By Mark Ellis —
As a Christian growing up in war-torn Beirut, Lebanon, she hated Muslims with a passion. But the power of God’s Word broke through her bitterness and she discovered a love she never knew.
“I came to know the Lord when I was five-years-old in Sunday School,” recalls Samya Johnson, cofounder of Call of Love Ministries. Her parents were first-generation born-again Christians. At a summer Bible camp program, she learned the crucifixion story.
The account of Jesus’ death on the cross gripped her heart. “For the first time I realized Jesus died for my sins and that it’s not enough to belong to a Christian family,” she says. “I knew that if I didn’t open my heart and accept him as Savior and allow Him to wash my sins away, then I’m going to hell.”
Before she entered elementary school, Samya opened her heart to Jesus as Savior and Lord. “From that time on I knew my name was written in the Book of the Lamb.”
In 1975, a sectarian civil war erupted between Christians-Maronites pitted against Muslims in various factions aligned with the Palestinian Liberation Organization. “ Lebanonwas 70% Christian,” Samya notes. “Lebanon was the only Arabic country with a Christian president and a high population of Christians. The Muslims wanted to take over and control Lebanon.”
Samya’s family sought shelter in their Beirut basement during the heavy fighting. “We spent weeks in there because of the shells and bombardment,” she recalls. “It became our shelter for the next 15 years.” Their basement was dark and humid, with no electricity or water, a perfect environment for mice and cockroaches to thrive.
“We had to walk a mile to get water,” she recalls. Her father, an interior designer, lost his job during the conflict. After two years, they exhausted their savings and the family lived by faith. “The Lord provided in amazing ways that none of us expected.”
During cease-fires, Samya attended school. One day as she walked home from school a battle broke out nearby. A shell exploded only 30 feet away from her. The shell fell behind a car, which absorbed the full force of the blast. “I was wearing a thick coat and I had shrapnel in my coat and in my hair,” she says.
On another day, 30 seconds after she passed a storefront, it took a direct hit on the second floor. “God, why are you protecting me?” she wondered, while many of her school friends perished.
In 1989, Samya left Lebanon for Cyprus and eventually she got married and lived in Egypt for seven years. Samya carried emotional baggage with her because of her searing experience. “The war caused me to have hatred and bitterness in my heart toward Muslims,” she admits. “In those days, if you wanted to scare a child, you told them a Muslim was coming to get them.”
During high school, Samya worked at an Arabic Christian radio station answering questions from listeners. When she accepted the part-time position, she didn’t realize she would be getting letters from Muslims in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Yemen and other Middle East countries.
When she held one of their letters in her hands, a startling revelation hit her. “For the first time in my life I was able to touch something a Muslim had touched,” she realized. “They were yearning for a loving God to feel peace and joy. I could see them as human beings. I was able to see and understand their hearts.”
God began to work on Samya’s unforgiving, stony attitude. “Before that, I didn’t think they deserved to be saved or forgiven,” she notes.
Over several weeks, God spoke to her through the Scripture. “Something changed in me and I was crying a lot of the time. I realized that Jesus came to save them as well. God replaced the hatred and bitterness in my heart with His agape love.”
“It was a miracle because no one on earth can change bitterness and hatred toward an enemy and replace it with overwhelming love,” she adds.
Samya and her husband founded Call of Love Ministries in 2001. “God put this calling on our hearts, that we need to reach Muslims,” she says. “We have a call to tell Muslims about the love of Jesus, but also to tell Christians to love Muslims.”
She believes God is breaking down walls of resistance among Muslims in restricted countries. “I remember when communism seemed strong and no one thought it would fall,” she notes. “In the 1980s, we were praying that the thick walls of darkness around Islam would break down as well.”
“God broke it down through satellite television, radio, the internet, email, and missionaries,” she says. “Thousands of Bibles were able to make their way to Muslim homes.” Christians in the West are only able to see a small picture of the revival happening among Muslims, she is convinced.
“The only way to win over Islamic terror is through the Word of God,” Samya says. “This is the only sword we have.”
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Call of Love Ministries reaches Muslims in North America and around the world. The ministry equips the western church with tools to reach the Muslims around them, so that Muslims come to know Christ as their personal Savior, new Muslim converts receive sound discipleship and training, and Muslim background believers (MBBs) become spiritual leaders and ambassadors in their communities. They also are involved in planting and equipping MBB churches around the globe.