Good morning Gateway! It’s really amazing to be here with all of you
today. I think the last time I was here was around 2006 on a panel about
ethnic diversity. Many things have changed since then, but many things
have stayed the same. Back then, we were a single campus, so it’s really
fun to be able to say good morning to all the people watching from
South, Central, Buda/Kyle, Pflugerville, Dripping Springs, Branson, and
Let me start by saying that the Voices series is a time where Gateway
brings in world-renowned authors…I am not one of those. They bring in
well-traveled speakers speaking about insightful topics…I am not one of
those. They even bring in pastors from other churches to give a fresh
perspective on topics that are important to us…but as you guessed…I am
not one of those. In fact, when I discussed with my family on being part
of the Voices series, the first question asked was whether I was thinking
about becoming a pastor. My response was no, and there was some
collective relief in my household.
You see. I am just you. Someone who goes to this Church and has a
Story. A Story that has been co-mingling with God’s Story long before I
even knew it.
And so I want you to think about something this morning: What would
happen to those around you if they knew Your Story? I don’t mean
the façade that we show each other, but everything…your hurts,
your addictions, the abuse, tragedies, and triumphs. And better yet,
what would happen if you let God into your Story fully, in every
What if I told you that each of YOU has a Voice and a Story that
God can and will use to change others? Would YOU believe me? I
think sometimes we get so enthralled by other’s adventures, that we
forget that we are living or own. I and you have stories that can be
used by God in amazing ways.
Let’s be honest. I am terrified to do this message today, and it’s not
because of being on a stage…I speak publicly in my career. The thing
that scares me most is what you will think of me afterwards. How will
you feel when you really know ME?
You see, each of us has lives our Story with our the peaks and valleys,
although some may be higher and lower than others. What I want you to
keep in your heart and mind is something very simple. Your story
matters, especially to God. And God has given you a voice to use!
When praying for this message and trying to understand what it means
when you allow God into your narrative, a Scripture appeared before me
during prayer, the Message translation states in 2 Samuel 22:25 – God
rewrote the text of my life when I opened the book of my heart to his
You, too, can rewrite your Story by letting God fully into your story,
YOUR WHOLE STORY. I hope you’ll see that as I share mine.
I originally moved to Austin for graduate school after undergrad and
running a small computer shop in SE Texas. With a degree in physical
therapy I stayed worked here as a full-time therapist, but after 10+ years,
I was looking for new challenges and began dabbling back into tech and
went full time into it about 3 years ago.
As I explored this niche space of healthcare tech, I was traveling more
and begin not only presenting on specific topics but was invited to panel
and provide keynote presentations and that’s when God started working
on me. You see after every event where I participated as a speaker, God
would nudge me to say, “What about speaking for Me?”
Now, my usual response is, I don’t really know what you mean God. But
deep down I knew, and I was doing everything I could to avoid it. You
see in the business world when somebody wants you to do something
and you really don’t want to do it the easiest thing for you to do is to tell
them hey, let me think about it and get back to you.
Now in the spiritual / church world when somebody asks you to do
something and you really don’t want to do it, the typical response
is……let me pray about it. My fear was compelling me to stay silent
Although I don’t recommend it, I asked God to give me obvious signs
that I couldn’t ignore, but did everything I could to push them aside.
Until this year. God presented me with 2 signs I couldn’t avoid, and
both came within 2 days of each other.
The first sign was January of this year after a Gateway board meeting. I
was the last board member to leave and John Burke and Eric Bryant
were there. They made mention of a text they sent me with an idea. I
never received a text I told them and after some back and forth, they
asked if I would participate in the Voices series and I told them what
God had been prompting me to do. Which they believed was a sign, and
I agreed, but…. let me pray about it.
The Second sign was from my family. The prior week as my birthday
and my oldest daughter did something peculiar that day. She wrote me a
note and asked that I would keep it in a place where I could view it
Feeling the guilt from brushing off John and Eric, I decided to actually
pray about speaking and the next morning, I felt the prompting to….
read the note.
In full disclosure, I was not reading the note daily, but at that prompting
I picked it up and this is what it said: Your Voice is your masterpiece,
do NOT be afraid to use it.
I picked up my phone and texted John and Eric with one word, OK.
Before we really dive into my story, I want you to know something. It is
really difficult for a Muslim who converts to be outspoken about coming
to faith. I would and technically am an apostate and in certain parts of
the world, to convert brings shame upon your family and potential
recourse, which can include death. Thankfully, I was born and raised
here and that allows me freedoms that other Islamic countries do not
provide. Which is why so many hide their faith change.
