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From Shame to Shine
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A conversion story of a Muslim youth as she struggled with atheism, mysticism, and New Age occultism

Deniza Hush

I was born the second of six children in a liberal Muslim family based in Zagreb, Croatia, in the former Yugoslavia.
I remember watching my parents toil to complete their studies, as well as struggle to provide for their ever-increasing brood.

Although traditionally Croats are Catholics, during the socialistic era in Croatia every religion was ridiculed. Nonetheless my father educated us on the general demands of our traditional faith, Islam. By the time we were in elementary school, he assured that we were well versed about the dietary requirements for Muslims. He emphasised the superiority of Islam on all religious and lifestyle matters. It was likely during these early school years that we were warned that abandonment of Islam, whether through marriage with non-Muslims or by embracing other faiths, would result in excommunication. Whoever dared to leave Islam would bring a great shame on the family and would ultimately be rejected by them.

As a teenager I developed an intense interest in philosophy, fine arts, and poetry. These topics, off limits and considered deviant, escaped my Father’s notice since my personal studies were unsupervised. The more I read, the more my interest in them grew; the more my interest in them grew, the more I read. It was an exciting cycle for a growing teenager trying to make sense of the world. Looking back, it was my version of rebellion against the tight fist of my father’s rule, religion, and his despotic headship in our home. My life motto became: “Doing anything I desire, shamelessly and fearlessly.” Little did I know at fourteen, this supposedly bold statement was the very description of the character of Satan. Still, I embraced atheism, since after all, as philosopher Nietzsche said, “God [was] dead.” It made more sense to live an absurd life void of meaning than to be enslaved to a stupefying nonsense religion. I became acquainted with the alternative rock music scene and spent many hours listening to music that glorified disturbed thoughts and emotions.

When I approached university age, I was given an ultimatum. I had to choose between fine arts and my rocketing sports career in martial arts. I chose art. My father gave in and agreed to let me study art. At the time I was a national undefeated karate champion in the heavy category for women, and was preparing for European and world championships. It was in my karate club that I met a lifelong friend who was an art student, and who encouraged me not only to become a painter but a Christian.

A friend of mine, Zdravko, challenged my atheistic views on a daily basis, defeating all my arguments against theism. I was offered free drawing classes in his art studio under the mentorship of Pavlovic, a middle-aged artist who previously lived as a Catholic monk in a monastery. While enjoying their company and developing my art skills, I noticed my friends’ obsession with teachings about the life of Jesus. This puzzled me since I had thought that only unintelligent people could value religious tall tales. But here they were, fully capable and intelligent people who immersed themselves greatly in the love of Jesus, and who were evidently motivated by sharing their beliefs about God. I had to know more after all; this talk had awakened a deeper longing to read the Bible, if not for the sake of conversion then at least for intellectual advancement.

One day a Catholic theology student visited our studio. I had been struggling to paint some still nature when I heard this person quote the first chapter from the Gospel of John. As he recited these verses his face beamed with a joy that was strange to me. I longed, to my amazement, to have such a faith. I surprised myself! I had to get a Bible. I bought the New Testament Bible, as it was within my budget, but it proved more of a lullaby, as it often put me to sleep mid-page, than the exciting reading I had hoped. Still I persisted, reading snippets of various chapters, and finally arriving at Christ’s crucifixion. The words of the Roman centurion, “This man is truly the son of God,” echoed in my mind. And as I remembered what I read about Jesus from Nazareth, I agreed with this statement. Faith embedded itself in my mind. The God\man concept amazed me, while the dying Savior and redeeming Messiah concept humbled me. Against all my family’s religious background and prejudice, atheistic school education and personal preference, in the secrecy of my heart I accepted the fact that Jesus is God Himself. However, it took me a couple of years to become a Christian and receive the power of the Holy Spirit to live a godly life. Just as God penetrated my life with the miracle of faith, the devil rose up to destroy each of my friends. My older artist friend eventually backslid into alcoholism, and certain events took place to embitter our friendship. But God was not finished with me yet.

At the university I met Harry, a colleague who was a practicing Christian and a regular visitor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. At first I strongly disliked him, as he was very uncomfortably friendly, humble, and polite in contrast to my arrogant and provocative disposition. Harry had a strange habit of starting conversations related to the Bible, Christianity, and important life questions. At the time I was, despite my earlier convictions, becoming deeply involved in various New Age practices.

