A magical evening at the International Christmas party for local Syrian refugees

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Whenever kids show up at a Christmas party for them, they get excited. Throw in a magic show and they’re hyped. But you’ve never seen kids get more amped-up than the group of more than 100 gathered in the lobby at the Ronald Reagan Center in El Cajon on the evening of December 22, 2017. 

Whenever kids show up at a Christmas party for them, they get excited. Throw in a magic show and they’re hyped. But you’ve never seen kids get more amped-up than the group of more than 100 gathered in the lobby at the Ronald Reagan Center in El Cajon on the evening of December 22, 2017. 

When their pastor Daniel Massieh waved his hand above them all, they quieted a little. He had to yell out that they needed to begin lining up to enter the room for the magic show. The noise then went from a dull roar to excited screams. 

The children were Syrian refugees under the leadership of Massieh, who came to the United States from Egypt. A former Muslim who converted to Christianity, Massieh knows intimately the problems of integrating into a strange country with differing traditions, beliefs and culture.  

Helping Muslim refugees survive in their new home in America, and reaching out to them with the gospel of Christ is Massieh’s over-arching purpose in life. He does this, he said, “By breaking the walls, and opening the Gates between the Muslim and Christian community in the US.”  

Open the Gate, established in 2006 by Massieh, offers many community services to refugees, including teaching and bringing Muslims and Christians together as one community through events and conferences. In addition, at the Education center for refugees, Christians dedicate their time in teaching English, math, and other basic information. The volunteers also share their own faith and hope in Christ.

When asked what he believed what was the biggest misunderstanding that Muslims have initially about Christians, Massieh answered, “They believe that Christians are infidels believing in three gods and claiming that God has a son.”

And of the misunderstandings that Christians have of Muslims? “[Christians believe Muslims] are dangerous, difficult, and violent,” he said.

All those misperceptions get cleared up compassionately yet powerfully through the leadership of Massieh and the volunteers at Open the Gates (OTG). The organization offers classes to Christians, as well, to help them understand Islam and to reach out to Muslims without fear.

Massieh had planted the first Middle Eastern Church in San Diego in 1985. Since then, he has helped other denominations plant another five churches in El Cajon. As the founder of OTG, Massieh is able to help many churches to understand Islam and give the hope. He also teaches in different Bible colleges, is a nationwide missionary, speaker and motivator to churches.

His birth name Muhammed Kamel, he was born and raised in Egypt as a devout Muslim. From the time he was seven years old, he studied and memorized the Qur’an. When he was a young man, he learned about Christ and became a follower.

But how did Massieh hear of Christ? “You need to read my best-selling book, “Traitor,”” he said.  

After the secret police in Egypt had arrested him for his faith in Christ and for his telling others the truth about Islam, the Attorney General asked Massieh the reason for his faith in Christ. Massieh answered him by asking three questions.

“Does Allah love you, Mr. Hisham?” He answered, “I don’t know,” said Massieh. 

“Where are you going if you died today? Hell or heaven?’ Massieh asked Mr. Hisham, who answered, “I don’t know.”

Massieh asked the third question, “Is Allah able to change you in Islam?” Mr. HIsham, replied, “No, Allah doesn’t change people in Islam.
Massieh responded with, “Mr. Hisham, if you don’t know if Allah loves you or not, and he will not take you to heaven, and He can’t change you, why are you following Allah in Islam?” 

Then Mr. Hisham asked Massieh the same three questions. 

“I said, ‘Yes, Jesus loves me, He gave me eternal life, and he changed my life. That’s why I am a Christian,’” Massieh said.

Even so, Mr. Hisham ordered solitary confinement in prison for Massieh, with no bed, blanket, heat, shower or restroom—and given only one meal a day. He was also tortured for his beliefs. 

What helped him get through that time in prison, Massieh said, was “My faith in Christ and His promises to me that He had called me to reveal truth about Him to Muslims everywhere I go.”

Having the International Christmas party on December 22 was important, Massieh believes, because it showed Muslims the love of God and changed their minds about Americans and Christians as they reached out to help them.

Volunteers handed out free Bibles and DVDs in the Arabic language to the children and parents. While the children were entertained by Professor Rich’s magic, the adults were in the adjacent room listening to musicians playing Christmas songs in Arabic and English. 

Though the children were excited beyond words to watch the magic show and get a free dinner and presents, there is one thing that really lights up children’s eyes, Massieh said.

“It is when they first hear of Christ and begin to understand his miracles and His love of them,” he said.

For more information about Open the Gates, go to openthegates.org

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