I believe that not sharing my story is a disservice for their bravery and
courage and so my way of honoring those that cannot share their faith
for fear of their lives is to talk about my faith in Jesus, but also what I
have kept to myself for the last 20 years, about as long as I have been
part of Gateway.
I grew up in SE Texas, and Port Arthur for part of my life, which was
relatively diverse compared to where I went to school, which was
Nederland, TX. Now, whatever diversity Port Arthur had…. Nederland
made up for it with none at all.
Here is where I began to learn about myself, what made me different…in
both race and religion. And as I grew older, I realized I didn’t know
much about my own religion to really be an advocate for it.
Over the years, my grandparents would come to visit from Pakistan and
during those extended stays, they would teach us to read and write Urdu.
We would learn Arabic and through that process we began to learn about
what we are to believe as Muslims. As a follower of Islam, we were
taught the 5 pillars of Islam, that Allah is God and Mohammed is his
true prophet, daily prayer, almsgiving, fasting during the month of
Ramadan, and to do the Holy Pilgrimage, when we are old enough. As a
child, it was never fun to go to school, and then come to study subjects
like Urdu and Arabic.
We also memorized verses from the Quran which are used during the
daily prayers. Now, I was always good about trying to memorize the
shortest verses as those get you through prayer time faster, and really
had no desire to become a Hafiz (one who memorizes the entire Quran).
Imagine if you were trained to memorize the entire Bible and could
recite it from start to finish. That would be an amazing
accomplishment? Now, imagine memorizing the Bible in Greek and
Hebrew, but you are never taught how to translate it into English. That
is how millions of Muslims are in the case of the Quran. They memorize
it, and recite verses from it, but don’t know what it means because they
do not have a relationship with the word.
So, the foundations where I built my overall understanding of my
Islamic faith were in 3 main areas:
The 5 pillars of Islam
The Hadiths – these are the sayings/acts attributed to the Prophet
The 6 articles of Faith -Belief in the existence of the books of
which God is the author of: the Quran (revealed to Muhammad),
the Gospel (revealed to Jesus), the Torah (revealed to Moses), and
Psalms (revealed to David). Muslims do believe that we share the
Growing up during elementary and middle school years, when it came to
show and tell, I brought our prayer rugs, books, etc. I was always glad
to be a representative for my culture and religion and would do the best
to teach what I believed.
It was around this time that I had my encounter with Chuck Norris. No,
not that Chuck Norris, although that would be awesome and I love my
Chuck Norris jokes (most of them not appropriate for church, but I will
through you guys an easy one).
When God said, “Let there be light!” Chuck said, “Say Please.”
I didn’t know this kid, but he liked to show his karate moves…and
honestly, he was pretty good. He was able to show a round house kick
to us, and when you can do moves like that, you get to be called Chuck
Yet, there was something different about him, and one morning, while
waiting for the bus, we were alone, Chuck and I. And although we
didn’t speak regularly, Chuck said, can I ask you a question? “I guess
so.” Do you know who Jesus is? “Yes, I do.” You see, as a Muslim, I
knew that Jesus was a great Prophet mentioned significantly throughout
the Quran, but where the division lay between Muslims and Christians
was one of many sticking points…. that Jesus was just a great Man and a
Prophet. Nothing more than that. To say He is the Son of God is
blasphemy and to think that God would bore a Son is an abhorrent idea.
Yes, we believed that Jesus didn’t die on the cross and was replaced by
God on their (substitution theory) and there will be a second coming for
Jesus because all Men must die and because Jesus is just a man, so he
must return to face death.
“Yes, I do.” Chuck’s response was straight to the point, “I don’t think
so. You see, if you want to be in Heaven and live with God, you must
accept Jesus as your Savior. And it’s easy to do. When you go home,
kneel and put your hands together and pray for Jesus to come into your
heart and that you will follow Him. Say that and you will be saved.”
That night, and don’t ask me why, I was looking for something under
my bed, while on my knees. Once I got up, I remembered Chuck’s
statement to me. Thinking nothing of it, and I don’t remember what I
said, but I do remember scoffing at it with a simple statement, why don’t
you come into my heart and show me what its really like Jesus!
Jeremiah 1:7-9 it states: But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am
too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I
command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will
rescue you,” declares the LORD. Then the LORD reached out his hand
and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your
God would use his voice to speak to me, but…I never saw Chuck again.
Fast forward to middle school. We didn’t visit family often back in
Pakistan because of time and the expense of the trip, but when we did, it
was typically for 2-3 months. While in middle school, we ended up
going back for my uncle’s wedding. If you have ever been to an Indian
or Pakistani wedding, you will find that it can be a fun spectacle that can
spread out over 1-2 weeks.
