An Interview with Pastor Shahbaz, ASAP's New Muslim Ministry Coordinator
by Julia O'Carey
Julia: Pr. Shahbaz, we are thrilled to have you join the ASAP family as our Muslim Ministry Coordinator! In the past, ASAP focused mostly on reaching Buddhists, but as the Reach the World Next Door Program expands, we find that conferences and churches are turning to us to help them learn better how to reach Muslim populations, so you are a crucial, needed part of our team! How long have you been ministering to Persian/Farsi speaking populations and in what capacity?
Pr. Shahbaz: I’ve been working with Persian speaking Muslims for twenty-three years. Initially it was as a volunteer Bible worker and then I was in full time ministry as a church planter and pastor.
Julia: When did you feel called to ministry?
Pr. Shahbaz: I felt a deep burden to minister back in 1999 when my church pastor asked me if I would help the local church work with my people group that lived in that city. I started to produce my own pamphlets and sharing materials.
Julia: I’ve watched your interview with 3ABN where you share your life story and conversion from the Muslim faith and it’s so beautiful how God has lead you each step of the way! Praise the Lord for all the miracles! I can’t wait to read your book, Two Sacrifices, One Destiny!* Can you share a bit of your testimony?
Pr. Shahbaz: God confirmed that the Seventh-day Adventist church was His church in a dream to me. He also showed me the Sabbath truth and the significance was highlighted clearly. The Sabbath day was portrayed as brighter, sacred and holy. If you didn’t have spiritual eyes, you wouldn’t see it. There was a glory resonating in the atmosphere, and it was the Sabbath. The Spirit of Prophecy and the Bible were also revealed, but symbolically as living, gold scales, all in the one dream. There are more details and it wasn’t all explained clearly in the dream but time made it all clear as I studied more for myself.
Julia: You have been working with the Griswolds in Houston on something we're calling "Project Cyrus," planting a church among refugees from Afghanistan. How has it been going so far?
Pr. Shahbaz: It’s going very well! The Griswold’s and volunteers have laid a solid foundation through friendship evangelism, distributions, English tutoring, and children’s ministry. We are continuing outreach and God is bringing us to the next level with having spiritual conversations and Bible studies with those who are open and who trust us.
Julia: Please share how one of your spiritual conversations went. I personally have not interacted with Muslims in this way and it interests me.
Shahbaz: When I was in the car, taking Abel** to the dentist, it was around the feast of sacrifice time, which is an annual Islamic feast. All Muslims observe it, commemorating Abraham’s sacrifice of his son. I wanted to use that event as a bridge, a redemptive analogy. I wished him a Happy Feast of Sacrifice. He was grateful and returned the sentiment to me.
I asked him, “Abel, have you ever really sat down and thought about the significance of sacrifice? Why sacrifice?” He thought a little bit and carefully said, “No, I haven’t done that.” I asked, “What do you think the sacrifice represents?” He said, “I think it’s for good luck, protection from evil, good omens.” I told him, “Those are good answers but it’s much deeper than that.” He asked, “How so?” I answered, “We must understand that sacrifice has been with us since Creation, after Adam and Eve sinned. God offered the first sacrifice because Adam and Eve transgressed the law and blood needed to be spilled. Adam and Eve could have died for their sins but God provided a substitute for their sins and that sacrifice is symbolized in the animal. Abel, imagine this, Adam and Eve were created holy and there was no sin in them. When they chose to rebel, they became polluted by sin. Their blood was polluted. There was no way they could save themselves. God loved them so much that he couldn’t bear with the thought of losing them for all eternity. So God planned and promised that he would provide a Savior. God himself took an animal and killed it. He had never killed anything but for the sake of Adam and Eve, he took the life of a creature. That life was symbolic of a greater Savior that was to come.”
Abel pushed his seatbelt all the way forward, leaning almost into me, because he was so eager to know the rest of the story. He had never heard anything like this. He was searching for a Savior. He heard something that gave him hope for the first time in his life. (To this point, he has had no guarantee that Allah would save him.) As I’m going along, I sensed the Holy Spirit leading me in my thoughts and words. I knew that it was God guiding me in this conversation. I believe that with all my heart.
