Remembering Martyrs: Jamil Ahmed al-Rifai

22 May 2024

A smile spread across Jamil al-Rifai’s face as he watched yet another person walk away with a New Testament in his hand and the Word of God on his mind. He tried to pray for each one—by name if he could—as they walked away.

The past ten days had passed in a blur. There were so many people in Lebanon who needed to hear about Christ, and al-Rifai was thrilled about the number of people he spoke with. He’d given out almost three thousand New Testaments! “After all that God has done for me, it’s the least that I can do,” he said. The highlight of his day was telling others about Christ. He was active in Campus Crusade for Christ, multiple Bible studies, and evangelism. “God has really blessed me and provided for me the past few years,” he thought.

Al-Rifai grew up in a high-class Jordanian Muslim family. Just a few years earlier, he became a Christian through the ministry of Trans World Radio. When his family heard he was a Christian, they angrily told him that he was no longer allowed to live with them. Al-Rifai packed up his belongings and left his family in exchange for following Christ. He moved around several times, finally ending up with a couple, Anna and Frank Marsden, and their three children.

Living with the Marsden family was an incredible encouragement to al-Rifai. Frank Marsden was a powerfully anointed evangelist who spent his days sharing the gospel with neighbours or whomever the Lord brought to him while in town. Anna was a prayer warrior. She tended to the home and children and constantly took the opportunity to pray for the place and people she loved. It was no surprise that they took in the twenty-nine-year-old al-Rifai when he approached them about living arrangements. He became a part of the family.

Two nights after al-Rifai finished handing out New Testaments, Marsden and Anna were reading in the living room. Anna looked up from her book and noticed that it was 11:30pm. She pulled herself out of the chair and got ready to go to bed. As usual, she looked in on the children on her way. The two younger ones slept in their parent’s bedroom, and she paused to tuck the blanket around one of them. As she turned away, a movement outside the window caught her eye. Looking out, she saw a man walking past the house, inside their garden. He turned the corner, and through the other window, Anna saw him pass along the back of the house.

Rushing back to the living room, Anna alerted her husband, who hurried into the kitchen to investigate. Lifting the curtain, Marsden too saw the man, who was now crouched down with his back to the door. The man tried to force open the door, but Frank quickly closed it. Then he and Anna summoned al-Rifai. The two men returned to the kitchen and opened the door. On the patio, just a couple of feet from the door was a bomb. With his bare hands, Marsden attempted to extinguish the fuse; then he and al-Rifai tried to push the device away from the house. They were able to shift it to the opposite end of the patio, about six feet from its original position. Thinking the immediate danger had been averted, Marsden and al-Rifai quickly searched the property for the intruder. There was no sign of him, so Marsden re-entered the house. “We need to call the police,” he told Anna, leading the way into the hall.

Almost before he had finished the sentence, a huge explosion rocked the house. If they’d been in the kitchen instead of the hallway, they likely would not have survived the blast. Running to the children’s rooms, they were amazed and relieved to see that all three of them were safe. Gathering them up, they hurried outside the house, where a crowd of onlookers was rapidly assembling. The police arrived and began to take control of the situation. But where was al-Rifai? The rest of the night was spent at the police station, going over and over the events of the day, trying to make some sense of what had happened.

They heard that a body was found in the garden, but it was some time before the awful realisation dawned that it must be al-Rifai. No one knows exactly what happened. Perhaps al-Rifai had simply been too late following Marsden back into the house. Maybe he realised they had not been successful in extinguishing the fuse and was trying again when the bomb exploded. There was little doubt about what the motive was; a Dutch missionary said it was “almost 100 percent certain” that the attack was religiously motivated—an angry Muslim striking back at effective witnesses for Christ.

Even in their grief, the couple realised that this was no surprise to God. Several people reported that they’d had prophetic dreams and visions in the weeks prior to the incident. Perhaps the most significant was by a friend who saw a vision of al-Rifai in eternity. It was so powerful that he told al-Rifai about it, just a few weeks before the explosion, saying, “Jamil, I saw you in the presence of the Lord. I saw you in eternity! If this is going to be, that you will be with the Lord, what is your advice for us—what are the words that you are going to leave with us?” With a rare opportunity to choose his epitaph, Jamil Ahmed al-Rifai answered with simple clarity, “Run the race; finish the race that I have started.”

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