A former Muslim cleric who converted to Christianity after meeting Jesus in a dream was abandoned by his family and brutally beaten. He now says his faith taught him how to forgive.
In an interview with World Watch Monitor, Tofik (not his real name) described his training as an extremist Muslim cleric in West Africa. As a young man he was taught to hate Christianity, and he and his fellow pupils "went to the nearby town and met believers. We beat them and then attacked the church."
"Our teachers would tell us every time there was a new church in town and we were told to go and attack the people and destroy the church. So that's what we did," he explained. Many students burnt Bibles, but Tofik says something stopped him from joining in. He even kept a Bible for many years, not knowing why, though he says he "now understand[s] it was God holding my hand".
After further training in Saudi Arabia, Tofik returned to his hometown and became a prominent Imam, leading the construction of 16 new mosques. He forbade the preaching of Christianity, but eventually became got involved in an interfaith tree-planting project. It was around that time that he had a dream about Jesus.
"There was an incident in 2002 where I had a vision from the Lord early in the morning around 3 am. In the vision I saw Jesus very clearly telling me to follow him," he said.
"I asked the person who was calling me to follow him, 'Who are you?' He said, 'I am Jesus Christ'."
After going back to sleep, he saw Jesus again. "Jesus appeared saying 'It's Me, follow Me. When you follow me you will pay a price, there will be persecution in your life, but in the end you will be victorious. I am with you,'" he recalled.
Tofik converted to Christianity and began attending church, but his family were too afraid to join him. He was considered "as good as dead" by the Muslim community, who destroyed his house, set it on fire, and stole his cattle. Tofik then planted a church in the compound where he lived, which caused such outrage that he was beaten and almost killed.
He says he learnt to forgive those who harmed him, however. "The Bible became my weapon. I travelled many places to preach and teach about the Christian faith," he explained.
"The voice of Jesus himself spoke to me in my dreams about persecution, so I knew it was going to come and was ready. For those who destroyed my household, I was initially involved in prosecuting them at court but later I said 'no' and chose to forgive them, and leave it in the hands of the Lord, so the people were released."
Tofik also stressed that he's found "some good" in persecution.
"In Isaiah God says, 'Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make everything new and you will rise up when you wait on me.' So when I face persecution I know that God will do new things and that this is not the end. That my life will not end here."
World Watch Monitor reports the story of Christians around the world under pressure for their faith. For more information, click here.