He raised the small plastic cup to his lips and sipped gingerly, holding it delicately between thumb and forefinger because the tea was scolding hot, steam rising and swirling even on this blistering hot day. It probably wasn’t good tea, but it tasted good to Faizal. When you have just returned to the city after months in the mountain wastes of Afghanistan training to be a Taliban freedom fighter, any tea tastes good.

They had first approached him outside the mosque, where many young Muslims were recruited. The clerics told of the fatwa announcing the call to arms. He was excited, and surprised to find he was no stranger to them. They knew all about his family’s standing in the community, his strong religious education at the Madrassa, the Koranic school, and his strict upbringing as a devout Muslim. They said they wanted him, and they were calling him in the name of Jihad. He was to be a warrior for Allah, given the honor of fighting to expel the infidels from Afghanistan.

“He had no fear of death, knowing that his reward in paradise was assured. He was a Muhajid, a warrior called to Jihad.”

His father, a prominent Pashtun leader, was so proud. To have a son called to Jihad in this manner was a privilege. When the war had begun a few years ago and the Taliban fighters were driven back from Kabul, many had been conscripted to fight, but they were poor fighters, poorly trained, and they were defeated. But now the Taliban had regrouped, they were organized, and they chose their soldiers more carefully, selecting men who were strong in mind as well as body, men who understood the Holy vision of the Koran, obedient men with passion who would never accept defeat.

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He learned to master the latest weaponry, and the art of guerilla warfare that has always been so successful in the maze of mountain strongholds that is Afghanistan. He learned to kill, and to hate the arrogant, invading infidel and everything for which he stood.

He was comfortable handling both light and heavy weapons, and many kinds of explosives, most of which he could formulate himself. He could blow up a bridge or a railway track in minutes. He was taught hand–to-hand combat, survival techniques, communications, how to set up spy networks. He learned to assess the weak points in different kinds of enemy aircraft and armored vehicles. And he learned how to conceal a device on his body, if he was ever given the honor of being called to be a suicide bomber. He had no fear of death, knowing that his reward in paradise was assured. He was a Muhajid, a warrior called to Jihad.

Now he was back home. He would work in his father’s business until he was called again, this time not for training but for war. He would pray that this would be soon, because his purpose and his destiny were soon to be fulfilled. Faizal knew this, because he could feel it in his heart. Something was about to happen.

“…as he read the words over and over, he felt their power, and he knew with his whole heart and his whole mind that this was true. From where did this teaching come?”

As he sipped his tea he looked around this busy open tea stall. No one paid him any attention. He smiled, wondering how they would regard him if they knew he was a Taliban soldier. His mind drifted back to his training. It had been hard, sleeping five hours a night on the hard ground in a thin tent, weapon constantly at his side. Some nights he froze, not sleeping at all, and the food was pitiful.

But Faizal’s heart stirred as he remembered the commander’s address the day he left to return home. He recalled the set of his jaw and the steel in his eyes as much as he recalled the passion in his words.

“The infidels are ruling this world, and they are bent on the demonization of Islam. They are terrorists, and it is the duty and the holy purpose of all Muslims to take up arms and crush those who would oppress and murder Muslims throughout the world. They must be killed, slaughtered and annihilated wherever we find them.”

Faizal had wept as he cheered. He was ready to fight, ready to kill, ready to sacrifice.

A welcome breeze lifted the fringe of his hair, and he lifted his face and closed his eyes to enjoy the momentary relief from the heat. As he opened them again he saw a dust devil, red sand rising and twirling as it danced in circles a foot above the ground, slowly moving toward him. In among the red was a flash of white, and he watched until it died at his feet. Then he reached down and picked up a piece of paper.

It was a scrap of a torn page of a book, but a very thin and fragile page. The words were printed, very small but clear. He read-

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Faizal looked away for a second, and then he read it once more. He read on-

“Blessed are the merciful,

for they will be shown mercy.”

Something inside him stirred. Mercy? There could be no mercy. Mercy had no part in his recent training. And surely the kingdom of heaven is for the strong, not the poor in spirit. He could not accept this. But as he read the words over and over, he felt their power, and he knew with his whole heart and his whole mind that this was truth. From where did this teaching come?

Some weeks later he received the call. He packed up his things, bid his proud father farewell, then left. But he did not report to the Taliban, because he could not. Instead, he stayed at the home of a close friend, hiding out from his family, the Taliban, and the world. It was not fear that changed him, because Faizal was no coward. No, it wasn’t fear, it was something that he did not yet understand.

“He recognized instantly that he had been called in pure love, and then he fell to his knees and cried out in utter despair at the brutal awareness of his own sin.”

He carried the scrap of torn page everywhere, and he kept looking at it, reading it, and wondering why it was so powerfully affecting him. What else could prevent him from responding to the call for jihad when it was his life’s ambition a month ago? He finally showed it to his friend, who thought he recognized ‘the kingdom of heaven’ as Christian.

A week later Faizal met with a Christian, a former Muslim, on the outskirts of the city. The Christian insisted it was the only place he would meet. ‘It is dangerous to trust him, suicidal,’ said his friend, but by now Faizal was focused on only one thing. A scrap of paper.

Faizal found the Christian friendly but unsure of him. Their small talk was awkward, so Faizal took out the scrap of paper and handed it to him.

“What is this, is it Christian?” he asked bluntly.

The man read it, then nodded.

“Yes, it’s Jesus,” he replied.

“It’s about Jesus, Jesus the prophet?” Faizal asked, frowning.

“No, this has been torn from a Bible. What I mean is that these are the words of Jesus.” The Christian stared into Faizal’s face defiantly.

“And Jesus is not just a prophet. He is God, and the Savior of the world.”

The words of Jesus? Everything seemed to stop. Suddenly there was nothing in Faizal’s existence except Jesus Christ. He recognized instantly that he had been called in pure love, and then he fell to his knees and cried out in utter despair at the brutal awareness of his own sin. The Christian also fell to his knees, putting his arms around Faizal, comforting him. After some minutes he led him in a prayer of repentance, forgiveness and acceptance, a prayer of salvation.

When Faizal was praying later that night, he could think only of all the endings of his life that would come with his new faith. But this was only the beginning of everything, and soon Jesus was leading him to new life, and directing him to the work He had for him to do. Soon he was talking not of death, but of mercy, and directing his fellow Muslims to the kingdom of heaven.

He was serving his God through a ministry named Big Life.

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