I had started meditating using a picture of some healing guru. During these meditative sessions I would experience something like electrical currents flowing through my limbs, and would see colored rays of light coming out of the photo of my healer. Once, as I stared at this picture at some friends’ apartment, I fell into a strange trance. I lost contact with reality and lost my sight, hearing, and spatial awareness. I then saw my body in the form of some radiant light encircled by moving energy rings. I started to panic, realizing that there was no way out. In complete horror, I screamed in my entrapped mind. I was possessed by spiritual powers that took hold of me and would not allow me to function. Suddenly a thought penetrated my mind: Only prayer to God can get you out of this! This thought did not come from me; all I thought was only fear and desperation, but I held to it as a drowning person to a float. I prayed every prayer I have ever heard, from Muslim to Catholic. As I eventually remembered the Lord’s Prayer (that I had learned as a child from a friend who recommended it as the most effective prayer against being spanked) my condition began to improve. Instead of fear I felt strength and determination to get out of the trance. Every word of this prayer lead me one step closer to sanity. Soon I was able to see and hear. If I had not been prompted by what I now perceive to be the Spirit of God to pray that day, I could have ended up in a mental institution. Although this experience scared me, it did not put me off further experimentation with other forms of New Age spiritualism. My hunger for deeper spirituality, as well as greed to experience something that would fuel my artistic creativity, led me to a meditative session for enlightenment.

“Who am I?” was the question that the participants of the enlightenment sessions meditated on. For three days we used so-called conversational meditation in which, for five minutes at a time, a person communicates everything that comes into their mind. After three days our minds became numb and empty, and we fell into an ecstatic state in which we all received the same answer to the meditative theme “Who am I?” The answer? “I AM THAT I AM.”

Little did I know at the time that this descriptive name is the very name of God. It took me several months to find out this truth as I was reading through Genesis. My friends who took part in the enlightenment meditation turned more intensively toward drugs, alcohol, and immorality, just after they found out that they themselves were supposedly gods! Once I realized the seriousness of the deception, I became distraught and regretful.

I was getting close to the point of surrender. I became disillusioned with myself, art, relationships, the rock-and-roll lifestyle, family, and philosophy. I could not find purpose in any of these. It became my obsession to find the absolute truth. During this turbulent period, my colleague Harry invited me to meet a Muslim-born lady who converted to Christianity through a series of dreams. Harry was regularly attending an Adventist church and  keeping the Sabbath holy, and this intrigued me. I had been invited many times to attend various programs and seminars in the Adventist church, but I never went. I felt very embarrassed for disappointing my friend so many times by defaulting my promises to attend these meetings. This time my friend took no chances, opting to pick me up and take me to the meeting place. After a short introduction, the converted Christian lady told us her life story. Coming from a Muslim background, I completely understood the struggles she went through as a young woman. She had to run away from home to a different country to escape an arranged marriage. She experienced poverty and rejection, starvation, and ill health, until she decided to take her life. At this point she cried to God to help her, and He immediately gave it. In the series of dreams, God was leading her to Himself. She dreamed that she needed to read the Bible, had to be baptised, and that Jesus was the Way, Life and Truth. She dreamed that she had to find a Christian church that kept Saturday holy. After giving us such a shocking testimony, she continued explaining some fundamental Bible doctrines, like salvation in Jesus Christ, the state of the dead, and the Second Advent. She emphasized that salvation is only through Jesus Christ, and that the Bible was the only true revelation of God. These statements crushed me, as I was thinking of all the people who didn’t understand these teachings. Although I didn’t like many things that this woman was saying, I felt overpowered. A constant impression that everything she said was pure truth made me humble and convinced.

I wasn’t aware at the time that most Muslims who convert to Christianity have either a miraculous experience of healing and visions of the Lord Jesus Christ, or a revelation of Christ in dreams. Before we left she said that she would pray that at least one of us would be saved. This touched me, as no one had ever prayed for me. After leaving the house I felt extremely sick. I was having difficulty breathing and felt severe pain all over my body. I asked my fiancé for his illustrated Bible to put under my pillow, and I begged God not to take my life that night, as I was scared that I would die. I was so affected by the testimony of this woman that in the following days I focused on only one thing. I prayed again and again a simple prayer: “God, if you exist and you are real, give me an experience like that lady had so that I will know that you are leading me in the path of truth. Amen.” As a result of this simple prayer, the most merciful God gave me a few dreams in which He clearly directed me and testified of His great saving love for me.

The first dream, in answer to my prayer for God to show me His truth, was about two things. First, I was shown a great shiny city out of which came a little stand with the Scriptures on it. Every page was written with golden letters that looked alive with flowing light. I was instructed to read it to find salvation, but as I objected I received another short vision. This one related to my condition as a sinner. In a most terrifying way God showed me that my condition was like a black hole in the universe; my godless soul was dead! I woke up screaming in horror. I was alive, but in reality there was no true life in me.

