In October 2013, my wife, Nancy, and I were on our first mission trip ever when I met Mahmood, a man who changed my life while I was trying to change his. The Lord turned this trip upside down from what I had planned, and he used a man born a Muslim to do so. Before I tell you what happened, I need to give you some background.
The Lord’s plan started 35 years ago. Between college and business school, I ended up working for the Saudi Arabian Royal Family. Next and between my two years of business school, a Kuwaiti investment group contacted my business school to see if any students had experience with the Arab world, and the school gave them my resume. They hired me for the summer. I learned some more about the Arab culture, but I assumed I would never use that knowledge again.
Thirty-one years later in 2011, I joined a business organization that had traditionally done its orientation trip in China, but they surprisingly decided my year to go to Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. Well, I brushed up on my Arab culture and was off to the Middle East again. I laughed to myself when thinking about how I thought I’d never use my past experience in the Arab world.
Back in 2012, I had only been a Believer since April 2008 after a 30-year period of Agnosticism, and at the same time, the Lord was working on Nancy’s heart so that she became much thirstier for the Truth. We wanted more teaching than our old church was offering, began checking out Brook Hills at the suggestion of a son, and ended up joining in 2013. After finding a great Small Group, we felt called to go on our first mission trip. Between our schedule conflicts and trips filling before we could submit our applications, we became a bit frustrated. Finally, we saw a medical trip to North Africa that could use Nancy’s nursing skills and that might be able to use my…well, I’m not sure how the clinic could use me, but we applied and were accepted. After all the frustration, it later became clear that He wanted us on this exact trip.
We were excited, but there was some significant turmoil going on in the country we were planning to go serve. It was a very unstable situation, and our trip was about three months after the roughest period. The church helped keep us informed of the security threats we may face and said they would cancel the trip if our group of eight did not want to go. We held our preparation meetings, prayed, and talked. At about the same time, all of us decided that we must go.
So we went. After arriving, we had a day of orientation and then did three days of a grueling clinic. After seeing 200 patients the first day and almost as many the next two days without time to share, we realized we had to make a change. Nancy noted we are here to plant seeds, not just cure bodies. They might have been helped physically, but they were still going to be removed from God if run over by a bus outside the clinic. With the encouragement of the field team, we decided to focus on 80-100 patients so that we could spend some time in prayer with the patients and begin forming relationships. We needed to work on their spiritual health, so we decided to make every effort to pray for the patients in the name of Jesus and share the Gospel with their permission.
With our new plan, we started on a three-hour trip to a nearby city. Along the way, we saw lots of machine gun nests and soldiers in outposts watching us. About halfway there, we were stopped at a checkpoint with the canons of two tanks pointed at us and dual machine gun nests at our sides. They took our passports, and after some time, returned them to us. There were no smiles, all business.
It turned out that they were actually there for our protection and were trying to keep the radicals from coming from the Sinai Peninsula to cause trouble. I will admit that we were a bit apprehensive during the trip, and this incident did not help. We knew and reminded each other that He was in charge, and we forged ahead. (Since this trip, we have rarely seen any military, and it feels much safer.) We continued and arrived at the city and were greeted at a church where the clinic was to be held.
We set up the exam rooms, pharmacy, and the intake tables. Things were going smoothly, in a Middle Eastern kind of way, and the patients were greeted with smiles by all. They left curious why these Christians would come all this way during this treacherous times to serve them. The Christians we saw were so thankful and glad to see Brothers and Sisters in Christ. The Muslims couldn’t figure out why these Christians would be so kind and helpful to Muslims.
One of my patients in the early afternoon came to the intake table where my translator and I were seated. As was the pattern, the patient gave us his sheet and name, the translator indicated to me whether the patient was Christian or Muslim, and we proceeded. A 79-year-old man, Mahmood sat down and the translator told me he was Muslim. Mahmood injected dismissively that he knew about Jesus because he is a prophet in the Koran.
After taking his medical history and vitals, I asked him through the translator if I may pray for him in the name of Jesus. He said that would be ok – the Muslims often just tolerating us or out of curiosity since we don’t pray on our knees facing Mecca.
After the prayer in which I shared the Gospel, he admitted with a smile something to us that nobody else but his family knew. He converted the Christianity eight years ago at age 71! As a result, his family had been beating him for eight years, once causing a serious shoulder injury. They wanted him to go back to Islam, but he refused. He could not forsake his Lord. They even encouraged the grandchildren to harass and beat him, but he would not renounce his faith.
Recently, however, his wife said she was going to report his conversion to the police if he did not follow Islam. As a result, his conversion would become public thereby shaming the family. Under the Honor/Shame culture, this shaming would give them permission to kill him. He told her he would not renounce his faith knowing that his earthly death could be soon.
I told him it was an honor to meet him, and he joyfully walked to the examination room with a huge smile on his face. After he left, I broke down in tears and prayed. The translator was dumbfounded at hearing Mahmood’s story, and I learned a lifelong lesson in my shame. With what I just witnessed, how could I be afraid to share my faith in comfortable little Birmingham or wherever else I was. Why was I not looking and praying for opportunities to weave the Gospel in conversations wherever I was. I knew right then my life was changed on a short-term mission trip.
Charlie Haines has been a member for three years and is married to Nancy. They lead a small group and have focused their mission work on North Africa and the homeless. Nancy also has led some painting classes for ladies fellowship events at Brook Hills. They have eight children and eight grandchildren plus various people have lived at their house over the last four years. One person noted he saw a bumper sticker that said, “Honk if you have a key to the Haines House!” Life is full of surprises, laughter, and stories. Hobbies? Trying to keep up with what’s happening tomorrow and the grandchildren.