My father immigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan in the early 1970s. He was a medical student looking to get certified to practice in the U.S. While he was going to school, he worked in research at The Blood Center in Milwaukee, WI, where he met my mother. She comes from a Norwegian-German background. They were married, and she had to convert to Islam. Soon after, I was born, and 3 years later, I had a little sister as well. Things were very good for what we thought was a pretty typical American family. However, as is the case with many inter-faith marriages, things started to deteriorate quickly and my parents separated, which ended in divorce. I was 6 years old.
Throughout my early childhood and through the divorce, I recall going to the mosque with my dad, learning to face the East toward Mecca, and mimicking his prayers. I didn't really know what he was saying, but he was my dad and I was his son....so I emulated him. After the divorce, my dad put me in the Muslim equivalent of Sunday School to start learning more about Islam. It was my duty as I became able to study. I recall the day he enrolled me, and the instructor asked me a question. I had no idea what he was talking about and I told him that I couldn't answer. He moved on, but afterward, he really leveled his frustration on my dad that I didn't know what I needed to.
Just like many other American divorce situations, my sister and I had scheduled weekend visitations with my dad. He certainly tried to make the best of it, but in his culture and religion, and especially in his family, divorce is considered a failure. The situation felt more and more wrong to him and it wasn't long before he simply disappeared. I received one letter from him postmarked from Detroit, but didn't hear from him again. Over time, I assumed that he had returned to Pakistan or fell ill and possibly died.
My mother remarried and we started attending a Lutheran Church. We moved slightly outside of Milwaukee and 'started fresh' in Port Washington, WI. It was here that, by the Grace of God, I was baptized and my sins were washed clean. I didn't know what that meant at the time, but I attended church with my family every Sunday and attended Sunday School as well. There was one instance that I remember where I believe my faith truly came alive. It was a pretty normal day. My sister and I were home with my mom and I felt the need to tell my mom something. I told her that for the first time in my life, I wasn't afraid to die. I remember her breaking down in tears after I told her that. That was kind of a turning point for me at about 9-10 years old where I let go of the past and looked toward the future. My Christian faith was at the center of that.
More time went by and we moved to Omaha, NE. We became involved in a church right away. After confirmation, I was very heavily involved in youth group, where I made life-long friends. This constant connection led me to attend Concordia University in Seward, Nebraska. I began the pre-seminary programand again surrounded myself with life-long friends. I met my wife there, and we put Christ at the center of our relationship. Instead of going into the pastoral ministry, I used my business degree and became an executive in the trucking industry. This is something I still do today, and I've always viewed it as a ministry in its own way. We have four children, three of which we adopted.
Getting back to my dad...23 years went by and I stumbled on my uncle's obituary. He was a professor in Milwaukee, so I always had an idea of where he was. Listed on the obituary were my dad and his wife as survivors. It listed him in Detroit. I then did a search and found that he was featured in an article of Crain's Business. I also found my cousin through this search and sent him an email with my information. Within 24 hours, I was on the phone with my dad. Within a week, I was on a plane bound for Detroit to meet him for the first time in many years. We've had a lot of reacquainting to do, and I've had to meet a lot of people from his wife's side of the family. I've become very highly regarded in the family for a number or reasons: (1) I have shown forgiveness to my dad, which has relieved a great deal of pain for him; (2) The family is amazed that my wife and I opened up our house to kids that needed a home; (3) It has been my pleasure to have fellowship with them; and (4) They have grown to respect my opinion as a Christian when we have family 'round tables.' This is when about 30 of us form a circle on the floor and discuss politics, the world around us, and religion. These are very touchy topics, and as the only non-Muslim in the room, it's a daunting proposition.
So, here I am. Things turned out very well for me, but they could have gone completely differently if I was raised in Islam. This situation is not unique. What is unique is that I have such a good relationship with my dad and I am respected by him even with my Christian faith at the forefront. This experience has given me a heart to reach Muslims with the love of Jesus. It is my privilege to speak on behalf of POBLO, and it is my prayer that more and more partnerships will be formed to further this important ministry.