By Mark Ellis —
Like other boys in his Pashtun tribe along the Pakistan-Afghan border, he was sent to a madrasa at age four, where he was compelled to read, recite and memorize the Koran.
“The children mimic or copy the mullah, who is very heavy-handed. You have to memorize out of fear,” says John Taimoor, founder of The Crossbearers, a ministry devoted to presenting biblical Christianity within an Islamic context.
By age 14 he was reading Shakespeare and searching for heroes, when he stumbled across the name ‘Isa,’ the Arabic name for Jesus in the Koran. “I read the name of Jesus and became curious,” he says. “The Lord reached me right in the mosque.”
When he asked the priest about Jesus, he was told that Moses and Jesus were brothers. When he asked how to find out more, they told him to find ‘The Book of Isa.’ “Nobody had ever heard of a Bible.”
Taimoor searched for a ‘Book of Isa’ for two years. When he asked his teacher or inquired at the library he was met with suspicion. “What are you up to boy? Do you want to become a Christian?” they asked.
He met a young man at school rumored to be a Christian. “I begged him to get me a Book of Isa,” he says. “He got so scared he never returned to school again. He thought they would stone him or kill him.” There were times Taimoor rode his motorbike 30 to 40 miles because he heard about a gathering of Christians. “No one was willing to give me a Bible they were so scared.”
“Being strong-willed, the more people stopped me, the more determined I became,” Taimoor adds.
One day he happened to meet a missionary passing through the area north of Islamabad handing out small New Testaments. Taimoor spied the man from a distance and hurriedly rode his motorbike toward him. “He looked at me and greeted me like a Muslim and said, ‘This is the Book of Isa.’”
“It hit me like a bullet,” Taimoor says. “I was almost paralyzed.” Hesitantly, he asked the missionary the cost of the book.
“Nobody can pay the price for it,” he said. “If you want it, you can give me whatever you would like to give.” Taimoor fished into his pocket and pulled out the U.S.equivalent of 20 cents.
Racing home, Taimoor underwent a ritualistic cleansing, deciding this would be appropriate before reading such a book. “I didn’t understand it in the beginning,” he says. “But when I got to the fifth chapter of Matthew something supernatural and unusual happened in my mind.”
He read: “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” After reading this verse, he believes the Holy Spirit fell upon him—and filled him—as his heart and mind were regenerated.
“I got saved without the help of any individual,” Taimoor recalls. “I didn’t say the sinner’s prayer or go to any altar call,” he says. “Within six months I discovered Jesus Christ is God in human flesh.”
It would be five years before Taimoor had any meaningful contact with other Christians or saw the entire Bible. In the meantime, he set out to memorize the New Testament. “As a Muslim, I thought every good Muslim memorizes the Koran,” he recalls. “Naturally, Christians must be memorizing their books.” He thought he should memorize the books before meeting other Christians. He also feared the book might be taken away from him at any time.
When his mother found out about his new faith she told him, “If I had known you would become a Christian I would have strangled you as a baby.” Several years later, Taimoor’s mother and brother both became believers.
Because Taimoor’s faith developed outside of mainstream Christendom, some of his views would be considered provocative to Christians. “I respect Muhammad and use him next to the Bible and the church as the third great witness of the glory of Christ,” Taimoor says. “I am proving to the Muslims the God they worship is the same God as ours,” he says. He believes Muslims are like Jews–they worship the same God as Christians– but reject Jesus as Messiah.
Taimoor finds common ground with Muslims in their approach to eschatology, the study of “the last things.” Many Muslims are waiting for ‘Jesus, Son of Mary,’ to return as a sign the Day of Judgment has come, according to Taimoor.
“Some Christians are uptight because I show them the term ‘Allah’ is legitimate,” he says. He faults scholars who attempt to prove Muslims are worshipping the moon god. “Muslims don’t worship the moon at all,” he says. He notes the Bible Society has a Bible that uses the name Allah for God.
Many Christians will not understand John’s strategy because it sounds like compromise. “To some degree it is,” he admits. At the same time, he emphasizes his main thrust is to prove that Jesus Christ is God in human flesh. “We worship Him as the Creator and the Savior.”
Taimoor believes more people with “guts” will be needed to carry out the Great Commission. “Jesus told us to go, but we don’t go,” he says. “There is too much education in America and not enough deployment.” At the same time, he confesses it is difficult to leave the comforts of the U.S.behind for the ever-present risks in the Middle East.
One of Taimoor’s ministry objectives is to establish new communities of ‘messianic Muslims’ throughout theMiddle Eastbased on the Book of Ephesians. He likes to say his travel style is patterned after John Wesley. “I work in a circuit and then move on. I move fast,” he says. “Some will follow along.”
“If I had not become a Christian I would have been a Taliban,” Taimoor says. His houses near the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan are lined with prayer rugs, and have the feel of an Eastern worship center. They’re completely filled with Islamic books except for one—the Bible.
People can stay there for extended periods while they read and memorize the Scriptures. “When people come here they want to know what this black book is all about,” Taimoor says. “If they’re serious, I tell them they can stay.” Group meetings in his homes can last up to six hours, but he refuses to call this ‘church,’ instead preferring the term ‘Jaamat Rabaani’—which means ‘gathering of the people of God.’ “If it looks like a church they will burn it,” he says.
“There are a lot of people in the Middle Eastwho are really hungry and seeking,” he notes. “They only fear Western missionaries because they think they are cultural terrorists. We need to be one of them and go in on their level.”
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