Thursday, September 30, 2010

My Unfolding Story

My name is Paul.  I was born under a different name, Kashif, to a Pakistani family.  From a young age I had a close relationship with the supernatural.  At the age of three or four, in my grandmother’s courtyard in Karachi, I saw a brilliant light in the sky, brighter than the sun.  It pierced my soul like a laser, and I was as helpless as a rag doll before who I now know was God.  But, surrendering to this power filled me with incomprehensible ecstasy.
Later as I grew to be five, in my room God visited me once again.  He asked me a question, "Would you die for somebody?"  I didn’t know the answer, so I turned it around to Him.  He told me the right answer was yes.  I accepted His word, and immediately sensed a deep peace and joy.  Then He asked me, "Would you die for anyone?"  Again, I didn’t know, and then He told me the right answer was yes.  After a thought, I accepted this advice.  Then, it was as if time disappeared and I entered eternity.  I went through the wall of my bedroom and found myself walking with Jesus in a green hilly field.  Afterwards he returned me to my bed.

When I was older, the reality of sin was made known to me in my own misdeeds.  I was often sent to the basement to await my father’s sentencing.  In these lonely times, I would say to God, "God, if I could be born a second time, I would not be so mean to others."  I had never read the Bible or been to church, but somehow the desire for renewal had been made clear to my young soul.
Later, as a young man, I moved to Edmonton.  In 1991, while attending medical school, I lost all sense of right and wrong, plunging into a web of drunkenness, drugs and pornography.  From this I descended into addiction and the occult, as I tried, as many young people do, to "find myself".  I dropped out of medical school and moved to Toronto.  During this time, many people offered me direction.  Seeking answers, I met with a drug-pusher, a Buddhist new-age group, satanists, Hare-Krishnas, and finally my cousin, who wanted me to see an Islamic mullah.  At this stage of my life, I realized the need for guidance, but lacked discernment.
At the Jazz nightclub/restaurant where I worked, there was a Christian, Paul, who told me about his faith in Jesus.  Being hot-blooded and proud at that crucial age, I didn’t hear his preaching- I had all the answers, at 22.  Angrily, I refuted his testimony that Jesus had helped him to stop smoking and drinking, and to start a new life.  One day, at work, I even went so far as to climb up onto a table and publicly denounce him.  But God was merciful, perhaps due to my ignorance, and Paul continued showing me kindness.  Even though I attended a church meeting and received a New Testament, at that stage in my life, my thoughts were too guarded, too turbulent for the message of Christ’s love.  I still had to explore.

One day, I thought to myself, "Mohammed had a greater revelation than Jesus, but then came Joseph Smith and Baha'ullah.  So the pattern is a new revelation as the situation requires.”  I decided to find out what new spiritual message I could offer the world, imagining myself a prophet.  I sat down in my little room and, meditating on some writings from one of the religious groups I had explored, after smoking some marijuana and opium, I sensed a presence at my right shoulder.  It asked me permission to use my arm to write down a message.

Excitedly I thought, “I am going to get the latest revelation."  A presence came over my arm and began to write, "Believe if you can believe, receive if you can receive..."  I paused, thought about it then let the spirit continue.  Other words came, but soon it degenerated into a message of hate and revenge and violence.  This was no message from God!  Scared, I dropped the pen, and immediately sensed the spirit withdraw to a corner of a room.  There, it cowered, radiating hate and fear at me.  For the first time since I was a child, I fell on my knees and prayed:  "God, if You are there, help me now!"

As I was finishing this prayer, the telephone rang.  It was Paul, my Christian associate from work.  I let down my guard and asked him what to do.  He told me to read the little red New Testament he had given to me.  Knowing then that God had answered my prayer, conviction began to set in and change my rebellion to keen interest.
The Revelation of John interested me most.  In it, the author talks of the number seven many times.  Seven eyes of God, seven spirits of God, seven judgments of wrath, and so on.  Seven, I knew, was the number of perfection in creation, since in six days God created the heavens and the earth and on the seventh day He rested.  Some idea of orderliness in the chaotic universe of my post-pubescent mind began to make itself visible.
Now, being a student of empirical science, I required proofs in my quest for truth, and God, accounting for this weakness, acquiesced.  He provided a new sign to help confirm that reading the Bible was a good step.  In October of 1991, when I sat down to write out the budget for the previous month’s spending, I was shocked to see the following set of numbers, and their mysterious sum:


Bus Pass       67
Rent     290
Phone       90
Food    120
Drugs    180
Misc       30
Total    777

Although this solidified my belief that there was a God, my earlier training in Islam made it difficult to adjust to these things, and I continued to run from the message.  Undoubtedly, the desires of youth made service to a Holy God somewhat unpalatable at that time, as well.

