"Many times I cried, 'Allah, I want to kill Christians, I want to kill Jews.' We planned a lot of things, evil things for the Christian world, cruel things for the Jewish world. ... It is by the grace of God that I am here."
So begins the testimony of Daniel Shayesteh, formerly an Islamic terrorist and Iranian revolutionary; now a Christian evangelist.
"I was a famous boy," Shayesteh recalls. "By the age of 9, I was able to do Islamic rituals and recite the Quran."
Picked out from the 12 children of his father's two wives to do Islamic studies from his earliest years, Shayesteh's fame carried him to a position of power among Islamic extremists. With two others he founded Hezbollah, in its earliest days as the revolutionary army in Iran. The army overthrew Mohammed Reza Shah, the king of Iran, in the Islamic Revolution of 1979, and Shayesteh became a political leader helping to institute the rule of Sharia law.
It didn't take long, however, for Shayesteh and other revolutionaries to become dissatisfied with Ayatollah Khomeini, the man they had brought into power to be the country's "Supreme Leader." After Shayesteh's colleague, Abolhassan Beni Sadr, was elected president in 1980, tensions escalated, and in 1989 Khomeini used his influence with Hezbollah to form a military coup against the government with the intent of killing the president. President Sadr and others in his political camp were able to escape the country alive, but Shayesteh was not among them. He was captured and put in prison, which he describes as "a painful place, a place where you beg to die." Even as he waited in a cell on death row, expecting to be executed, God providentially stepped in.
"By the grace of Jesus, I escaped," he says. "Even though I didn't know Him, He had a plan for me."
In an unbelievable and difficult escape, Shayesteh made it to Turkey, where he continued to seek a channel of influence. He enrolled in a university and obtained a doctorate in international management with a thesis on how religions, cultures and philosophies impact the human attitude. Even as he formulated that thesis, the conclusions that forced themselves into his mind startled and unsettled him.
"I was amazed and shocked, in that comparative study of all religions and philosophies, to see that the values of Christianity are superior in every respect," he explains.
However, it was evidence he refused to accept after all his training in radical Islam.
"I had been told for 32 years that Christianity was the worst religion in the world," he says. "From a child I had always been taught that Islam is the winner, Islam is the best, without any deeper logic about it. Islam must dominate the world, and to ensure that, we must call people to follow Islam. If they do not listen, we must threaten and attack them through terrorism. That was my mindset. That is what all radical Muslims in the world think, and that's why they are practicing terrorism."
It was not the last time that the Christian God would interfere with the course he had chosen for his life. When Shayesteh invested money with a business partner and the man snuck out of the country with his money, Shayesteh turned in desperation to the last place he would have willingly gone.
"The man was Muslim, but there were Christians that had been friends with him," he says. "So I went to the church, only because I hoped to find a way to get my money back."
Church members welcomed him and offered to try to help track down the thief, so Shayesteh kept coming back, intent on keeping a close eye on the search for his missing money. Instead of his money, he found something he wasn't looking for: the Christian God.
"I was amazed once again at what I was hearing from Christians," he says. "For one, their definition of God was so different. He is personal and has created humans for relationship with Him. The Islamic god is aloof, and a relationship with him cannot exist at all."
"Also, the Christian God is the fountain of every good thing," he adds. "There is no essence of evil in Him. In every other religion, gods are not good because they are sheltering evil and Satan in some way. In Islam, the god is the creator of both good and evil, and such a god corrupts the world."
As his encounter with the Christian God continued, Shayesteh could no longer avoid the truth, and he no longer wanted to. He accepted Christ and discovered that he could have freedom from his past, from a god that instilled evil in the world and from a religion that left him cut off from his Creator. He insists that others who are lost as he was, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, radical or placid, can find that same freedom only in the Christian God.
"The true God has one pure nature, and that pure nature always creates purity," he explains. "So we can be united with God. In that relationship, sin, lawlessness, evil are annulled, and we are freed."
Now, whenever and wherever he can, Shayesteh speaks to university students, Christian groups and politicians about the threat of Islam and the value of democracy and freedom.
"Muslim extremists, committed Muslims, want to change the culture of Western societies," he warns. "Freedom and democracy come from Christian values, and Islam cannot promote or cherish democracy and freedom."
While Shayesteh cannot travel in most Muslim countries due to threats against him from Islamic extremists, he makes his teachings accessible to Muslims in the Middle East in their native languages. Through his ministry, Exodus from Darkness, thousands of Muslims have been led to the Lord. Especially with the state of current events in the Middle East, many Muslims are disillusioned with Islam and primed for the gospel.
"Many people in Islamic countries, especially young Muslims, are exhausted and overwhelmed," he says. "They are tired. They want to take shelter in a peaceful belief. But if you do not have peace with God, you will not be able to have peace with others, no matter how much you would love to. So, with Christianity, there is an open door for us to touch the hearts of millions of Muslims all over the world."
"If you really are challenged to have reason for your belief and investigate to see whether your belief is the perfect one, you will end up being a follower of Jesus Christ," he concludes.
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