Following Jesus in South Asia Is a Battle
Azar* jabbed his elbow into his friend’s ribs and said, “Look at those brilliant colors over there. What is going on?” They approached the gathering and watched a group of Christians telling Bible stories about Jesus with flannel graphs.
The two laughed and mocked but could not tear their gaze from the vivid flannel characters. At the end of the presentation, booklets were handed out. The boys each took different ones. Azar’s friend promptly ripped his up, but Azar took his home and read it. He also filled out an enclosed card for a correspondence course and put it in the mailbox.
A Father’s Plan for His Son
Azar’s father was a Mullah (a Muslim religious leader) in a small village. As a child, Azar spent many mornings and evenings sitting on his father’s lap listening to and reciting Quranic recitations and prayers. He then attended a Madrasa (Muslim religious school) to learn Arabic and study Islamic doctrine.
Becoming a Mullah was in Azar’s future. However, as he read and reread his new booklet, he wondered if this Jesus was the same as the Isa he had learned about in the Qur’an. He reasoned he would find out when his books arrived for the correspondence class.
The War Begins
Unfortunately, the Christian books arrived at his uncle’s home. His uncle opened them and showed them to Azar’s father. When Azar returned from school that day, his father and uncle stood waiting for him in the doorway.
After showing him the books that had arrived, they tied him to a pillar, beat him with a solid stick, and told him that such books were forbidden. Azar watched his answers burn up in fire and later they burned his beloved booklet. But try as he might, Azar could not erase the booklet’s words from his mind.
Azar then snuck out of the house and went to a Christian hospital where he heard about a Christian reading room. He walked five miles to this designated room to study the Gospel of John. He also attended Sunday school classes. On one occasion, some neighbors saw Azar leaving the reading room, and again, his father was waiting for him. Once more, he was tied and beaten, and this time his father ground up the hottest chilies in the country and rubbed them into Azar’s eyes and face.
Jesus’ Desire for This Same Son
How different the Christians were. They treated him kindly, exemplifying the love of Jesus. Azar enjoyed going to the reading room and experiencing the tender concern of the Christians. They gave him a New Testament, which he wrapped in a plastic bag and hid under a rock in the forest.
He often went to this secret place, crouching in the woods to read the Bible because it brought him peace and comfort. He loved and memorized many verses:
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.” (John 14:1)
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)
“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3)
“If anyone loves me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” (John 14:23)
Azar could not stay away from Christ or the Christians who so lovingly welcomed him. One day when his family found him missing, they came to the reading room with the police and dragged him home. His father met with his two brothers and asked, “What shall we do now?”
One suggested they cut Azar’s throat and let him die. Another decided death by starvation would be better. Finally, they agreed to throw him off a cliff and see if he would live or die. Azar lived. Upon seeing that he was still alive, Azar’s father tied Azar’s hands behind his back and declared he would receive food only once a day. This lasted for three weeks. Azar refused to recite the Quranic creed. As additional punishment, iron shackles were locked on his legs. Six weeks later, Azar escaped with the help of a cousin. Surprisingly, since then, his father and family have treated him kindly.
Azar searched for assurance and true peace by studying the Bible and comparing it with the Qur’an. As a result, he found salvation in Jesus. He went to seminary and was ordained as a pastor in 1975.
He then became a native missionary and began a ministry in a region of South Asia densely populated by Muslims. Wanting to provide an effective and reliable source of information regarding the Gospel for Muslims, his goal is to win those opposed to the Gospel of Christ and support new believers being persecuted for their faith. He personally visits multiple areas to teach, listen to problems, answer questions, and bring encouragement.
The Battles Continue
Even now, Azar can never let his guard down against persecution. Seven years ago, a 25-year-old man named Abdul came looking for Azar. He was a task force member challenged to either bring Azar back to Islam or kill him. Instead, Azar won Abul to Christ and sent him to Bible school. Abdul later died serving his Lord. He was only one of the thousands who are still accepting Jesus under Azar’s ministry.
Those with Peace Triumph
Azar’s entire body carries the scars of his beatings; his scorched eyelids bear the results of the chilies, and he drags his legs when he walks from being thrown off the cliff. These physical impairments remind him of all that Jesus endured for his salvation and spur him on to tell his countrymen about the amazing love and grace that Jesus offers.
In his own words, Azar says, “I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior because He has been able to change my life to a real life of happiness, peace, and hope. He has been able to give me strength in my weakness. As the living Lord, He gives grace to live victoriously in the world.”
Men and women who come to Christ in this area of South Asia know they will be persecuted. They think long and hard before embracing Christianity, realizing what it may cost them. Only those who can say they are willing to die for Jesus are baptized and go on to do amazing things with His help.
*Names changed for the protection of Christians in South Asia.