Youssef wasn’t always interested in the things of God. Though born into a traditional Christian family in the Middle East, he had little interest in the Christian faith.“When I finished high school,” he said, “I was the pusher for all kinds of drugs.” Youssef soon got a job that required him to travel to places like Pakistan, where he could easily get narcotics for personal use and to sell. Then a Christian missionary came knocking on his family’s door. “I didn’t like him at all and wanted him out of our life,” Youssef recalled. He decided that the next time the missionary visited, he would hit him in the face to show him how unwelcome he was. Youssef was ready when the foreigner arrived. He wondered why the man remained in his car for several minutes before getting out, not realising the missionary was praying. Then, moments later, Youssef couldn’t believe his behaviour. “I am putting my hand on the door to beat him,” Youssef explained, “but [instead] I find myself opening the door and welcoming him in. I couldn’t believe what was happening.”
Youssef decided the quickest way to get rid of the missionary was to pray to receive Christ, so that’s what he did. As he had expected, the missionary left afterwards. What he hadn’t expected, however, was the guilt suddenly felt. Though his prayer had been insincere, he felt genuinely convinced of his sinful lifestyle. “Everything that used to make me content, happy and strong became the reason for me to become miserable and weak,” he said. “I hated myself.” After six months of internal conflict, Youssef decided to end his life. “While I was actually doing it,” he said, “I heard a voice very clearly say, ‘Stop! If you want out of this life, I can help you. I have risen from the dead, and it is much easier to get you out of this [way of ] life than raising the dead’.”
That night, Youssef placed his faith in Christ. “I just dropped on my knees,” he said, “and this time the prayer was real.” While breaking his drug addictions was difficult and painful, he said he believes it helped affirm his faith. He emerged with a desire for others to know the Lord. “I knew right away this is what god wants me to do,” he said, “to evangelise and go to my people and share with them the beauty of the love of God and His plan.” Youssef soon began leading Bible studies and helping distribute Bibles and Christian literature, which resulted in his arrest on several occasions. Over time he felt the Lord leading him to open a Christian bookshop. When he started the process, a government official told him, “You will never open [a Christian bookshop].” But two years later that official was imprisoned for corruption, and Youssef received a permit to open a Christian bookshop. Providing God’s Word to the hungry and curious drives Youssef’s passion for operating the Christian bookshop.“There are lots of stories, beautiful stories of the way God … uses this ministry,” he said.
One of those stories involves a man named Samir, whose search for truth began after he witnessed a beheading. When the harsh justice of Islamic law disturbed his soul, Samir began questioning his Muslim beliefs. One day while sitting at a friend’s house, he noticed an Arabic Bible in a stack of books and became curious about what Christians believed. Samir asked his friend, who had received the Bible as a gift while visiting another country if he could borrow the book. The man handed the Bible to Samir and said, “I’ve never even opened it.”
Samir took the Bible home and began reading it. He later noticed a hand-printed phone number on the inside back cover and, after months of deliberation, decided to call the number. Youssef distinctly remembers that first call he received from Samir. “He had many questions,” Youssef said. “He said he was so desperate that he had to call the number.” After their phone conversation, the two men arranged to meet in the country, where it is dangerous for Muslims to convert to Christianity. “I tried to explain the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Gospels,” Youssef said of their first visit. “He was like a sponge.”
Finally, after several meetings, Samir told Youssef he wanted to become a Christian. “I believe that Jesus is God and what is written in the Bible is true,” Samir told him. Youssef didn’t hear from Samir for a while, but then one day Samir visited the bookshop with good news. “Samir told me he had been sharing his faith with the friend who gave him the Bible,” Youssef said. Samir’s friend also became a follower of Christ. Youssef often meets privately with people who have questions about the Bible and Christianity. Muslims are wary of meeting in public, afraid of being harassed for even seeking information about the Christian faith. Christian converts from Islam can lose their jobs, social status and families for abandoning Islam to follow Christ.
Though evangelism is risky, Youssef’s life mission is drawing people to God through the spread of His Word. “Nothing can beat seeing person, whatever their backgrounds, sincerely realising that Jesus is God and asking Jesus to come into their heart,” Youssef said. “That is the most beautiful thing your eyes can see,” Youssef said he intends to continue spreading God’s Word among those searching for the truth. “I want to always be out there in the public because the Bible is the number one book that goes out from our bookshop,” he said. “I will never shut down — even if I had to do it from a wheelbarrow.”