By Mark Ellis —
A church of 400 people in California undertook a big project – to build a school in South Asia. But one thing led to another and on their fourth mission trip to the unnamed country, two church members negotiated with a Taliban leader to free 4500 Christian slaves working at a brick factory.
They also participated in an evangelistic outreach that saw two Muslim clerics receive Christ. One of the imams had a powerful vision of Jesus as the Great Physician in the middle of the night following the outreach, which resulted in his miraculous healing and salvation.
It may have been the most productive short-term mission trip since Paul’s visit to Macedonia.
Coincidentally, the man taking the lead on this trip was an unassuming 73-year-old retired businessman named Paul, aka “J.P.” He had trouble finding another person in the church to go on the trip with him, but at the last minute, another self-effacing congregant, Mark, agreed to accompany him.
Their Christian connection in South Asia, Pastor Tariq*, is the leader of a sizeable network of house churches in a large city.
A few years ago, “Pastor Tariq had a bounty on his head from the Taliban,” J.P. recounts. “His best friend was martyred. The Taliban shot and killed him and burned his body, put it into a 55-gallon drum and took it back to Pastor Tariq, and told him they would do the same to him.”
Taking this warning to heart, Pastor Tariq traveled to the U.S. at the behest of his church and on that visit made his first connection with the church in California.
“We gave him the second service to preach. He started bawling like a baby. He has a wife and three kids at home and wanted to go back, but his church wouldn’t let him. But after a few weeks, a U.S. drone killed the terrorist who put the fatwa on his head,” J.P. reports.
Shocked by conditions in brick factories
After Pastor Tariq returned to his country, the lead pastor at the California church made his first trip to visit Tariq and was impressed by the pastor’s vision for Christian education and his desire to free slaves working at brick factories. The pastor visited one of the brick factories and was touched by the sight of an eight-year-old girl named Miriam making bricks.
“Every brick in that country is made by a Christian slave,” J.P. notes, because Muslims will not do that kind of work. Pastor Tariq told him there are approximately 56,000 brick factories in that country alone – all functioning with Christian slaves.
“It’s been going on for generations,” J.P. says. “The slave owner has phony books where he charges them for food and shelter. Not only do they stay enslaved by his books, the debt grows and passes along from generation to generation. They inherit the debt of their parents and grandparents.”
While it is against the law to have slaves there – these Christians are considered indentured servants – their harsh reality becomes a functional enslavement.
It is also against the law for a child under 14 to work, but the brick factories are full of
underage children making bricks. Apparently, the government looks the other way at many of the abuses that go on.
J.P. discovered a typical family of four has a quota to make 2000 bricks a day, working seven days a week from sunup to sundown. There are no days off. “They can do it but they have to work very hard. If they don’t meet their quota they don’t eat.”
The church in California agreed to partner with Pastor Tariq to start a school and help free some of the slaves. Initially, they inquired about paying the debt of the little girl named Miriam and her family, so they could leave the brick factory.
“It was too late,” J.P. laments. “She had already died from the terrible working conditions. She was 8 or 9 years old.”
After the vision to help was planted in the church, one woman gave $40,000 to start the school building project.
After they broke ground, Pastor Tariq informed them he needed another $36,000 to continue. The lead pastor put the need before the congregation on Sunday and noted the money had to be wired by the following Thursday.
“That’s when miraculous things happened,” J.P. says. Someone walked up to the pulpit and announced they would give $5000 and asked if anyone would match it. Another person stood and said they would match the gift. Eleven people raised their hands to say they would give $5000 each.
On that remarkable Sunday in 2014, between two services, $296,000 was raised. “We built the school and paid for two years operating expenses,” J.P. says. The K-12 Christian school accommodates 2000 students.
J.P. had never wanted to go to South Asia, but decided he must see the new school. He got turned down twice for a visa and finally went to the consulate in Los Angeles and shared his heart about the school. A consular official appreciated his compassionate desire to help kids and J.P. got his visa.
