By Mark Ellis —
His desperate need to find God – any god – landed him in a local mosque. Even some vivid dreams from Jesus failed to stop his surrender to Islam, but the power of God’s Word finally won his heart.
“I was the product of a one-night stand,” says Antonio Santana, who never knew his biological father. He and his brother and sisters grew up with minimal family structure and he always felt disconnected from his stepfather. “Both my parents always worked, and I could do whatever I wanted to do.”
Antonio stayed out of trouble until his senior year in high school, when he started to use drugs and hang with the wrong crowed.
He thought he might be the first in his family to graduate from high school, but some poor decisions that year sealed a different outcome. “I was thrown out of high school, in and out of jail, and began to work in a factory,” he says.
As Antonio’s life skidded off the track, he hit an emotional low point. “Life became very burdensome to me,” he recalls. “I felt a deep void in my heart and I was extremely lonely. I knew I needed God, but I had no Christian friends and no church.”
Leading up to this, he recalls an “extremely powerful” dream he couldn’t explain. “I was swimming in the ocean and there was a white-robed man on a rock fishing for me.” Even without any church background, Antonio intuitively recognized the man in the robe fishing for him was Jesus.
While Antonio wasn’t aware of any churches nearby, his neighborhood had a mosque down the street. A few of his friends were “secularized” Muslims who shared drugs with him.
One day his desperation for God led him into the doors of the mosque. As he gazed around at the lofty walls, a short-statured man who appeared Arabic came out of an office and greeted him.
“I want to know more about Islam,” Antonio volunteered.
“We don’t believe in the trinity,” were the first words from the imam. Immediately the imam began to attack Christian doctrine. Since Antonio didn’t know anything about Christianity, he accepted the imam’s words.
As they sat in the man’s office, Antonio learned how Islam could change his life. “We believe in all the prophets of the Bible,” the man told him. “Muhammad was the last of the prophets.”
“I was tired of going in and out of jail,” Antonio recalls. “The weight of sin was on my shoulders. My life was empty; I needed something new. No (Christian) witness came to me.”
The imam’s persuasive pitch caused Antonio to make an important choice. He became a Muslim and was given his first copy of the Koran. Antonio was also given a new name: Asif.
Asif started to pray five times a day and fast at Ramadan, like other observant Muslims. He began to be schooled in Islamic polemics – all the arguments he would need to defend himself against the “lies” of Christian apologists.
Even after Antonio became Asif, he continued to have dreams about Jesus. In one of the dreams he saw a man going up a mountain dressed in a white robe. It was the same man who appeared in his previous dreams. Then the man in the robe turned to him and said, “Follow me.”
Asif refused to attach any importance to his dreams, but he noticed one troubling aspect to his Islamic faith. “I didn’t feel the weight of sin relieved from my shoulders,” he recalls.
About two years after Asif became a Muslim, he saw some Christians going door-to-door handing out tracts. He decided to approach the small group of young men and challenge them.
“Who is Jesus praying to if he’s God?” he asked.
One of the young men handed Asif a Bible and said, “Read this verse out loud.” It was John 14:6.
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.’”
Asif read the verse aloud and a strange expression came over his face. “I was stunned,” he recalls. “I had no reply or rebuttal. I heard something more than just words on a page.”
“I have to go,” Asif said abruptly.
“Can we pray for you?” a man named Keith asked.
“Yes; I am seeking truth.” Asif said, then he turned and began to walk away.
“Good luck on your mission,” Keith called out to him.
In the coming weeks and months, one question began to haunt his thought life. Is Jesus the only way to the Father?
Shortly after his encounter with the men, Asif moved to a small city a few miles north of Elgin. The transition was difficult because he had no friends in this town. “I knew nobody. All I did was work, come home and read my Koran.”
Asif continued to struggle with the implications of John 14:6. One evening, overcome with uncertainty and confusion, he decided to pray. “God, do you love me?”
A few moments after he prayed, he heard a knock at the front door. When Asif opened the door, he was surprised to see his Uncle Warren, whom he knew to be a Christian.
The older man stood quietly at the door and looked at Asif very directly, then he said just three words, “The Lord, yes.” Then he turned around, got into his car, and drove off.
Now Asif really began to wrestle with God. He was praying five times a day, fasting at Ramadan, but he didn’t feel any love from God.
He rummaged around his apartment to find a Bible and hurriedly scanned the concordance for the word ‘love.’ The first verse he turned to was Romans 5:8:
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Suddenly he realized the God of the Bible loved him unconditionally despite his sins. “I didn’t understand the trinity or the deity of Christ, but this verse radically changed my life,” he says.
He fell to his knees and prayed, “God, I need you. Come into my life.” He laid aside his Koran and began to fervently read the Bible. He was born again.
Antonio faced a bumpy road in his growth as a believer. Six years after his redemption, police pulled him and his cousin over and discovered an old, outstanding warrant for his arrest due to marijuana possession with intent to sell in the state of Wisconsin.
He returned to jail once more. “I thought my life was ruined,” he says. “Why now, when I’m a believer?” he asked God. “I cried, but I still had God’s peace over me.”
Released after three months, he returned to community college and got involved in a Christian fellowship. Then one of the men in his church sponsored Antonio to attend Moody Bible Institute.
One night Antonio gave his testimony at a local church. At the end of his message, a man walked down the aisle with tears in his eyes. It was Keith, the same man who witnessed to Antonio a decade earlier.
“Keith had fallen away from the Lord. He got into alcoholism and lost his marriage. God used my testimony that night to bring him back to faith.”
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