LA JOLLA, Calif. — When a volunteer from the United Kingdom met a
young Middle Eastern man in Jerusalem’s old city and invited him to a
Bible study, he had no idea he was talking to the son of a key figure
in the Hamas terrorist organization.
while the volunteer surely hoped Masab Yousef would hear the gospel and
accept Christ, he had no clue how that invitation — and Yousef’s
decision for Christ four years later — would eventually reverberate
throughout the Middle East and perhaps even the world.
guys were just going out and asking people to come for the Bible
study,” Yousef told Baptist Press. “I didn’t even understand his
English. He was talking to me by signals, and I understood the
invitation from his signals.”
But in 2000, Yousef, who now
prefers to be known as “Joseph,” was an open-minded 22-year-old Muslim,
clean-shaven and dressed in jeans instead of the traditional garb of
Palestinian Arabs. Despite his preference for Western ways, Joseph was
the eldest son of Hassan Yousef, a prominent lawmaker in the
Palestinian parliament, and as such the heir-apparent to his father’s
position of influence in Palestinian circles.
almost anonymous invitation to visit a Bible study eventually
transformed Joseph’s life, and now he is sending shock waves throughout
the Middle East as he publicly declares his faith in Christ. He may be
the best-known Muslim to ever publicly announce his decision to follow
“Sometimes we don’t know the importance when we go out to
invite people to come to Bible study,” Joseph said. “Sometimes we think
this is wasting time. This guy had no idea who I was.
studied the Bible with me and figured out who I was only five months
later,” Joseph said. “They got to know me and even got to know my
father. He invited them to our house, and they had no idea that he was
one of the top leaders of the Hamas organization.”
Joseph said he agreed to attend the Bible study because he was curious.
didn’t have enough knowledge about Christianity. I was open-minded,” he
said. “I never had in my mind in that moment that I would go this far,
to become a believer. I had studied history and thought this would be a
good chance to study, to meet new international people and see what
they are saying. It was definitely not about Christianity.”
story is a powerful reminder that followers of Jesus Christ should
share the gospel freely and never miss an opportunity to invite a
stranger to church, said Matt Smith, the pastor of Barabbas Road Church
in La Jolla, Calif., which is hosting Joseph as he announces his faith
in Christ to the world.
“He was invited to a Bible study — to
me this is profound,” Smith said. “Some guy didn’t know who Joseph was.
This guy was just a normal Christian. He wasn’t an apologist. He wasn’t
a specialist. He was just a normal Christian who invited someone to a
“In the Bible study, they didn’t try to argue,”
Smith said. “They just shared the love of Christ, and he went home and
read his Bible. This is such a testimony to all us Christians that we
need to present everyone with the simple gospel. This is a call for
everyone to stand out.”
Smith, 29, leads a young congregation in
one of the most affluent and highly educated cities in the United
States. Smith said the church, which launched in February 2008 and now
draws about 75 people to weekend services, knows that the truth of the gospel and the power of loving service to others can penetrate even the
hardest, most skeptical heart.
“When he was exposed to the word of God, the Holy Spirit did a work on him and look what happened,” Smith said.
came to the United States because his decision to follow Jesus meant
losing his life in Ramallah on the West Bank. As the son of a senior
Hamas leader, he has been unable to find work in America and depends on
the generosity of Barabbas Road members to get by.
“Just to stop
and think for a minute about announcing your Christianity; you feel
sick immediately because it’s crazy,” Joseph said. “You’re not just
saying goodbye to a religion, to a tradition. You are saying goodbye to
a culture, to a civilization, if you can call it that. Even the process
of taking your skin off your bones might be easier than saying goodbye
to your mother and to everybody, especially when you are a well-known
figure in your society and everybody has high expectations that one day
in the future you will be one of the leaders.
“Suddenly you are
starting from scratch and canceling everything you have in society,”
Joseph said. “But when it started, I was ready for any
circumstances. I thought about the worst conditions that could happen
as consequences after my announcement. But — and I tell you this is a
miracle, this is how God works — you carry the cross and rely on Him
completely and He takes care of everything.
“This may be the
first case that a well-known Muslim just goes to the public and says,
‘I am a Christian,'” Joseph said. “Many Muslim sheiks, many Muslim
imams may be converted to Christianity but they keep that a secret.
They didn’t announce it because it is very embarrassing for them and
for their families. They were afraid for their lives.
decided to declare Jesus in front of the world, so He declares me in
front of the Father,” Joseph said. “That was the main reason. I am
going to be just worshiping God in a very special way by doing this.
“When Jesus says ‘carry your cross and follow me,’ it wasn’t to put a cross on your shirt and keep walking the street.”
power that transformed his heart and gives him the courage to publicly
declare his faith in Jesus is the only hope for an end to the violence
that plagues the Middle East, Joseph said.
“I have met
politicians. I have met presidents and prime ministers. I have met all
the leaders of that region,” Joseph said. “None of them have a magical
solution for this issue. They are leading people but they don’t know
where they are going.
“Even if they have a way out of this
endless circle of violence between the two nations, none of them have
the courage to do it,” he added. “Both sides have many parties and
every party has its own agenda. There are no strong leaders in that
region who can make brave decisions.”
The real path to peace in
the Middle East, Joseph said, is the same path — the only path — a
human heart can follow to find deep, lasting peace.
not going to give them a political solution, but He has changed me, and
He can change those people to a better people. He can teach them how to
forgive, how to love,” Joseph said. “Everybody on both sides is hurt —
not only Israelis, not only Palestinians. If we can teach them how to
forgive and move on and love their enemies, for the next two
generations, we can build a new leadership for both sides to be able to
“Now, as it is, there is no hope for them but Jesus. It’s that simple.”