Fighting Jesus

Butros was feared on the street but saved by Jesus

Butros’s* story is very simple by his account:  “God took me from the garbage, next to the rats, and set me up as a king.”  But from the beginning it did not look like he had much hope.  As a small child he was told he had “a hard face,” and he vividly remembers the feelings he carried.  “I knew I wasn’t good looking.  In fact I grew up describing myself as a beast.  The world around me seemed to agree.” 

His family was originally from a small Christian village in the mountains of Lebanon, but as the civil war spread in the 1970s and their family home was destroyed, his father moved them to the outskirts of Beirut, hoping for safety. It wasn’t long until the area where they lived became so dangerous that the children were not allowed to play outside.

In spite of this, Butros was a five-year-old playing outside when he first met “the priest”—a man in a full black robe holding a tall stick. The imposing figure was standing on a building overlooking his neighborhood. Butros did not recognize the building for good reason; it would not be built until many years later. The priest commanded, “Go to your mom on the roof. Tell everyone on the way not to hide in the shelter but to live normally.”

When the little boy with the hard face told his neighbors what he had seen, they brought him pictures of different saints they worshiped. He kissed the picture that resembled the priest he had seen, and the neighbors accepted the message. Later that same day, 31 bombs fell in the neighborhood almost instantaneously. In the chaos, nobody had time to run for safety. Nobody even tried to reach the shelter. When the attack was over, the neighborhood’s shelter lay in rubble, destroyed.

Little Butros didn’t remember anything except opening his eyes to see a French doctor leaning over him, inspecting a piece of shrapnel lodged in his forehead. When Butros mumbled what the saint had told him, the doctor nearly fainted, but composing himself he held Butros’s small head with one hand, yanked the shrapnel out, found a piece of fabric to stop the bleeding, and closed up the wound.

They waited together for help until it finally came 48 hours later. The medical personnel removed the fabric from Butros’s head and found the skin closed and the tissue healthy. Butros’s family and neighbors embraced the belief that the priest the little boy had seen was a patron saint of Beirut in the Lebanese Orthodox church.

It was a miraculous beginning, one that Butros realized later was orchestrated by a power other than God. He grew up feeling indebted to this saint, but filled with hate. As soon as he was old enough, he joined a political army to protect his people. “We would put a picture of Jesus on our guns and go out to fight. I didn’t realize that I was actually fighting Jesus every day,” Butros recalls. Pounding his chest with a fist, he acknowledges, “I had a big, big hate in here for anyone different than me—anyone with a different faith, different country, or different blood.”

His aggressive, violent life placed him in a position of power over those around him; he controlled family members cruelly and intimidated neighbors. He said he was “protecting” his own people while he was killing others. No one around him felt safe. No one felt strong enough to tell him he was destroying himself. Instead, they embraced the saint he followed and believed in the power Butros had under “the priest’s” care.

Butros recalls the darkness of those days. “Every time I felt angry or met a problem, I saw the saint standing next to me to show me I was indebted to him for everything. I had been taught that Jesus would punish you if you didn’t do what He wanted, that I had to kneel down in front of Jesus the whole day like a slave if I wanted him to accept me. I decided I loved the saint more. Because if I wanted a car, money, health, advice, or a woman, I would pray to the saint and he would give it to me. I had everything I wanted but happiness. I lived my whole life hating people.”

The horrifying truth overwhelmed him the day he picked up the car of his dreams. He was test-driving it along a coastline highway, the music system cranked up, all the accessories glowing, and a car plate that placed him on par with the country’s judges. This was everything he had ever wanted. But he felt lost and cold.

Butros pulled off the road in the winter darkness, along the large rocks and pounding waves of the Mediterranean. “I knew the area well. It was the site of so much of my evil-doing. I knew once I went down across the rocks toward the water, there was no way I would be able to come back up. Sure no one would see me, I threw myself into the water. I didn’t try to swim or save myself. I was thinking of only one thing: Nobody loves me; they are only scared of me. I don’t deserve to survive on this earth. I figured the hell I would face when I died was better than living.”

Suddenly from an apartment balcony high above the shore—an impossible distance for anyone to see someone flailing in the dark sea—a woman started shouting for help. Every time Butros’s head came to the surface, he could hear her screams. The memories are clear: “I tried to push myself down so I couldn’t hear her, but because my arm had broken against the rocks, I couldn’t keep myself down. I don’t know how long I was there desperately bobbing, her screaming. But maybe 30 minutes passed before I saw through the bloody sea water washing over my face, a boat of fishermen trying to reach me. They fought to drag me into the boat. Though I was only half conscious, I knew I didn’t want to be saved, and I threw myself back into the water. Another small boat joined them. They finally dragged me on board the second boat and tied me down. That day I decided to stop hurting people.”

After always asking the saint for everything he ever wanted, for the first time in his life he prayed directly to God, “Put someone in my life who will love my little boy.” Tiny Khalil*, only 4 months old at the time, needed care after his parents’ separation. Butros’s mother stepped in to help.

That’s when Butros met Joelle*. He also met her family, good people who respected each other and, to his surprise, also respected him. He witnessed a different way to relate to others. He realized she was the kind of woman he had been praying for, one who would be good to little Khalil.

After they married, he remembered hearing that a Bible in the home would bring many blessings. So he set out an open Bible on a chest in their living room. “Every month I read one page and put it back on the chest.” After a few months, he had read as far as Genesis 3, where Adam and Eve heard the sound of God walking in the garden, and where God spoke to them. In person. It was an unbelievable possibility to Butros.

“The thought began to change my life, like my blood was changing!” He started to read Genesis 1-4 over and over and over again. “I began seeing how Jesus related to Adam and Eve. He didn’t talk through a saint. He talked to them directly.” He began reading further, comparing God in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament.

Butros approached his Bible study the same way he did his job as an interrogator for the police department; he looked at each word and thought, trying to decipher what was really being said, what was the truth. Butros remembers how hard it was for him, “I knew I wasn’t a good student; I grew up through the war with poor schooling and I couldn’t read or write well. But I soon realized that I could understand the Bible. I just needed a teacher.” He began asking long-time Christians to help him study the Bible. Nobody seemed interested.

His breakthrough came soon after he opened his own auto servicing shop. Joelle told him one of her Arabic students needed to replace a blown tire. The Arabic student was the Adventist pastor who had just recently baptized Joelle. The tire change led to a conversation, a friendship, then Bible studies. “I didn’t speak English well and he was just learning Arabic, but we managed. The pastor didn’t use a paper to follow our studies either,” Butros recalls. “He listened to my thoughts. He heard what my questions were. I would find hard things for him to explain. I wanted to test him, but I also wanted to know.”

Butros met with the pastor only four times before he made the momentous decision to give his life to Jesus and share his experience with his family. Butros’s transformation was only just beginning.

The cool spring day his baptism was scheduled, he realized the water in the baptistry might be icy cold. “At first I was hesitant, but then I realized that for all Christ had done for me, I would be glad to go through cold water for Him!”

“My life is new now,” Butros exclaims. “I used to describe myself as a beast, but now with Jesus I feel like my face can shine like Moses and show others that I have been with Jesus.”

*Names have been changed