By Mark Ellis
Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
LAFAYETTE, GEORGIA (ANS) -- As a teenager, they trained him to kill Christians and Jews as Beirut dissolved into the chaos of civil war. Before his 17th birthday, his fellow street warriors credited him with 223 kills—mostly against rival militias. Then a missionary witnessed to him in the streets about one who could remove the bloodguilt that drenched his hands. He listened long enough to lay his guns down forever.
“My life and other lives meant nothing to me,” says Zachariah Anani, director of evangelism for Millions to Millions Ministries International.
Growing up, his Sunni Muslim family wanted him to follow the tradition set by his great grandfather and become an imam. “I was introduced to Islamic schools since I was three-years-old,” he recalls. When he started training to be an Islamic warrior at 13, his family was delighted. “Only a warrior who dies on the battlefield according to Islamic doctrine has a right to reach heaven, and his family is to be shielded and respected.”
In the early 1970s, many small Islamic gangs or “fragments” operated in Beirut, supported by the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Over time, these smaller groups became part of Hezbollah, Hamas and other Jihadist groups. “I was equipped, trained, and sent out to kill Jews and Christians, and of course, Americans,” Anani says. He received a point on his chart every time he killed someone—if witnessed by two other fighters. “I had 223 points,” he says. “I thought I would be killed before I was 18 or 19.”
One day as Anani prowled the streets of Beirut he ran into a missionary affiliated with Operation Mobilization who happened to be preaching on a street corner. “I was passing by when this guy said: ‘Jesus Christ will give you new life, hope, and salvation.’” The words caught his attention and he stopped to listen and talk.
Later he went to visit the missionary’s home. It was the first time Anani ever saw a Bible. The missionary opened the scriptures to the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 11:28: “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”
“That really penetrated my heart,” Anani says. “I gave my life and my soul to Jesus Christ. That started a change in my life.”
Anani’s first reaction was to share the joy of his conversion with his Muslim family. “I went and told my parents and everybody the next day. I didn’t hide my faith.”
As the word spread of Anani’s dramatic change, Muslim religious leaders in Beirut ordered a trial based on the charge of apostasy. Anani ran afoul of Islamic tradition, which states: “He that adopts any other religion shall be put to death.”
“I was tried in the mosque next to my house,” Anani recalls. They sentenced Anani to death if he did not abandon his new faith and return to them a Muslim within three days. As they pronounced their sentence, Anani merely shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “I don’t care.”
After three days passed, his father hired three Kurdish assassins to kill him. “There have been 18 attempts on my life,” he notes. “My father said recently the last thing he wants to do to make him closer to God is to kill me.”
In one of the attempts, Anani narrowly escaped several attackers who accosted him on the streets of Beirut. “They knifed me—there was a big gash wound on my neck,” Anani recalls. “In Islamic tradition they have to cut my throat, not shoot me or poison me, although that was also tried,” he says. “By the time I was carried to the hospital I was clinically pronounced dead.” As his vital signs faded, one doctor continued to work feverishly to revive him.
Miraculously, Anani survived the attack—as well as many others. “It seems the Lord doesn’t want me to go up to him yet,” he says. “When God has his hand on you, nothing can happen.”
Since he left Lebanon in 1996, Anani continues as a bold witness for his faith. “He’s not shy about preaching,” says Mansa Musa, founder of Millions to Millions. “His testimony is extremely powerful,” Musa says. “I call him a modern-day Paul.”
Anani speaks openly throughout the U.S. and Canada, and conducts seminars and workshops aimed at witnessing to Muslims. “He’s been attacked in the U.S.,” Musa notes. “He had a car burned in Michigan—they think they’re doing Allah a favor.”
The former Beirut militia fighter continues to marvel at the changes God brought to his life. “When I look back I’m sad about what I was forced to do as a kid,” Anani says. “Now in Christ I’m a new creature and I’m covered by his blood—praise the Lord for that!”