I asked, “What do you think about Abraham. Was he holy? Remember, the sin pollution genetically was in their blood. Abraham was born from earthly parents.” He said, “I don’t think so.” I said, “You are right. Adam and Eve’s sinful nature was passed down to him and all of us.” His eyes got wide and round and he sat silently for a moment, shocked. In his mind, all prophets are holy. “What about Moses?” I went on. He said, “No because his parents were born here too.” I asked about Noah and he gave me the same answer. I brought him through the prophets he was familiar with, all the way to Mohammad. “Can he be the Savior of the world?” I carefully asked? He thought about it and said, “No, he too has parents born here.” I then asked, “Who had a miraculous birth that had an earthly mother but no physical father. I said, remember, Jesus was born by a supernatural power.” I told him more about Jesus. He said, how can that be? I said, Jesus didn’t come from the earth. HE was sent from heaven. He was the Savior that Adam and Even were waiting for, that Noah was waiting for, and every person. He came for the same purpose to die because he wasn’t polluted with sin. Tears welled up in his eyes and he started to cry. He understood the Gospel for the first time. It came home to him in a powerful way. “Do you understand what I told you? Do you accept that Savior? Unless you do, he can’t forgive your sins. Unless you accept Him, His blood can’t cover you,” I explained. “What should I do?” he sincerely asked. “You need to pray and ask Jesus to come into your heart and forgive you. Do you want to do it?” He said, “YES”. I led him in a simple prayer of confession and asking Jesus into his heart. Every time we meet and I have an opportunity, I ask him. Do you remember the words I shared with you? He said, I’ve never stopped thinking about it since you’ve told me. “
Pr. Shahbaz: On my first Bible study with Abel, I knew the time had come. God impressed me clearly. I gave him time to process what I shared with him on the way to the dentist for a while. I wanted him to see Christ ministering to him through us. It was in the evening, near dark. As I walked towards his apartment, one of Abel’s friend’s wives that lives across the yard in the same complex almost collided with me. After greeting her she asked, “What are you doing here?” I told her that I was going to Abel’s house. She said, “Oh, I’ll come too instead of going to the store.” The three of us sat down and had a really nice discussion. I used metaphors and stories that they are familiar with that led to the discussion of the Bible. Though I’ve talked with Abel about the Bible, Maryam has had no contact with the Bible to this point. All she knows is that I’m a Christian pastor and work to bring relief to refugees, but God wanted it that way. I told them “Wait one minutes, I have something to show both of you from my car. I ran to my car and grabbed my laptop and Bible and I opened my laptop and took them to my Bible study focused on Daniel two. I told them, I want you to see how God talked about Persia, etc. They said, this is powerful. We have never heard about this. It’s really in the Bible? They didn’t know about Daniel. I told him that he was buried in Iran and that he was a prophet of God and told them the history. Our discussion went to Jesus. I shared with Maryan a similar message about sacrifice that I had previously shared with Abel. This was a good review for him too. She was absolutely amazed! She said, “If Jesus died on the cross how can that be? We were taught in the Koran that He didn’t die.” I told her, “If Jesus didn’t die, we would be lost, without salvation.” But without this, humanity would have no hope for salvation. She accepted it. This was a Divine appointment. It was the intervention of God that she was part of that first Bible study. Three weeks ago we had this first Bible study. I just had my second Bible study with Abel and it was more about Creation and more about Christ, who He is, His birth, and where He came from and His sonship from the Father. He didn’t reject anything and accepted it all. His heart is very much ready for it. He said, “You have no idea how the words that you say fill my heart and home with peace and joy.” When they brought out food, Abel said, “We will eat from the same plate.” This meant a lot to me because in our culture, eating out of the same plate means that we are closer than a friend, a symbolic gesture of being part of the family. Some Muslims will never touch something that comes out of a mouth of a Christian. I believe heaven looked down and smiled at that scene. The Muslim man eating with a Christian out of the same plate. We are sailing in the open seas, the ship is going forward and God is directing it. The wind, the Holy Spirit is guiding the ship.
Julia: Pr. Shahbaz, your ASAP family will be praying for you and supporting you and your family in this faith journey. Thank you for being a man of God, walking in faith with us. We look forward to the many souls who will be in heaven as a result.
*If you feel impressed to help ASAP step out in faith and support Pr. Shahbaz monthly so he can focus on church planting among Muslims, we would like to send you a little thank you, a copy of his book, Two Sacrifices, One Destiny. To give a donation in support of Pr. Shahbaz and Project Cyrus, click here. Or call us at 269-471-3026 to set up a monthly recurring gift.
**Names have been changed for the safety of the individuals involved.