looked in Islam for my answers; I looked at the idea of Paradise. I realized it is impossible to be a perfect person because I had all these imperfections. Many of my classmates had the same questions. Some of them became atheists and others radical Muslims. I was desperate for something that would satisfy my soul.
In the process of all this questioning I had a vision. I was in my room at home. I was not sleeping; I was fully awake. I was not taking drugs so I was not hallucinating when I saw a man standing in the corner. He wore a crown of thorns that shed fire and light. I watched his face for several seconds but then dropped my gaze and my head.
The moment He appeared, I knew it was Jesus. He asked me questions about all the things I had done. My whole life was as an open book; there was nothing I could hide. Just as I was thinking to defend myself, I saw a big screen before me where I could see my heart trying to deceive Jesus. I realized how holy He was and what a sinner I was. I needed someone to get me out of the mess I was in.
Jesus’ voice was gentle and kind, and I regretted having caused Him pain. I realized I hurt Him by the things I had done and by my stubbornness in not accepting the truth that He is the Son of God who is the way, the truth and the life. I said, “Jesus, I longed for this day. I don’t want to die. I know I don’t deserve salvation or heaven, but if you forgive me and give me one more chance to live, I will live for you.”
I tried to keep awake because I still thought I would die, but I finally fell into a deep sleep. When I awoke in the morning I heard a voice in my ears say, “From now on you will live for me.” Truly, the old Ali was gone; I was a new creation in Christ.
My father recognized the change in my life and he threatened to kill me if I truly were a Christian. I kept a low profile until the Lord completely changed my father’s mind and he accepted me. He had thought that I would drift away, but the Lord has brought me into a closer relationship with my father and siblings than I had before. Father at 87 is not a believer yet, but he hosts many Christians in Algeria. I continue to pray for him.
When I became a Christian I began to read the Bible and pray. I prayed that God would give me five people who would be open to the gospel. Instead of just five, the Lord gave me fifty who accepted Christ. We met together weekends in the bush in the mountains, spending whole days worshiping and praying aloud. We knew no Christian hymns, but the Lord gave us joyful songs of praise. The Lord answered our prayers for healings and for the salvation of many others.
During my career in the engineering field, I started many gatherings. I really enjoyed serving my Lord. Because I received wages, I was able to finance the outreach. Many people came to the Lord. The initial group of 50 believers has grown to between 500 and 1,000. They have no church building, so they meet in different places.
In the meantime, the fundamental Muslims arose in my country spreading hatred for the Christians and Westerners. When my life was threatened, I left for Europe. I studied the Bible for three years in Holland and then moved to England to be trained as a cross-cultural Christian worker. I was sent to work in France. I once hated France because of colonialism in the past. However, I realized that French people also need the Lord. A beautiful French young lady, who loves the Lord, has become my wife. Our marriage is blessed with three sons who also love the Lord.
When I went to France my target audience was North African Muslims. I had done a lot of evangelism in Algeria using the Jesus film, so the idea of an audiovisual work was in my mind. Today our outreach is through radio and television programs.
My heart cry is for Africa, for her people who suffer so much from disease and war. Fellow Africans, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (Jn14:6 NKJ). Jesus loves you and He died for you. This truth will set you free. There is no other way.
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