This week we are sharing parts of Thabiti Anyabwile's story—how he turned to Islam, rejected faith all together, and eventually encountered the gospel. Content modified from Thabiti Anyabwile's chapter in Glory Road: The Journeys of 10 African-Americans into Reformed Christianity. Read part 1 and part 2.
I lived a lost, God-rejecting, self-seeking life for about a year. Not surprisingly, my marriage grew empty as well, and the difficulties started to appear overwhelming.
Then, my wife and I learned that we were pregnant with our first child. Our families were ecstatic. We began to feel a sense of hope and anticipation, daydreaming about a white house with a picket fence and the gentle coos of a new child. We began to build our lives on this dream.
Three months into the pregnancy, we visited the doctor’s office for a regular visit. It was to be the first visit where we heard the baby’s heartbeat. Our excitement made it nearly impossible to sit patiently in the waiting room. We flitted through magazines, squeezed one another’s hand, and chatted incessantly about the details of baby’s arrival.
Finally, we entered the examination room, where Kristie promptly readied herself for the exam. The doctor entered, mostly ignoring me, and began her work. After a few minutes, making several different attempts to find the baby’s heartbeat, she spoke in the most lifeless, spiritless, barren human voice I’ve ever heard. “I’m sorry. There’s no heartbeat. The baby is dead.”
My wife wept inconsolably. I stood frozen. My feet grew roots and planted me in the floor. My brittle heart cracked, and in flooded a message that seemed to fill my entire head. I did not expect or understand it. I “heard” simply, “Son, come home.”
Coming Home to Calvary
Following the miscarriage, my wife and I tried to keep moving on with life. She returned to teaching after a week or so, but I mostly sat around the house depressed. For weeks, that message rang in my head, “Son, come home.”
It was an odd, hazy time. Numbness and rawness took turns at mastering my thoughts and feelings. Yet, on several occasions I found myself in traffic behind a car with “John 1:12” printed on the license plate. I recognized it was from the Bible, but I didn’t know the verse. I tried to put it out of my head.
One Tuesday morning, two hours late for work but casually flipping through television channels, I landed on the weekly broadcast of a church service. I couldn’t explain why I stopped to listen, but I did. Strangely, the words had life. They beckoned me. It wasn’t even a particularly evangelistic sermon. The preacher simply expounded on Paul’s words to Timothy: “Study to show yourself approved.” But those words gripped me.
For a couple of months, I taped the show and watched it with my wife. We learned that the pastor’s church was located in the Washington, D.C. area, where my wife’s sister lived. We decided to visit her sister and the church.
That Sunday morning, we were among the first to enter the church. We sat directly in front of the pulpit about five rows back. It seemed that half of the church’s twenty-two thousand members packed out this first service. But God intended every word spoken that morning from Exodus 32 especially for me. The pastor titled the sermon, “What Does It Take to Make You Angry?” Tailor- made, it was a careful and convicting look at sin and idolatry and the consequences of sin. It was a challenge to develop a righteous, godly indignation toward sin, to hate sin and to turn to God.
I saw my need for someone to rescue me from the wrath of God against my sin.
Every sin, every act of idolatry, every wicked attitude mentioned that morning described me. The preacher expounded the Law, and I saw my need for a Savior, someone to rescue me from the wrath of God against sin. I sat gripped as the holiness and justice of God were unfolded from Scripture. I grew strangely remorseful and alert, awakened really, as the pastor applied the doctrine of sin to his hearers. I was convicted, guilty before this holy God who judges all unrighteousness.
Then, with plain yet beautiful speech, the preacher exalted Jesus for us to see. Here was the Lamb of God for us to behold! He made it clear that Jesus was the Son of God sent by the Father to die as a substitute for all who would turn from their sins, renouncing them, and turn toward God through faith in Jesus. Here was the Sacrifice anticipated in the Old Testament and executed in the New. Here in Jesus was redemption. The sinless Son of God had indeed come into the world to save everyone who believes—even a former Muslim who was an avowed and determined enemy of the cross!
For the first time, I longed to know God.
I longed to know Jesus. I longed to be saved from the misery of sin and the life controlled by it. “Repent and believe for the forgiveness of your sins” came the invitation. In God’s kindness, my wife and I were given the gift of repentance and faith, turning from our sins and to Jesus in faith on that day. In God’s mercy, the stranglehold of years of anger and hatred were broken literally overnight. The gospel triumphed where no other power had or could.
Join us tomorrow for part four of Thabiti's story. We are rejoicing with him, and you, because of God's goodness and grace in his life.