My second dream was connected with my family. In this dream a stranger came to visit me and was standing at the door, waiting to be let in. The key for the door was lost, and my mother made every effort to convince me that it didn’t matter. After a long wait, the man quietly turned away and left. I knew that it was crucial for me to meet him. He could somehow see everything about me, and I felt very troubled. As I ran to the window to try to catch a glimpse of his figure, a penetrating thought raced through my mind. In what condition will he find you when he visits next time? As I was waking up from this disturbing dream, a flashing thought rushed through my brain. You have to get baptised.

I returned early from my holiday, and in great anticipation visited a local Adventist church. To my utmost surprise the service was entitled “Jesus Is Knocking at the Door of Your Heart!” The songs, the sermon, and the appeal were shockingly related to my dream, and for the first time, after only three weeks attending an Adventist church, I requested baptism. As the local pastor soon discovered, I knew very little about Bible doctrines, but one thing I knew clearly was that Jesus died for my sins. I knew that I had to follow His instructions and get baptised as well as keep His law. In his wisdom, my pastor delayed my baptism. He wanted to give me a deeper and broader understanding of the Bible, since he knew from experience that I would go through many trials and persecution because of my newfound faith.

Many of my colleagues and friends attended my baptism, along with my sisters. My sisters were amused, thinking that this was just another phase in my spiritual wanderings. My parents didn’t know about it, but noticed some major changes in my attitude and lifestyle. However, my Father noticed with time that I was reading the Bible and avoiding working on Saturdays. He was getting increasingly upset and was warning me against my Christian inclinations. This finally escalated one early Sabbath morning in 1993 when he asked me to go to the shop to buy bread.

I was found with my Bible, hymn book, and Sabbath School lesson on my desk while getting ready to leave for church. He tore my hymnal and insisted that I declare whether I believed that the Bible is the ultimate revelation of God. Shaking, I admitted my faith in the Bible. In my mind, I was reminded that if I denied Jesus my Heavenly Father would deny me. My dad was mad and lost for words for a second. His disbelief and shock led him to challenge me further. Shouting, he asked me if I believed that Jesus is God.

In that moment I knew that my answer might cost me my life. While trembling and crying, I made a decision not to fight my dad or defend myself. If I perish, I perish, was my thought. I had nothing to hide; Jesus was too great to be ashamed of, and it was His job to protect His children. I told my dad what I believed. With a stream of curses and verbal abuse, my father stepped back to gain further strength. Next I saw his fist flying toward my face, but it never reached me. It was stopped in the air by an unseen hand. In his confusion, he tried again to punch me, but the same thing happened. I remembered the verse in Psalm 34:7 promising protection by God’s angels for those who fear God. There were angels of God encamping around me, and my father was not allowed to harm me. Terribly angry, my dad started spitting on me, as he couldn’t reach me. While he was returning to his bedroom, I heard him say that I no longer had a part within the family and would have to leave.

As a result of God’s great patience toward my parents, I was able to return home almost every time they kicked me out. I kept praying for them and claiming God’s promises. After that crucial Sabbath morning, I managed to stay another year and a half with my family. Eventually, my parents gave me a final ultimatum to choose either the Christian faith or the Muslim faith. As a result of my choice, my parents chose to expel me from the family permanently unless I changed. There have been many years of painful separation from my parents and younger brothers, but despite all the hardship it has been an honor to suffer persecution for Christ. In His great mercy, God provided many family members for me in our Christian faith.

In 1997, while studying theology at the Croatian Seventh-day Adventist seminary, I met a ministerial student who was visiting from England. Alan was preaching an evangelistic campaign in one of the local churches. After only knowing me for one week, he took me to one side and suggested that we would be a good missionary team together. My first thought was that this guy was either crazy and desperate, or very spiritual and serious indeed. Our relationship wasn’t based on infatuation, but friendship and conviction that God was bringing us together for a higher purpose. To cut a long story short, we married six months after that episode. From the start we covenanted to have an open home, where all who are seeking shelter and encouragement are welcome. We have been happily married for twelve years, and God has blessed us with three children. Although my parents still do not want to have any contact with me or their grandchildren, we continue to pray, trusting God’s saving grace. In their eyes I have brought shame to our family. But in the eyes of Jesus I am His witness and His shiny beacon. It is never time to give in and dishonor God. Some sacrifices might look impossible to bear, but we should remember that it is not our calling to calculate the costs. All we have to worry about is keeping our eyes fixed on the shining face of our loving Savior.
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