But the call never subsided, for if God sets His sights on you... so in August, 1994, I began to read the New Testament for leisure, as one would read the funny pages, a pastime I often indulged in as a child.  In Scripture, I sensed the character of Jesus as being wholly good.  I realized that He did so many kind things for people, and also that the things He spoke of were true.  Aiming for a viable compromise between my love of the Jesus of the Bible and my Islamic heritage, I decided to follow Jesus as my spiritual teacher.  Still, I did not really believe, at that time, in the theological imperatives of Christianity.
Then, in September of 1994, after two years’ absence from medical school, I resumed my studies, always maintaining an insatiable thirst for the Bible.  I used to take long walks in the river valley by the university, thinking about nature and God.  The Word seemed to my hungering soul like manna, and I would spend hours pondering its verses, rather than attend classes.  Even Old Testament books like Leviticus and Deuteronomy jumped off the page at me and filled me with life.  I was falling in love with the character of God.
The mind of a young man being what it is, I had many questions, like how to prove the Bible was true, but God continued blessing me with patience, providing help for the voyage.
In November of that year, I went on a camping weekend with some students from Campus Crusade for Christ. On a Saturday night, I asked many questions about the Bible and Jesus being God’s Son, but was unsatisfied with the responses I received, which were based on faith and not intellectual.  After many hours of singing and talking, the night grew warm, and I was left alone with one student, Dani, talking until three AM.
The whole camp was silent, except for the soft knocks which fell upon the cabin door:  “knock-knock-knock-knock-knock-knock-knock.”
Seven knocks. My heart pounded as Dani went to answer the door.  In my mind I had the thought, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come into him and sup with him and he with me."  I remembered that Jesus had spoken these words in Revelation 3:20.
"Is there anyone there?” I asked Dani.  "No one," she replied.  “It must be one of the students,” I thought, and went outside to confirm my suspicion.  In vain, I searched all around the entrance to the cabin, but found no one.
Seeing a swing nearby, I sat down on it to think.  Then, all at once, like a blanket falling over me, I felt a peace that I had not known since I was a child- a feeling that all was right.  Wanting to see what Dani was doing, I got up and walked towards the cabin.  She was standing, framed in the doorway, and a glow was shining out of her face - a soft light radiating from her very skin.  It reminded me of Moses’ appearance after spoke with the Lord on Mount Sinai.  Startled, I cried out: "Oh, God help me!"
Dani calmed me down and explained this was a sign from God to help me believe. "Jesus died for your sins," she said.  I believed, but did not want to give up control, because I was stubborn.  We sat in silence for many minutes.  Then, from outside, we heard scratching at the windowpane.  Dani went outside to see what it was.  She said, “I saw a sphere of light, hovering in the air, then it flew away.”  Later, as we stood in the cabin doorway, ready to go back to our respective sleeping quarters, she saw a figure walking across the field.  I thought, “It must be God. Everyone else is sound asleep.”  The influence of my peers, at that time and place, was positive.
Sunday night, back in the city, I lay fearfully in bed, at home.  It was around midnight.  Remembering the words, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble", I humbled myself and asked God to forgive me for ignoring all of His miraculous signs.  Suddenly a small light, like the sparkly light on the birthday cakes of children came out of thin air, two inches away from my forehead.  It entered my head: "Fizz-pop!"  I then felt a deep peace.  At once, my restless mind ceased.  My doubts were relieved, my questions answered.  I KNEW the Bible was true.  But still, I had trouble understanding the most basic Scriptures.  I had to receive a gift from God.