After his arrival, the first thing he did was go to a brick factory. He noticed “they treat the Christian slaves worse than animals.” He learned the overseers will chop off fingers if a worker is not meeting a quota or tries to run away. “They constantly do things to put fear in these slaves,” he notes.
A family finds freedom
He saw one woman holding a baby while she worked. The baby looked like he was going to die. The baby’s father, Simon, had three fingers and thumb cut off his right hand. He only had one remaining finger on his hand to make bricks.
J.P. told Pastor Tariq he wanted to get that family out. So they paid the family’s debt and set them free.
“That family remains very special to me,” J.P. says. “I’ve seen them every trip.” The church bought Simon a donkey and a donkey cart and paid for two months rent on an apartment. He started picking up trash, then graduated to selling produce on the corner. Then he graduated to supplying restaurants and produce companies. Soon he was making more than enough to support his family.
After witnessing the joy of setting another human being free, God impressed something on J.P.’s heart: This is what I want you to do for the rest of your life.
On that first trip, the church was able to purchase the freedom of 48 Christian slaves. On J.P.’s second trip, they delivered 60 people from slavery.
“One brick factory we got 28 people out for free because we always have a video going and cameras. The owner didn’t want us on the property. He said take them and leave. He thought maybe we were from the BBC or some news agency.”
The average redemption price is $600 to $700 per family.
A miraculous trip
The “miraculous” fourth trip in 2016 came together after Pastor Tariq informed the church that a certain Taliban leader, who owned 28 brick factories, was being pressured by the government to close some of them.
“He committed a number of atrocities,” J.P. learned. “One of his henchman threw an 11-year-old boy down a well and drowned him. The mom and dad were crying and wanted his body. They pulled the body up but wouldn’t give it to the family. They doused the boy’s body with gasoline and burned him right in front of his parents. They threw the boy’s body in the brick kiln.”
“There will be no justice for these parents. They (the Taliban owner) considers him just another infidel who has died,” J.P. adds.
When word of this and other atrocities leaked to the government, they shut down 12 of the man’s brick factories.
In the email sent to the church, Pastor Tariq said there were 584 families they could free from slavery at the factories, approximately 4500 people. He thought they could get them out for $250 per family.
In a short time the church raised $96,000 to free 384 families. The remaining 200 families would be released for free, due to pressure from the government.
J.P. questioned whether they could accomplish everything on a one-week trip. After wrestling with the logistics, J.P. decided to go.
“I was going to go by myself,” J.P. notes. “I couldn’t get anybody to go with me. It was short notice. At the last minute Mark went and he was a major godsend.”
When J.P. and Mark arrived in South Asia, the first day they went to see the 200 families who had already been freed. They were living in a Christian neighborhood and found housing through Pastor Tariq’s network of 150 house church pastors.
The church sent enough money with J.P. and Mark for one month’s supply of food for all the redeemed slaves. The church always works to provide transitional food, housing, and jobs for the families they rescue.
The second day J.P. went to the brick factory and told them they were going to be freed. “We are planning on getting you out tomorrow,” he declared. “You made your last brick.”
But there was some degree of faith behind his announcement, because they had not cemented their final deal with the Taliban leader.
Immediately they went to the brick factory to see the Taliban owner. “I don’t want to talk here,” he told them. “I want you to come to my farmhouse at 6:00 tonight.”
It was Ramadan, the month-long period of fasting by Muslims that commemorates the revelation of the Quran to Muhammad. At a little after 6 the Taliban owner called and said he couldn’t make it but would call when he was ready. At 9:00 they started to get nervous.
“I’m afraid to go over there,” J.P. admitted to Pastor Tariq. “This guy is evil.” Pastor Tariq said he wanted to get the deal done that night.
