by Tammi Reed Ledbetter"I assumed You Hated Me"
Ergun Caner spent the first half of his life devoted to Islam. He practiced the Kalima, Islam's creed; the Salat, praying to Mecca five times a day; the Zakat, contributing a specified portion of his income to the faith; the Sawn, fasting during Ramadan; and awaited the opportunity to participate in the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.
Seventeen years later, Muslims would call him a kafir of the worst type, he told an overflow crowd at First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, using the term for an infidel declared to be as good as dead. Several hundred Kurdish Muslims were among those invited to hear Caner describe how his life changed in 1982 when he converted to Christianity. Today he serves as assistant professor of theology and church history at Criswell College.
Citing the Koran's words in Hadith 9:57, Caner said, "Mohammed says of anyone who changes his Islamic religion, ‘Kill him.' But I also know, my Kurdish friends, that you have given me this hour the greatest gift that I have ever had in my ministry-your presence here."
Caner told the Christians in the audience, "For 17 years of my life, I assumed you hated me." Similarly, Muslims living in America have similar expectations, he said, in light of the recent attacks justified by members of the Islamic Jihad. "There are those that expect revenge. But, believers in Jesus Christ, do you know what they do not expect? They do not expect you to love them in spite of themselves. And why would you do so? Because that's exactly how He [Jesus] loved you."
Such an outward expression of love won Caner over when he accepted a friend's invitation to church in Columbus, Ohio. "I didn't walk in there and see them spit upon me. Instead they loved me. And when I asked them why they loved me, they said it was because Christ first loved us."
Refusing to back away from a gospel message in the presence of diverse religious groups, Caner said: "I did not switch religions nor did I trade teams. I was saved by the precious blood of Jesus Christ and thus I am born again."
While practicing the pillars of Islam, Caner said he began to realize that the terror he felt was "the terror of religion" as he sought to earn God's favor. "And before you think that's only a Muslim thing" he reminded, "there are those of us in this room who think, ‘God, if I just lose weight, if I read my Bible a little more, if I pray a little bit more, if I'm a nicer person,' such works can earn salvation."
"The wages of sin is death and the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord," he quoted Romans 6:23. "There are no works that could save me. There is nothing to equal out those scales. And while I may have followed the five pillars and said my rak'ahs and followed my imam, I was desperate."
Caner said he tired of a fear that Allah would not accept him. "When I heard about mercy and grace, I felt a release of love and liberation that I cannot explain." To the Muslim visitors, he reminded, "Jesus will do for you what you cannot do for yourself and liberate you from the bondage of works and give you grace and salvation the moment you repent and turn to him."
His brother, Emir, also accepted Christ later, and now teaches Anabaptist history at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina. Another brother, Erdum, also professed Christ and now lives in Indianapolis.
"In 1991, my mother got saved and I got to baptize my mamma in the water," he said to an applauding crowd. "But it gets better. In 1995, at almost the age of 100, my grandmother, speaking no English, with a Bible that Emir duplicated and enlarged, came forward on a walker and accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior."
"However, the day that I surrendered to the gospel ministry was the last time that I saw my father until three days before his death. My father was a good Muslim, but according to his testimony, he went to a devil's hell." Acknowledging the horror of such a statement, Caner added, "‘Good Baptists' also go to hell. God doesn't care whether you're a good Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, or anything else. God cares what you did with His Son, Jesus Christ."
Adding that his father died in the shadow of three churches, Caner said, "Not a one of them ever came to his door in the 15 years that he lived there. Who lives in the shadow of this church and has not heard the precious gospel of Christ?" Caner asked. "Who lives next door to you on their way to a devil's hell and you haven't told them?"
"Christianity is not just getting your soul into heaven, but getting heaven into you to become salt and light to a world that is putrifying and dark."