Young, Male and Syrian

Eric Hamsho writes about how God planted the seeds of the gospel in his father's heart through a dream in Syria; then through believers who lived out the gospel in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

Single, eighteen-year-old Muslim male from Syria. Claims he wants to study in the U.S. Has no relatives or connections here.

How many red flags just went off in your mind?

That Muslim young man did enter the U.S., and College Church attender Eric Hamsho knows the story well. It is the story of God’s grace in his family, beginning when his father left Syria.

Here, in Eric's own words, is the story.

At the age of 18, my father traveled from Syria to the United States with dreams of a college education. Dad’s family couldn’t help in a tangible way as they raised eight children on a single income. So, with no relatives or connections in the United States, he picked a school in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, bought a plane ticket, and came with what little cash he had saved from teaching English lessons.

One night prior to leaving Syria, Dad had a vivid, yet strange dream, given his Muslim upbringing. He found himself in an unfamiliar, primitive room where a man was sleeping—a man that someone identified to him as Jesus. The dream was tucked away and forgotten for decades, but it set the stage for several meaningful relationships Dad encountered early on in the U.S. A college professor and his family invited him into their home for meals and holiday celebrations. They also took time to talk about their faith in God. Two other families welcomed him into their homes when he needed housing for his engineering co-ops. They loved him like one of their own children and showed him a picture of what it meant to live a life of faith and devotion to Jesus Christ.

Dad accepted his first job in western Ohio and met my mother. As they began their family, they decided that church should be a part of their weekly routine. They attended a church in our little farm town of Buckland, Ohio, because Mom’s parents and grandparents and great-grandparents had attended there. Church became an important part of the life of our family, and we learned a lot about Jesus over the years, but we felt a discontent and lack of fulfillment that we could not identify.

We moved from western Ohio early in my teenage years and finally heard the gospel for the first time at a church in our new community. We were overwhelmed by the truth that we could have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We knew a lot about Jesus, but we didn’t actually know him. One by one, my family professed faith in Jesus Christ and each of us were baptized—except for Dad.

He had a lot to work through as he wrestled with the teachings of the Koran and the Bible. The teachings and historical events seemed similar in the two books, and he struggled with why he needed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I remember many discussions with my dad as we explored these things together. I remember his objections and his questions and his challenges. I remember the compassion I had for him during those times because, more than anything, I wanted him to come to faith.

In God’s perfect timing and through the work of the Holy Spirit, Dad came to faith. There was nothing more I could share or defend or argue to convince him of his need. God had a plan for his life all along and used that dream, friendships, the Scriptures and the church to help him realize that he could never do enough to please Allah. But God, through his Son, Jesus Christ, accomplished all that needed to be done for salvation on my father’s behalf.

God, in his kindness, has used the patience and compassion from that season of my life to give me dozens of opportunities to share my faith—and my dad’s story—with Muslims. Almost every month, I climb into a car headed for the airport with a driver who is from the Middle East and ask him what country he is from. After he shares, I tell him that my father is an immigrant from Syria. Nine times out of ten the driver will ask me if my father is a Muslim. And by the grace of God, I tell him that Dad has a relationship with Jesus Christ.

In the spring of 2011, I had the privilege of baptizing my dad (and each of my children)—a moment that would not have happened if not for the many believers who faithfully lived out the gospel in front of a young Syrian teenager.