A tense negotiation
Finally, the Taliban leader called at 9:30 and told them to come to his farmhouse. J.P. said it was pitch black as they approached the man’s home. A guard came out to the gate with a 57-magnum pistol.
“In our car, it was Pastor Tariq, Mark and me with our security guard carrying an AK-47.”
A second car followed with three pastors on Pastor Tariq’s board and another security guard. A third car was filled with four security guards equipped with AK-47s.
As they pulled up a porch light revealed the house was heavily guarded by other Taliban with AK-47s. They were ushered into a room that had one door, two windows without glass, and a desk. The night air was heavy.
“Mark and I sat down and Pastor Tariq stood at the end of the desk. The three pastors were standing against the wall.” The Taliban leader and his secretary sat on the other side of the desk.
“Their guards and our guards were standing around. The guy guarding the door was very evil looking. The secretary looked very evil,” J.P. recounts.
Immediately the Taliban leader declared he wanted $1000 per family – a dramatic increase over the agreed terms. The secretary asked if Pastor Tariq brought cash with them.
“No, it’s in the bank,” Pastor Tariq replied.
The secretary turned red and pounded the table. “We want cash, cash, cash,” he roared.
“You ought to give them to us for free because of all the money they’ve made for you over the years,” Mark blurted out.
One of the Taliban leader’s guards started shouting, then got up and stuck the barrel of his AK-47 against one of the pastor’s throat.
This is going to be a blood bath, J.P. thought to himself. He waited for the room to erupt in gunfire.
“Somehow, some way, nobody said anything else, and it calmed down. I have no explanation. A lot of prayer went into the meeting and we were praying under our breath,” J.P. recalls.
Pastor Tariq turned to J.P. and said, “Do you have anything to say?”
“How old are you?” J.P. improbably asked the Taliban leader.
“73,” he said.
“I’m 73.” They stared at each other for a moment. “I am an honorable man,” J.P. said. “I came from America but I really was sent by God. God sent me over here to get his children free. You made an agreement with Pastor Tariq for $96,000. I’m not trying to get them out for $76,000. I’m keeping the commitment that he made to you to get God’s people out of slavery.”
“I will have to stand before God some day and I will have to give an account of how I’ve lived my life,” J.P. continued, sensing God’s presence in the moment.
J.P. pointed directly at the Taliban leader. “You will have to stand before God some day and give an account of how you lived your life. I’m asking you right now to honor the commitment. We will write a check for $96,000 and you can go in the morning and cash it.
The Taliban leader studied J.P. carefully, then nodded his head in approval.
To their great shock, he stood up abruptly, looked at J.P. and said, “Will you pray for me?” He put his hands next to his kidneys and said, “My kidneys are failing.”
J.P. stood up and placed his hand on the man’s back and prayed an audacious prayer: “God will you convict this man of all the horrible things he has done to your people? Would you convict him of his sins? Would you through the power of the Holy Spirit reveal yourself to him and save this man from all the things he has done, and save his soul, and heal his kidneys?”
They wrote out the check to free the slaves and began hugging one other.
The following day, they brought all the newly freed slaves together in one place, under a massive shade tarp. Pastor Tariq drove up in a Honda with J.P. and Mark in the back.
“It was like we were rock stars,” J.P. recounts. “They were touching the car. Old women were crying, wanting to shake our hands, little kids hugging us at the knees, and everybody got food.
“It was the happiest day of my life. The magnitude of it — it’s hard to explain. To see that many slaves set free….I couldn’t even fathom it. I went to bed that night and said, God, nothing could top this.”
At noon the next day Pastor Tariq spontaneously decided to organize an evangelistic outreach for 9:00 that night.
“I didn’t think he would get anybody there. At 8:00 p.m. there were 200 people. Then cable TV showed up and a guy with a drone. By 9:00 the crowd had grown to 600 or 700. Then the band fired up and amazingly, the crowd grew ten-fold – to 6000 people!