The next day, while hoping to join a Bible study in the morning at school, I met Kirk, from Baptist Student Ministries.  Although I missed the study, because I had not changed my clock the night before for Daylight Savings, I believe God sent Kirk to open my eyes.  He showed me prophecies in the Old Testament about the Messiah, which were fulfilled hundreds, even thousands of years afterwards, by Jesus.
For example, he showed me that His birthplace had been predicted to be Bethlehem, and His words, spoken in agony on the cross, "My God my God why have You forsaken me?" were written by David a thousand years before Jesus’ punishment on the cross.  Having had this revelation, I confessed my sins, and received the gift of the Holy Spirit, which cleansed me of the pain my soul never even knew it had and replaced it with the holy knowledge of its Creator, and more joy than can be contained in a human.  I was born again.
I was baptised in June of 1995, glory to the Lord.  In 1997, while I was in my room, a man clothed in a white robe from his head to his toes appeared in my room, out of thin air.  He had brown skin and a ring of white hair.  He asked me, "Who am I?"  I wanted to make a joke out of fear, but I felt a voice inside saying, "Answer truthfully, this is important."  Not knowing anything but his appearance, I said, "You look Pakistani."  He disappeared.  I did not know how to understand this, so I began flipping through the New Testament.  In Acts 16:9, Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia, begging him to go there and preach.  I thought, perhaps this was a sign that Pakistan needed the Gospel.  The idea of a purpose to my life began to take shape.
For several months I prayed for confirmation.  Then, one day, I had a vision.  I left my body, or was in the spirit, as the Bible describes it.  I heard someone call my name in my father’s voice, "Kashif".  Then I saw a great sheet of light, made up of billions of tiny lights.  It was powerful, magnetic, and from within my spirit-body, a small spark of light flew into the light, drawn irresistibly back to the source, as it were.  At that point, I knew that God had given me a deposit of eternal life, and that I was saved.  Then, in a vision, I was shown a clock and a radio.  The clock was set to 11:15 or so.  I do not remember what happened after that, perhaps it is sealed for a time, but I returned to my body.  Later that day, I was visiting a Christian counsellor with a friend.  After the appointment, we were in my friend’s car.  It just happened to be 11:15.  I asked my friend if I could put the radio on to the Christian station.  He agreed.  The message was on Esther.  Ch. 4:14 sprang to mind, "For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?" (NASB).  I felt as if God was telling me I had been chosen to do the work of evangelism, and that it would be done, either with or without me.  To my eager young mind, it seemed I carried the responsibility of a nation.
In 1999 I traveled to Pakistan for 3 months, to preach.  When I left, I did not know what to expect, so I told my friends, "I’ll see you in heaven," thinking that I would be martyred.  Little did I know that God had prepared a way in the wilderness.  Arriving in Karachi, I went to my wealthy uncle’s house, but they were cold to my message.  On Sunday, I sat in the desert, weeping to the Lord, "Why did you bring me here?"  Then I heard a voice crying from afar, "Jesus says..." – again and again the voice was preaching the Word.  Thinking perhaps this was a vision, I decided to follow the sound.
Leaving the military compound where my uncle lived, I soon found myself in a small ramshackle villa, with goats and chickens and half-clad children running about freely.  Following the voice, I walked along a dirt road until I reached a little church.  They had a loudspeaker mounted above the entrance and the service was being broadcast for miles around.  I went inside, where the people received me gladly, and heard my testimony.  Soon I moved to the church itself, where I spent many fruitful weeks among these extraordinary Christians.  No want was left untended, every meal, someone was knocking at the church door, "My mother sent you this," they would say, and watch shyly as I ate the lovingly prepared dish.  I began to understand the meaning of community.
Sadly, the pastor, like so many in the nation, was afraid to preach to Muslims.  One day, I went to the train station to see the church elders off for a conference.  I had brought with me a little bag of tracts and my guitar.  One of the elders of the church, Mussarat, said to me, "Why don’t you come along?"  She insisted and paid my ticket, and I boarded with little provision but with great faith.  Once on board, I felt the Lord speak to me, "What do you have, in your hand?"  I said, "Lord you know, a bag of tracts."  "Why did you come here?" He asked.  "To preach," I said.  "Go," He said, "Fear not, I am with you."  I protested, "Lord this pastor will stop me."  God replied, "I am with you, don’t worry about him, I’ll take care of him."  Over and over He kept repeating, "I am with you."  This was a big step forward in faith, to trust and obey, in the face of danger.
