A proud Muslim finds the path to peace

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Yusuf Mohamed* will never forget the moment God broke him.

It took some doing. Yusuf, born into a family of Syrian immigrants to Argentina, was the proud son of a proud father. His father led a strict and ancient Muslim sect. Yusuf studied Islam with a Saudi teacher. He followed the rituals and traditions diligently.

But rituals didn't help him in his relationships — particularly with his wife. They argued frequently, and Yusuf beat her. One day an American missionary found her crying in a park. She poured out her heart to the female missionary — and began learning about Christianity from her during the daytime hours when Yusuf was at work. The two families later got together for a picnic.

One night after a terrible fight, Yusuf's wife called her missionary friend's husband and begged him to come talk to Yusuf. The missionary arrived at 1 a.m. to a torrent of verbal abuse from an angry Yusuf.

"Look, I didn't come here tonight to talk to you about Jesus," the missionary said. "Your wife is at the point of divorcing you, and I want to help you save your marriage and your family."

He invited Yusuf and his wife to a marriage class held at a local church. Yusuf reluctantly agreed to go. The biblical idea presented in the class — that a husband and wife are to be one flesh — touched him deeply. Later, he was asked to pray, in his own words, about what he wanted for his own family. Fumbling for words, he told God of his desire for peace in his family and in his heart.

"God broke me at that moment," recalls Yusuf, rubbing his gray beard and sipping strong coffee in a neighborhood cafe. "I had never felt that way when I prayed in the mosque. I realized I could pray to God whenever I want to. The freedom was incredible. I wanted to change."

Still proud, he read his wife's Bible — when she wasn't looking. Soon, however, he gave his heart to Christ.

The backlash came almost immediately. After Yusuf told his family, his joint business with his father broke up amid a storm of angry recriminations and demands that he recant his new faith. One day, his father held a gun to the head of Yusuf's 8-year-old son, threatening to end the family line on the spot. Yusuf quickly packed his family into a car and left Buenos Aires.

He started a business in a town several hours' drive away.

That was 10 years ago. Yusuf, now 50, has yet to move back to the city. But time and loving patience have dramatically improved his relationship with his elderly father. He hopes to move back to Buenos Aires soon. After years of spiritual isolation (being a former Muslim who follows Jesus is like "being alone on an island," he says), he now enjoys fellowship with other believers — including several Southern Baptist workers who minister among Muslims.

Yusuf hopes to share the joy of knowing Christ with other Muslims in Buenos Aires — and make disciples if he can guide some of them to faith.

"The important thing is that a Muslim has to accept the messenger," he says. "You have to understand their situation, the problems they're having and be available if they need to talk. Never get into arguments or debates about the Bible and the Koran."

If he can start a business in Buenos Aires, he envisions it as a safe, comfortable place to talk, reach Muslims and spread the Good News.

He's an invaluable potential partner for Southern Baptist workers in the city. Aided by volunteers, they are distributing Scripture portions, prayerwalking in Muslim areas and pursuing other outreach methods among the 160,000 Arab-background residents of Buenos Aires. But suspicion of outsiders in Muslim-dominated neighborhoods makes inroads difficult.

That's where Yusuf -- and believers like him — come in.

"God is doing something," he says. "I'm excited about the open door."

*Name changed for security reasons.