The main part of the ceremonial events is when the groom goes to the
bride’s family home and brings her back to his so that they can start their
life together. That was the house where I was staying. And my “uncle”,
who was getting married had his room ready and of course the
matrimonial bed was being made up with strings of flowers all around
the bed to be ready.
Families are all staying together at this home, including cots on the
rooftop to get some comfortable breezes, there were limited beds
throughout the home, but I was offered to use my “uncle’s” bedroom.
And that that night my story changed.
You see that night, this “uncle” sexually assaulted me. The man who
was about to bring his bride home and sleep with her in his matrimonial
bed, assaulted a young boy, and forever changed the trajectory of my
life. I didn’t remember much from it at the time, mostly bits and pieces.
I remember waking the next morning and he not being there, not
knowing what to do, trying to make sense of it all, and then feeling
guilty to put myself in that position….I chose internal silence and in the
end that was a mistake. My voice and my story were locked in the
prison of shame and condemnation so I could pretend to be the same
person to the external world.
It took a while for me to figure out in my head what had happened, but I
spent the next few years internalizing it, being angry and depressed
about it, and questioning who I was as a person.
I can tell you, when you start believing that narrative, the Enemy sure
loves to lock you in a prison of lies. But I could to not tell my family,
and wanted to protect them, because I was afraid of being rejected and
the reaction to it would hurt them and others. But more than anything, I
felt like it was my fault, and lived with that shame for a very long time.
Even though I lived within it, it WASN’T my fault, just like it isn’t your
fault. If this is your story, and you have been through abuse the Enemy
whispers “it’s your fault to every man and woman who is abused (which
is 1/3 women and ¼ of men according to the CDC). If this is you, I
implore you, don’t be afraid. Use your voice and ask God to unlock
those chains and bring it into the light. Tell your Story, let it be healed,
let it be heard! God can heal your story and use your story to help
In the end, I never saw this uncle again.
I struggled coming home but knew how to hide it well. Behind good
grades and friendships was a young boy struggling with identity. As I
began to explore more within my Muslim faith and with the increased
access to the Internet, I both explored my spirituality and tried to self-
diagnose what happened to me.
In the end, mustering up enough courage I began to seek counsel from
chat rooms and bulletin boards (not the best place to go), not the things
you see on walls…think of like barbaric facebook or the Atari of Social
Media. But, it did allow me to remain anonymous. I talked to people in
chat rooms, was introduced to porn to self-medicate, and even made my
way into rooms about religion, including my own.
Eventually a user I regularly chatted with suggested that I speak to an
Imam (a spiritual leader of the mosque). Now, I didn’t go the mosque
regularly, but we had one in driving distance, and because of my
infrequent attendance, it would allow me to have some anonymity.
I needed to fill a missing piece inside of me and I wanted to fix this
MYSELF. So, I met with the Imam, and tried to ask questions…why do
bad things happen to good people, what happens to people who sin
(levels of sin), can people be redeemed, etc. I think these are all
questions we ask, no matter what we believe around the world.
His response destroyed me. You see, once I laid bare the happenings of
that night at the wedding, his body language changed from leaning to
me, to pushing away. After some careful silence on his part, he recited a
verse I didn’t know in Arabic. And then he began asking me
questions……was I praying 5 times a day, fasting during month of
Ramada, was I reading the Quran regularly, was I honoring my Father
and Mother like I should be and was I doing things that were against
Islam. I didn’t really have great answer for him.
He studied me and my answers and made a statement, which I am
paraphrasing now (Disclaimer: Not all Imams think like this. I found
out later from those who condemn his remarks, but it’s what I heard and
believed.)…sometimes Allah punishes in this world those that that
disappoint him and that based on my track record, I am not a full
follower of Islam and have not devoted myself to my family as best as I
should and for that, I was punished as a reminder that Allah can strike us
for our sins in this world and beyond, once we die. To be told that what
happened to me was the result of my sinful nature and a reminder that
I can be punished for it was like a dagger…. why do bad things happen
to good people? Well, it happened because I wasn’t a good person.
You see, in that moment, I felt like Allah was rejecting me. I was not
good enough to be a follower of Islam, I was not good enough to be the
son of my parents, and I was just not good enough. To say I was
devasted was an understatement. To think that you have no worth in this
world is a hollow place to be and I didn’t know what to do or how to
Why didn’t Allah love me and punish the predator or maybe I did
deserve what happened to me.
