[notice]UK-based South African-born journalist Charles Gardner reports from the UK at the Crossroads conference in Manchester.[/notice]
A Muslim man from Turkey went on a pilgrimage to Mecca in a desperate bid to get his life straightened out – and met Jesus!
A wife-beater who was addicted to alcohol, Ali Pektash was on a visit to the famous shrine when he fell asleep under the burning sun. Jesus twice appeared to him in a dream, telling him to leave the area and spread the gospel, and left a permanent mark where he touched him on the chest.
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Ali told his astonishing story to delegates of a conference in Manchester designed to encourage believers in Christ from all over the Middle East, many of whom risk their lives by practicing their faith.
One of 10 children in a family of Kurds, he was rejected by his mother, which opened a deep wound in his life. He was taken in by his uncle, but he too chased him out. At 14 he ran away to work in the construction industry before returning home four years later at the invitation of his father.
The communists were gaining influence in his region, but when he started work as a shepherd he couldn’t understand how people could curse God whose beautiful creation he witnessed in the fields every day.
He met and married Zehra (who accompanied him to the conference), but said he was a weak-willed man who succumbed to heavy drinking which began to destroy his life. He would start to shake if he didn’t have a drink and things got so bad that he was beating his wife several times a day and struggling to breathe after just a few steps.
Friends persuaded him to find work in Saudi Arabia, where he could get free of alcohol because it was forbidden. But in fact he discovered there was plenty of it available there.
Perhaps Mecca held the key to success, they suggested, so he agreed to join a group on hajj (pilgrimage) during his time in Arabia.
Speaking through an interpreter, he said: “I knew I belonged to God somehow – He was my friend – but I did not belong to a religion I could find. I circled the Ka’ba (the cube-like building at the centre of the Great Mosque) seven times (one of the specified rites involved in the pilgrimage), and watched everybody kissing this black stone. But I walked the other way. I believed in a living God, not in a rock.”
When they retreated to their tents for the night, he chose to sleep under the stars because it was so hot.
“Jesus came to me in a dream, put his finger on my forehead and his hand on my heart. He was smiling at me and said: ‘Get up and leave this place’.
“I didn’t really understand, but I knew I was saved. There was a vibration in my kidney area where it felt like someone was speaking to me, and he kept saying the same thing. I became very afraid, and remembered reading how too much alcohol could affect your brain. I thought maybe I was going crazy; that my end had come. I told my friends what had happened, but they laughed it off, saying I had eaten too much. And they asked: ‘What does Jesus have to do with Mohammed?’
“But the voice would not leave me alone. I told my friends I couldn’t finish the hajj, but they got upset and angry. I found a bathroom where I took a shower before I left and saw in a mirror that the black hair on my chest had the white imprint of a hand on one side. I tried to rub it off, thinking it might be dust, and heard the voice say, ‘You’re going to see a lot more things than this.’
“So I got down on my knees and said, ‘Lord, whatever you want from me I will do.’
“He told me that I should go directly back home, so I immediately left the construction company for whom I had been working.”
He rang his wife to say he was coming home with Jesus, which naturally puzzled her as she was looking around to see where his companion was when he landed. “He’s inside me,” he explained.
In accordance with tradition for those who return from hajj, neighbours all turned out for a welcome home party. “I obeyed the Lord’s instruction by standing up and telling everyone present that I had become a Christian. Some got upset and left the room. And that night I told Zehra that I couldn’t live with her anymore because I was a Christian and she was a Muslim.”
But she responded: “Whatever you want to be, I’ll become.”
And although he knew he was now a Christian and passionately shared his testimony with others, it was six long years before he was able to obtain a Bible in his own language – through a Christian radio station in Russia. “It was the most precious gift I received in my entire life. I read it all before I ate or slept again,” he said. “I memorised whole portions and this book changed my life. I kept reading it over and over, understanding more as I did so.”
God’s word also brought healing to his life, curing his addiction to drink and cigarettes along with his wife-beating antics. And it was another year before he met his first Christian compatriot (apart from his wife) – a pastor in Istanbul.
He studied there and became a pastor himself in Ankara, the capital. Now his goal is to see a believer in every Turkish home. His hope is that they will then help fulfil the vision foretold by the prophet Isaiah (chapter 19) when he spoke of a highway of reconciliation from Egypt to Assyria (representing much of the modern-day Arab world) via Israel.
Hosted by the Church’s Ministry among Jewish people (CMJ), the Manchester conference itself was held to encourage followers of Jesus from throughout the Middle East to work together towards such an outcome.