From Violent Extremist to Apostle: How Meeting Christ Changes Everything

“O you non-believers, die in your rage,” he said. “We shall fight you. We shall humiliate America and Nigeria. We believe in the verse of our lord. ‘They will not harm you except for [some] annoyance. And if they fight you, they will show you their backs; then they will not be aided.’ (Q 3:111).” In the latest video created by Boko Haram, these were the words, breathed out in vehement hatred, by Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau (source).

Up until close to one month ago, Shekau was the proclaimed leader of Boko Haram, also known as ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province). But, at the beginning of August, ISIS– whom Boko Haram is affiliated with– declared a new man, Abu Musab al-Barnawi, as Boko Haram’s new leader. But, not all of Boko Haram welcomes this new leader. Abubakar Shekau, who opposes al-Barnawi, calls the man a “heretic” and infidel for not believing in “the authentic creed,” and has grown a following behind him that agrees (source).

An extremely zealous, dare I say religiously fanatic, man, Abubukar Shekau was a theology student who is fluent in various languages (source). Shekau took over Boko Haram after its founder, Mohammed Yusuf, was killed by the Nigerian military in 2009. It was reported that Abubakar Shekau married one of Mohammed Yusuf’s wives, and adopted Yusuf’s children (source).

Described as having “intense ideological commitment” to his creed of islam by the BBC, and a very bloodthirsty nature by TIMES, Abubakar Shekau seems to be a muslim “Pharisee among Pharisees,” if that were possible. This, as surprising as it sounds, is not unlike the Apostle Paul’s early life.

Oddly enough, there are many similarities between The Apostle Paul (before he knew Christ), and the evil, vicious Abubakar Shekau. Known for writing about a third to a half of the New Testament Scriptures, the Apostle Paul was once known as Saul of Tarsus. Growing up in modern-day Tersous, Turkey, Saul was raised in an extremely devout Jewish home, with Pharisees as parents– Jews who strictly adhered to the Law of Moses (source). Saul, an intelligent young person, was sent to be a theology student, under the teaching of a Rabbi named Gamaliel, at the age of 13 (source).

For the next five to six years, Saul studied the Law of Moses, Jewish History, the Psalms and the Prophets. He later became a lawyer, and anticipated becoming one of the members of the Sanhedrin (one of 71 men, who “ruled over Jewish life and religion” [source]). Scholarly when it came to manners of the law, Paul, in his own words, was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless” (Philippians 3:5-6). 

But, the knowledge and passion Saul had for the Jewish religion turned incredibly violent, as Jesus Christ, and his followers, came onto the scene. Living in relatively the same time as Christ, and the early church, Saul’s zeal was uncompromising; and, viewing Jesus’ early church as a perversion of Judaism, he sought to persecute, kill, and eventually wipe out every person who was apart of “the Way” (what Christianity was known as, at the time). In Acts 7 and 8, Saul is described as having a major role in persecuting, and killing, those in the early church. But, in Acts 9, everything radically changed for Saul.

Acts 9 tells the biblical account of Saul’s coming to Christ in a powerful, humbling way.

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’
5 ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked.
‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. 6 ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.”
(Acts 9:1-7, NIV)

Meeting Jesus Christ, on the road to kill His people, Saul’s entire life had changed forever.
Instead of viewing The Way, and it’s followers, as a perverse religion with a fraudulent leader, Paul met the Risen Jesus Christ: and realized that to persecute Christ’s followers, was to persecute the Risen, and Reigning, Jesus Christ. When Paul later tells the story of his conversion, to Agrippa, he adds that Christ said one very profound thing: “‘”Paul… It is hard for you to kick against the goads”‘” (Acts 26:14). Using vivid imagery, Christ expressed one thing: it is futile, and was futile for Paul, to fight against God’s Will and the drawing in of His Holy Spirit. These eye-opening words show that, even while Paul was persecuting the church, the Holy Spirit was working in Saul’s life, drawing him into a relationship with Christ. Truly, what must have been the most humbling experience he had ever had, Saul (also known as Paul, in Acts 13:9) walked away an entirely new, saved, man.