I didn’t know that is what Jesus came for – to set all people free from
guilt, shame, and condemnation. Romans 8 says, there is no
condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because
you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you
from the power of sin that leads to death. But I didn’t know this, so I
was dying inside. And that’s what people everywhere feel without
understanding God’s grace.
And by the way, you don’t have to be Muslim to receive bad religious
advice. Maybe in your pain and anguish, you have received words that
have pushed you further away from God, but that is not His way, this is
what Evil does. But you don’t have to live that way.
His damage done… In the end, I never saw that Imam again.
I struggled for years feeling condemned, and I think my reaction was
pretty typical from someone going into the end of high school into
college…I rebelled. Reading the Hadiths, I was struck that no matter
how much good I or bad I do, I still am at the whim of Allah whether I
am accepted into Heaven or not.
And this is where I made the weirdest of my decisions…If, as the Imam
had told me that I was already on the wrong path, and if I was a sinful
person headed to hell, well, then I might as well enjoy it. So I created a
mental list to try it all…sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll (well country music),
I was in SE Texas.
But here’s the thing. None of it provided me solace or the answers I
sought. My parents had ingrained in me a sense of right and wrong
along with what so my drinking lasted one time, drugs…never even
made it to anything substantial, sex not only didn’t fill the void, but
caused me more issues, and eating foods that were against religious and
cultural norms like hamburgers, like yellow-jello, or a Big Mac…how do
people even consider that a real hamburger.
I also started dating (another cultural no-no). Dating as an older high
school or college student is its own form of punishment, but ironically
my “rebellion” allowed me to meet a genuine Christ follower. I saw
Christianity through the eyes of someone who had a loving relationship
with God, and I stress the word relationship, which is something I didn’t
have. She and her parents used their voices to tell me about Jesus.
We were in a show choir together (yes, my friends there were jazz
hands) and continued to grow closer.
At one point, I even had this notion of becoming a singer, and not just
any singer, I wanted to be a country music star. I would eventually want
to name my band, the Cowboy and the Indian (come on that works) and
would be the first South Asian country singer on the Billboard Top 100.
My friends even nicknamed me Dark Brooks on my prowess of singing
a mean Garth or George Strait. Those dreams faded away, but those
experiences are another message in itself.
You see feeling worthless, you end up acting worthless and I thought
that it could hide the pain and anguish. Is that you? Do you resort to
alcohol, drugs, partying, sexual activities that are meaningless, and
other forms of indulgence? It doesn’t have to be that way.
A new life is available through Jesus and I was about to find that out in a
Over the next couple of years, I begin to explore my faith heavily and
that includes both Islam and Christianity. My relationships begin to
solidify with friends in and out of college. I still have this nagging depression/anxiety hanging over me and I want to plug those holes, but how?
I knew I couldn’t do it in my home town. At this time, I was traveling to
Houston 1-2x a week for MCAT prep courses to get into Medical
School. I used this as an opportunity to find a counselor in Houston to
help me “work through” my issues
I met Dr. B for a total of 6 sessions and each one progressed into
working through what happened, my frustrations, my inner conflict,
religion challenges, etc.
In the end, it centered on a couple of basic things, why could I not feel
like I could go to my parents (I didn’t want them to be hurt) and why my
Creator didn’t show up when I needed Him the most.
At the end of my last session, she said that I was defensive. And I
needed to clear an important part of my life up or I would never let my
guard down. She thought that I needed to have it out with God. “Bring
it to Him” she said.
As we were now out of the patient / client mode, she told me of her own
past issues with God and the peace she made when she laid it in front of
I drove home from Houston to Nederland, I had nearly 2 hours to try. I
think I misunderstood that bringing it to God was not the same as
“giving it to him” which was more shouting in anger than a true
Why would you do this to ME? Where were you when I needed YOU?
How is it that can stand by and not act on behalf of ME? Why don’t you
And for the first time in my life, I felt like I heard a voice inside my
heart and mind (still don’t know if it was audible). PULL OVER! That
had to be me in my head, PULL OVER! Are you talking to ME? Oh,
now YOU finally want to show up? PULL OVER!
I did…into a sparse parking lot at a Whataburger.
Ok, “I am here God. What is it you want to tell me?”
The answers to your questions.”
“You are ready to see.”
In a flash, he brought me back to THE NIGHT. We didn’t rehash
everything, but he showed me the one thing I didn’t see or notice.