I got up to distribute the booklets among the passengers.  The pastor grabbed me by the hand, "Where are you going?"  "Don’t try to stop me," I said, "I’m going to preach."  "No!" he cried, "They’ll make trouble."  But his wife and Mussarat assured him to let me go, and the three of them prayed while I handed out the Good News.  At first I was surprised when someone else grabbed me by the hand, a strange custom for someone from the West. "Oh no," I thought, "I’m done for."  I turned to face the man.  "Give me more of these books," he said earnestly. The rest of the trip, I gladly handed out tracts, and even gathered a crowd with my singing and music, and shared with many people.  My belief was strengthened, as I saw God had been faithful.
Once we reached the conference, which was on evangelism, I listened to many great speakers talk about witnessing.  Inspired, I asked people if they wanted to go out on the streets and preach during lunch.  No one responded.  Somewhat put off by this dichotomy, I went alone, and found a young mechanic working in his garage.  After half an hour of sharing from the prophets and the New Testament, he declared, "I am with you. I will follow you to the ends of the earth."  Excited by this, I returned to the conference and asked if anyone would help me with his discipleship, as I would be returning to Karachi in three days.  No one but a lowly young lad from the kitchen agreed (and even that perhaps just to humour me).
Later I found a Pentecostal brother to go out and witness with me.  We preached to one shopkeeper, who wanted a Bible.  As I did not bring one with me, I ran back to the compound, and began seeking a Bible.  Nobody wanted to give me one.  "It’s seventy rupees," they said.  "I have no money," I said, but assured them it was important. Finally some students managed to procure one, and I gave it to the shopkeeper.  As I was making something of an uproar, the pastor deceived me and sent me home by train early. 
On the way home, I was sitting in a bunk, playing my guitar with a small crowd of people listening.  Then a Muslim cleric began to recite the Koran, I suppose to meddle with the message I was giving.  Reminiscent of the crowds in the Book of Acts, they quickly turned against me.  "Stop singing," they told me, "the mullah is reciting the Koran." " No," I said, thinking it improper to give way to the Koran.  Then it was a rush of madness, as people uprooted me from the bunk, and began shoving me down the aisle, towards the door of the moving train.  I think they would have thrown me off, but Lord forgive me, I shut up out of fear.
Back in Karachi, I witnessed for a few more weeks.  One day, while crossing a guard post, I was stopped.  "What’s that in your pocket?" the soldier asked.  I had a Bible there, and thought he might punish me for this.  Asking the Lord to help me, and not wanting to deny Him, I told the fellow, "It’s a Bible."  "Really," he said, "What’s in it?"  I began to share with him about Abraham, Moses and the prophets, when he interrupted me. "Wait," he said, "Let me get my companions, and you can tell them also."  For almost an hour, we sat on the grass by the guard post, drinking tea while I gave witness to Christ among these servants of Pakistan.
But things were not as rosy with my relatives... my uncle confiscated my passport and forced me onto a plane, back to Canada.  "If you want to come back," he said, "Don’t come in my name."  My friends at the little church did not know what had come of me.  I did not return for several years.  Then, in June 2005, I came back.  In a few days, I made my way back to the Christian villa.  On Sunday, at church, I was delighted to see Mussarat’s smiling face again.  She invited to me to her home after the service.  We got along so well that she asked me to stay with her family.  This was to lead to a new chapter in my life...
The temperature in those days was so high that I fell ill with heat stroke.  As I lay in a cot in the middle of the road, I saw Mussarat’s daughter, Aamra.  She touched my toe and prayed, "Jesus, please heal this man."  In a single instant, I stood on my feet, completely whole!  Taken with this woman’s faith, I began spending more time with her, running errands in the market with her, and helping with the chores.  After much prayer and with our parents’ blessing, we decided to get married.  We were engaged in the summer.  I returned to Canada the next day.  I did not know that this was part of God’s plan for my journey, to have a helpmate, but I was glad.
We decided on a Christmas wedding, as I was working and had to take time off.  We got married December 26th, 2005.  My wife joined me in Canada a few months later, after which I began to attend medical school at Queen’s.  My wife is preparing for nursing, and it is our desire to serve the Lord as medical missionaries to the Muslim world after our studies are complete.  In September 2008, we were blessed to receive Sunna Esther, our daughter, who is now almost seven months old.  Seeing the world though fresh eyes is a daily reminder of life’s power.
I praise God for all of His blessings.  It is my prayer that my people, full of zeal but without knowledge, would awaken from the darkness into the marvellous light of Jesus the Christ, Saviour of all the peoples of the earth.

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