J.P.’s eyes widened when the worship stopped and 11 Muslim clerics walked in. “Pastor
Tariq had invited them to come. He allows the Shiites to use his church for their prayers on Friday.”
The worship was very demonstrative, with people raising their arms and some were dancing. “The Muslim clerics were not participating. They were watching this,” J.P. notes.
Then Mark got up to preach. He had never preached before. “Mark started talking about how to hear God’s voice. His wife went to India a year ago and they were her notes. He didn’t realize it would be twice as long with a translator. He went 50 minutes and it was close to midnight when he finished.”
J.P. was set to speak next. Pastor Tariq turned to him and said, “Make it short.”
J.P. only spoke for a few minutes, presenting the gospel in a simple, straightforward way. He talked about Jesus living inside a person.
“Jesus can come in and change your life,” he declared. “You can talk to him and pray to him and he answers your prayers and you can have this incredible relationship.”
J.P. gave an opportunity for people to raise their hands and receive Christ. To the glory of God, several hundred raised their hands! Paul turned his head slightly and watched a Shiite cleric raise his hand. What’s going on? he wondered.
Then Paul prayed for the sick. A woman came onto the stage asking for prayer because she was blind. When she still could not see after two rounds of prayer she was persistent, and asked for a third round of prayer. After the third prayer for healing the woman cried out “I can see! I can see!” She was miraculously healed!
The Shiite Muslim cleric who raised his hand came up to close the evening in prayer. “He started preaching up a storm (declaring Jesus as the Messiah). Then Pastor Tariq tugged on his robe and whispered to him, ‘You’re on TV and shouldn’t be saying this.’” The man had received Jesus and wanted to tell the whole world.
The next morning Pastor Tariq received a phone call. One of the Muslim clerics wanted to come over to meet the American visitors. After he hung up the phone, Pastor Tariq explained that this man was a known terrorist, responsible for a plane going down.
“On the Internet he is identified as a terrorist,” Pastor Tariq said. “I don’t want him to come over,” he informed them.
“But if he wants to kill us he wouldn’t call first, he would just come over and do it,” Mark reasoned. Pastor Tariq changed his mind, called the man back, and invited him to come.
When the man arrived and J.P. saw him, he was stunned. “I looked at him and I thought, this isn’t the same guy I saw last night. He was grinning and crying at the same time, tears coming down his cheek. It wasn’t the same guy.”
A powerful vision of the ‘Man in White’
Then the Muslim cleric shared an amazing story with them. For the last couple years it became apparent that he had serious heart problems and needed a transplant. He was on the list for a heart transplant.
The cleric watched and listened attentively to everything that happened at the evangelistic meeting. Nothing that was said or done seemed to penetrate his hard heart.
But after he went home and went to sleep something remarkable happened. He had a startling vision of Jesus – the Man in White – who came to his bed as the Great Physician. Jesus began to do surgery on the cleric’s heart.
When he awakened the next morning he felt better than he had in years. He raced over to see his cardiologist, who performed some tests and came back with his head shaking, completely mystified.
“Your heart is normal!” the doctor declared.
Overwhelmed by the vision and the healing at the hands of the Great Physician, the Muslim cleric prayed to receive Jesus with Pastor Tariq, J.P. and Mark. “He was crying, like a big old ball of jelly. He grabbed me and hugged me,” J.P. recounts.
After J.P. returned to California, he called Pastor Tariq. He said he was going to meet the former Muslim cleric that night. “He wants 1000 Bibles in Urdu,” Pastor Tariq said. “His wife has received Christ as her Savior, she saw such a difference in him.”
“It is clear to see how God was showing His favor and protection over our ambassadors as they ministered,” says J.P.’s wife, Diana. “God’s is moving in powerful ways amidst a country that desperately needs Him.”
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By God’s grace and guidance, the church in California in partnership with Kathy’s House are working to bring physical and spiritual freedom to the people of South Asia. For more information, go here