During the midst of this assault, for some reason (maybe Chuck Norris),
some crazy notion came upon me, and I whispered as clear as day, “help
me Jesus.” and BAM! The phone on the nightstand rang. I don’t know
how long that call lasted (seemed like forever), but I don’t remember
hearing a sound from my uncle, just silence. When the call was over, he
rolled over NEVER touched me again. When I woke up the next
morning, he wasn’t there.
“When you asked for My help, I was there.”
“I have been there from the day that boy spoke to you and you kneeled
at that bedside and asked for me to come into your heart. I was there.”
“In your hurt and anguish, I was there!”
“You have tried to control your pain and you don’t have to now because
I AM HERE.”
I don’t know how long I cried in that parking lot. Mostly angry at
myself for being in my own way and not letting Him in sooner, but guilt
and shame replaced with grace and love is not a bad start.
After some time, I also realized another reason God had brought me to
that parking lot. He wanted to introduce me to a worthy fast food
cheeseburger around from WhataBurger. Take that Big Mac.
You see, no matter where you are in life, God is with you. Jesus said it
this way, “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my
voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal
together as friends. Revelation 3:23. He is waiting at the doorstep of
our lives, your heart. Let Him In!
I thought that he was distant throughout the years and didn’t want any
part of Him.…what I didn’t realize is that Jesus didn’t want to be apart
from me or YOU.
In the end, I never saw or could find Dr. B again.
A sense of dread is both lifted from me and is laid on me. I am now
speaking, like you would speak to a friend sitting next to me in the
passenger seat. I have a couple of hours to be praying and ask, “what do
you want from me?” Again, I don’t know if this is audible, but I feel
like the Holy Spirit was speaking directly speaking into my heart and
mind…prompting me. I think in that moment it what I needed at that
time to know that I was in the presence of God.
I am not sure what I am hearing, but in my mind, I hear Follow me and
profess yourself to me.”
And so I did, knowing full well that I would have to live two lives for
now, one for my family and one for Him. To disclose this decision to my
family would be devastating to them, but I gave my life to Him “I take
you as Savior Jesus.”
And that is when I could sense it wasn’t enough. “I want you to profess
it publicly.” “I can’t do that yet Lord, I am just not ready.
For the first time in my life, I did the old challenge the Lord routine. If
you really want me to do this, you will have to give me some concrete
That is when the first sign appeared. No, I mean a literal billboard
appeared. “Revival Up Ahead.”
“Wait, oh you are not doing this.”
Next billboard: “Confess your Sins.”
You have to be kidding me!
Next billboard—I kid you not: “Profess your Faith.”
Is this a joke, but no, literal billboard signs on the road as I’m driving
home. How much is God’s advertising budget?
The last billboard: “Pull over Now Before its Too late!”
Ok. I pull into a tent revival. Think about what a roadside tent revival
would be like…yep, it was probably there. It was like walking into a
circus, and when I stepped in, all eyes were on me. A SE Texas Revival
with a Pakistani Muslim. I walk forward as the pastor calling forth
people. He asked me why I was there. Well, I was led here to profess
my faith and needed to do it publicly–per God. Hallelujah! And the
singing, praising, and prayers ensued. I think I could hear God laughing,
saying, you asked for a sign….
And since then, the one person who hasn’t disappeared from my life is
Have I failed Him? More often than I would like to admit this morning,
but through it all He remains, just as he remains for you. You see from
this point on over the next several years, I had to decide what and who
my First Love would be:
Matt 10 reads “ Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me
is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more
than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross
and follow me is not worthy of me.
I have really disliked this verse over the years. I think many people read
this and pass right over it, but I had to make a decision, do I follow
family or God? I love my family more than I tell them or what they
realize, but until my first love and faithfulness is to God, then I am not
truly loving my family.
You see, I chose to try and please them, to follow their path, and that
turns them into an idol. Putting them before God is not good for them or
me, but it comes with some significant consequences.
I have faced rejection by them, being disowned by them, being kept
away during certain events so that my choices aren’t revealed as to
whom I follow. You see, I have to take the love that Christ has for me
and emulate that to them, no matter if the accept or reject me.
I can tell you this, to follow God is not easy. Using your voice may
cost you family, friends, and those things that you hold dear.
You may have to make some tough decisions and step out in ways you
never thought possible, but are you willing to put God first?
Are you willing to let God in fully – to rewrite your story and use your
Voice to heal others?
He is there standing at the door of your heart, knocking – let him in.
Let him in if you’ve never let him in at all. Let him into the shameful,
hidden, secret places that keep you in chains – let him set you free,
then use Your Story, Your Voice, to set others free.
A wise 12-year old once wrote to me, Your Voice is Your Masterpiece,
Do not be Afraid to Use it.