“I became a Christian ... because it was a miracle, I think.”
These are the words of Father Bashir Abdelsamad, a Sudanese priest who is the temporary administrator at St. Bernard Parish in Osceola, St. Patrick Parish in Grand River and St. Joseph Parish in Mount Ayr.
He was appointed the position from the diocese in Des Moines and will be serving in the area until July.
The road to Christianity was an arduous trek for Abdelsamad, filled with many hurdles along the way.
Growing up, Abdelsamad came from a Muslim family in Sudan.
When Abdelsamad was in primary school, his teacher taught Islamic religion, and much of what was learned was to attack Christianity and its followers.
Abdelsamad asked the teacher if Christians are really created by God, then why should Muslims have to kill them? He questioned if Christians are evil, then why did God create them?
The teacher punished Abdelsamad because he thought the boy was misleading the other children. Abdelsamad said he was beaten badly at the time.
Later, Abdelsamad had a dream with Jesus appearing to him with two books in his hands. Keep in mind that Abdelsamad didn’t know what Jesus looked like at that time.
In the vision, Jesus did not tell Abdelsamad to take one of the books, but he offered him the choice of the Bible or Koran. Abdelsamad knew what the Koran was, but he had no idea what the Bible looked like.
In the dream, Abdelsamad chose the Bible, and then Jesus immediately disappeared.
Abdelsamad said he remembered trembling and feeling cold after the dream, and then falling into a deep sleep.
There was a small church where Abdelsamad lived, and instead of going to mosque like he was supposed to, he wanted to go see what the Bible looked like.
At the church, Abdelsamad couldn’t find a pastor, but he did find a hymn book. He opened it and found the hymn with the words “I decided to follow Jesus.”
In Sudan, students have to take general exams once they reach a certain age. Abdelsamad went to a town where his exams were given, found a church and asked a pastor to see a Bible.
The pastor showed Abdelsamad the Bible, and his body began trembling. It was the book from his dream.
During this time, priests were hesitant to give Abdelsamad the Bible, most likely because he came from a Muslim family.
Desire to learn
However, Abdelsamad wanted to learn about the Christian Bible, and eventually found an Italian priest who would teach him.
When Abdelsamad was going to be baptized into Christianity, church officials wanted to give him a different name. However, Abdelsamad wanted the one he already had.
When Abdelsamad was in primary school, a teacher was the one who gave him the name Bashir. It was almost as if it was fate because Bashir means “preacher.”
“I did not realize this until a long, long time,” Abdelsamad said.
Then, Abdelsamad was sent to seminary school, though, once again, there were reservations about doing so because of his Muslim background.
In 1986, Abdelsamad was ordained as a priest.
Marked for death
While Abdelsamad was a priest in Sudan, he was arrested and ordered to be taken to military headquarters. On his way there, Abdelsamad began to pray with a rosary.
“It became very, very cold wind again,” Abdelsamad said. “Everybody in the security, those people were frightened. They stopped. They stopped immediately and they started asking me, ‘What’s this?’ What happened? Why is this?’ And, I said, ‘Well, I don’t know.’ I refused to tell them anything.”
Abdelsamad was pushed into a small cell, and he estimated it was filled with 300 people, including dead bodies.
“I was quite sure I was going to die if they delay not to come and take me out from there because I was unable to breathe completely,” he said.
Security came for Abdelsamad after a few minutes, but the danger wasn’t over yet.
He was thrown into a car with nine other people. They were taken to the place where people were executed.
“Those people, the killers, they take (them) one by one, and they shoot them,” Abdelsamad said. “They enjoy it. They really enjoy it — one by one.”
Abdelsamad was the last person in line who was supposed to be shot, and had to watch nine people die in front him.
Fortunately, Abdelsamad had a friend who was the commander of the area, as well as a Muslim. He was saved just in time.
Still, Abdelsamad wasn’t completely out of danger. He was told to leave the area as soon as possible because his death might be ordered again by Islamic government.
Abdelsamad didn’t want to leave right away.
“If they kill me, they kill the body. They will not kill my soul. What’s the matter? Everybody’s going to die. We are subject to death,” Abdelsamad said, “So, what is the matter if they kill me or not? They don’t kill me, they kill the body.”
A few days later, Abdelsamad left the area, and many people were surprised to see he was still alive. They thought the government had him killed.
In 1994, Abdelsamad came to the United States to get a master’s degree in Cincinnati. He also spent time in Nashville.
He wanted to go back to Sudan, but people warned him the government was still looking for him.
In the U.S., Abdelsamad gained political asylum, got a worker’s permit, green card and, finally, citizenship.
One day, Abdelsamad said, he may plan to return to Sudan, “whether they want to kill me or not.” However, his sisters at home are still warning him against his return.
As for living in small-town Iowa, Abdelsamad said he likes the peace and quiet. It helps him to read and study, especially the Bible.
“The people are good. The community here is good,” he said. “All the community, really, for me, is good.”