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A heart for his enemies


WORLD Radio - A heart for his enemies

How a Lebanese man found Christ and the calling to bring the gospel to Muslims

Downtown Beirut kertu_ee via iStock

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, June 21st. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Evangelizing Muslims.

In the Middle East, Egypt has the greatest number of Christians, but not the highest concentration among the population. That country is Lebanon, about one-third of Lebanese identify as Christian.

REICHARD: The rest as Muslim, and that’s caused friction. Many Christians have not forgotten the 1860 Civil War that left 20,000 Christians dead and destroyed nearly 400 villages.

EICHER: But God is at work in this country of 4 million people. WORLD Correspondent Jill Nelson has this story of a Lebanese man’s journey to Christ and his five decades of ministry to the people he once called the “enemy.”

JILL NELSON, REPORTER: Georges Houssney joined a boy’s street gang as a young child in the 1950s. He roamed the poorer streets of Tripoli, Lebanon where he vandalized buildings and fought rival gangs.

GEORGES HOUSSNEY: And so I learned all kinds of evil things in the streets, including lying, deceiving, cussing and bad language, beating people up and being beaten up and all that.

Houssney’s mom was Greek Orthodox and his dad Maronite Catholic. His Christian community taught him to strike first against Muslims or risk being killed.

Muslims forces destroyed his home during the 1958 civil war that forced his family to flee.

HOUSSNEY: Hatred began to brew in me toward Muslims.

One day when Houssney was around 11, a Lebanese seminary student visited his neighborhood. He found Houssney playing soccer and fighting with other kids, and he handed him the Gospel of Matthew in Arabic.

The man’s warmth was a stark contrast to the coldness of the priest at Houssney’s school.

HOUSSNEY: I was blown away by the love and care that guy had toward me, and he began to visit my home and witness to me and my family and share the gospel.

Houssney started attending the Baptist mission center the seminary student launched. Every Sunday afternoon, he arrived early and waited with excitement for the doors to open. Within a year, he gave his life to Christ and left his street gang.

His Greek Orthodox school required him to go to mass on Sunday mornings, and took attendance. But someone reported that Houssney was also attending the Baptist church—a church the school called “a cult.”

HOUSSNEY: So they began to actually abuse me, physically beating me with a baton to pressure me to not continue and threaten me to be kicked out of school.

But this only emboldened the young boy.

HOUSSNEY: I persevered and was encouraged by my small church, about 20 members, very small, humble church in a rented apartment. It wasn't something fancy, but for me, it was my world, my new world.

Still, his parents were worried he would lose the scholarship at the Orthodox school and have to attend one of Tripoli’s problematic public schools. They scolded him.

HOUSSNEY: You're going to be worth nothing. You're going to become a garbage collector, beggar in the streets if you don't get an education. Why are you doing that? Shaming the family, on and on.

The school eventually expelled Houssney. He had to go to the local public school, where he saw more evil than he did on the streets.

HOUSSNEY: So I pleaded with God, I said, Lord, is it true you want me to become a garbage collector and a beggar on the streets like my mother told me?

Houssney knew the English schools in town rarely offered scholarships. His family was poor, but he decided to visit and plead his case. The second school he visited was British.

HOUSSNEY: So I told him my story and his eyes teared. He came around the desk and picked me up like a daddy would pick up his child and hugged me and said, “Son, don't worry. You don't have to pay a penny. I'll put you through all the way to high school without paying.” God showed me his hand on my life through that.

This was all part of what Houssney calls his “first conversion.” During his “second conversion,” God gave him a heart for his enemies, and it began in 1964 at age 14. He was visiting his mother’s village when a Swiss team of evangelists from Operation Mobilization knocked on his door. They quickly picked up on Houssney’s love for Jesus.

HOUSSNEY: They said, “We’re going door to door, we're witnessing. Would you come with us?” I said, “Yeah.” I was excited. So they came the next day in a van filled with literature, Bibles and materials and so on.

Houssney was eager to join them and helped translate as they traveled from village to village. But he panicked when their route took them to a Muslim village that was embroiled in a long-standing feud with his mom’s Christian village.

He refused to go any farther, but the team leader challenged Houssney.

HOUSSNEY: He said, “Didn’t Jesus die for Muslims too? What does it mean that God so loved the world? Aren’t Muslims part of the world? And God began to put on my heart the idea that I might dedicate my life serving these Muslim people, which I used to hate.

Houssney spent the next eight summers going door to door with this missions team and eventually covered most of northeastern Lebanon.

AUDIO: [Video training]

Since that second turning point in his life, he has helped translate the Bible into modern Arabic and has produced training materials for churches and missionaries in both English and Arabic.

The United States became his home base when the 1986 Lebanese civil war kept him from returning home.

During that time, Houssney founded Horizons International. The organization ministers to international students in 10 U.S. cities and has ministry centers around the world, ­including nine in Beirut.

And the school he’s a part of ministers to kids with backgrounds like his.

HOUSSNEY: We have a school, 160 kids. Almost all of them became Christians. And some of them have brought their families to Christ.

Houssney says you don’t have to be an expert in Islam to reach your Muslim neighbor.

AUDIO: [Arabic gospel music]

HOUSSNEY: So when I preach, I preach the gospel only. No mention of Muhammad or Islam or where you used to be. I don't talk about darkness. I talk about light.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Jill Nelson.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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