Saul was apart of a religion that terrified, wounded, displaced, and killed countless Christians in the early Church. But, through the Forgiveness, Grace, Mercy and Salvation of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, Saul became Paul: a man who was “poured out like a drink offering” to Christ, and filled with genuine love and concern for his family in Christ (2 Timothy 4:6; Philippians 2:17; 1 Timothy 1:2; Galatians 3:7). It was a change only Jesus could make.

Paul’s life, before meeting Christ, was one of intense religion, legalism, and extremist violence toward the very people of the God who ended up saving him. But, when one truly meets the One and Only Living God, Jesus Christ– and accepts Him as their Lord and Savior– they are eternally saved, and made completely new.

What does this mean for Abubakar Shekau, a man of strict, callous, hellish muslim convictions? He is a man who needs, to truly meet, and accept, Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of his life.

If Jesus Christ died for the sins of all mankind (1 Timothy 4:10)– and if a man like Saul of Tarsus can be redeemed, and saved, in such a powerful way– Abubakar Shekau is not outside of Christ’s mercy, or power to forgive and save.

The Holy Spirit is moving in, through, and upon Believers in Nigeria, bringing men everywhere to repentance. In light of the Apostle Paul’s transformation, let us dare to pray, even for someone so vicious as Abubakar Shekau. Who knows: the very mouth that curses Believers, now, could be the very one that praises their Messiah, in the future.

Do you know Jesus?

As there is so much talk about Saul, and his persecution of those who followed The Way, one can’t help but wonder at how terrified the followers of The Way were.
After Jesus ascended into heaven, His followers fled from town to town, hiding from their persecutors, and gathering together in hideouts.

But, through all of the persecution, these early Christians did not give up on their faith; rather, “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:4, NIV). While this horrendous tragedy of widespread persecution was happening, it was causing God’s Word, the Gospel, to be preached, in far-off places– even causing “great joy” in some cities, as the Gospel was preached (Acts 8:8).

Why was this? Because Jesus Christ is not some dead, false god. He is the Risen, Living Savior of the world, God Himself in human form. And His promises to his followers are profound. “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies. 26 And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?‘” (John 11:25-26). Each of these Believers had met, and accepted, this very real, personal, Living God; and, by Faith, through Grace, rely upon Him for Salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The very same is true for today. Jesus Christ is not some obsolete, religious icon; He is Alive, and He wants to be in a personal, Saving relationship with each and every person on Earth (1 Timothy 2:4).

No matter who you are, or what you have done, come to Him. Meet Him. Your life will never be the same.

Learn more, and meet Him, here.

Please agree in prayer, with me, over the Salvation of Abubakar Shekau:

“Dear Father God,
I thank You for hearing our prayers. I thank You for knowing our thoughts, our words, and our actions before we ever do them… I thank You for knowing, and still Loving, us, no matter what we have done.
Dear, Father God, I come to You, Father, and I pray that, even in this very moment, Your Holy Spirit would be working on Abubakar Shekau; I pray that he would sense Your Presence, and would fear and revere You, for being the One and Only True God, and for showing Your power in this situation.
I pray that Abubakar Shekau would realize how real, and how fierce, Your Love is for Him. Father God, as Shekau realizes this, I pray You would speak to Him, and that as His heart softens, He would come to You, and know You as His Lord and Savior.
Father God, I know You have plans, even for people like Shekau. Please continue to draw him to You, and in all ISIS members– all to Your Glory.

Father God,
I also pray for those who have been displaced, wounded, and even murdered, by the barbaric actions of Boko Haram.
Father God, please hold those who have been hurt, so, so deeply by Shekau’s actions, in Your arms, of healing. Please bring them to know You; and in knowing You, we pray that Your Word and Your Gospel would be spread, just like in the times of the early church.

Father God, I thank You for being with those in captivity. I pray You would continue to sustain, and strengthen, those in captivity; and please put hope in the hearts of those who believe in You, by the Power of Your Holy Spirit, that someday, they will be physically free, and will somehow be able to leave this horrible time behind.

Thank you for defeating, and humbling, Boko Haram, dear Lord Jesus. ‘For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory’ (Psalm 149:4). Please give Your People, all over the world, victory over what oppresses them.

Thank You, Father God. In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen.”

No one is out of Jesus’ redemptive reach. Praise Him for that!

Thank you for your continued prayers!

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