A Yemeni ex-Muslim named John Ghanim has undergone the most extraordinary life transformation. So dramatic is his story that it went viral with over 16 million views from Yemenis watching in their dialect. He started life in a simple village in the Yemen, a country known for its deep devotion to the religion of Islam. In fact John would say Yemeni culture is virtually inseparable from the Muslim religion.
He recalls as a young man, the young people of his village were encouraged by the Houthis (Allah’s Army, as they’re known) to emblazon their slogan all over the village: beside roads, along the mountains… in every prominent public place. Their slogan is as follows:
“God is the greatest! Death to America, death to Israel! Curse on the Jews, victory to Islam!“
Perhaps it’s unsurprising to learn that this Yemeni group is intricately linked with Iran. John grew up in this atmosphere and with these values, in a country that is suffering deeply. John would say it seemed as if God had withdrawn His hand from their troubled nation. People constantly fighting against one another, desperation and disease, famine and war… John says that it’s as if the people have been brainwashed. They grow up believing the Jews are bad, and Israel is evil. When he and his cousins would misbehave as children, frustrated neighbors would hurl insults, accusing them of being Jewish. Calling someone a Jew is a deep insult—it’s a derogatory and offensive term in the thinking of many Muslims, guided by the Quran, which contains multiple verses speaking against Jews and Christians. Here’s one of them:
“O you who believe! do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people.” [Quran 5.51]
Yet it was while he was visiting Saudi Arabia for the Hajj—the obligatory pilgrimage to Mecca—that his faith in the Quran was shaken.
John was taught from childhood how to pray to Allah five times a day, how to fast, and do all the rituals relating to their religion. Muslims pray facing the Kaaba, the stone building at the center of the most important mosque in Islam, Masjid al-Haram, in Mecca. “I was faithful, I used to love Islam, this is how I grew up—as a normal Muslim. I was married and have two daughters. I was studying business administration at university but I started to wonder… I pray five times a day, but there’s no spiritual connection between me and God.” John felt it was just a physical routine of bowing down but there was no real or meaningful connection with his Creator.
In search of the Creator
“I wanted to know the One who created me, who designed me. I took these questions to the leaders, the Imams, asking about how to be sure we’d get to heaven and was told that even they weren’t sure. They said nobody could be sure if they were going to heaven, so we have to do good deeds and work hard all our lives to earn salvation.” John went with others to do the Hajj in Mecca, to what is called the “House of Allah” (although it’s not, John quickly points out). He was so excited and happy to go there and to discover more about Allah. They dressed in traditional Islamic dress for the important occasion and had to go around the black box of the Kaaba seven times. “As I was going around the black box, I started to ask myself this question: As Muslims do we worship the Creator? The one God? Or are we worshiping this stone? I had the realization that we were just worshiping a stone, not the one true God. I was very scared to be honest. Is this the end? The end of my Islamic faith, even as I’m on pilgrimage in Mecca?”
So that was how John gave up his faith and became agnostic for three years. “It was the hardest three years of my life,” says John. “Yemeni culture is completely inseparable from Islam. It’s a tribal country and the government is based on Sharia law, Islamic law”, John explains. “As an apostate I could have my head cut off. I was an infidel. It was very hard to act as a Muslim but inside there was emptiness and the constant questions about God, the longing to connect with the One who created me.”
John later ended up in Greece where he met people from different countries including a Syrian who had a cross tattooed on his hand. John was curious and asked about his neighbor’s tattoo. The Syrian man explained, “This is the Savior, Yasua” (Yasua, or Yasu, is the Arabic way of saying Jesus). John had heard of Yasua. He read in the Quran that Yasua (called “Isa” in the Quran) was a slave of God, that He was the prophet for the Jewish people and that would return at the end to kill the pagans. But when he heard Yasua was the Savior of the world, John was fascinated. “Would you like to know about Jesus Christ?” The Syrian friend offered. “Yes!” John was deeply curious and accepted the invitation to go to a Bible study being held by some German missionaries the following day.
An invitation he couldn’t refuse
They went to the gathering and the people started to worship. What are they doing? John wondered. He had no idea. The pastor started speaking of sin and how it had been inherited from Adam. He spoke of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, and being the son of God. “You’re telling me that God has a son? It was really hard to accept this at the beginning. I started to debate them. The pastor asked if I’d like to come to church and I said, OK! I thought churches were for weddings and parties from the movies I’d seen. I didn’t realize it was a place for prayer and worship.”
“As soon as I entered I saw people worshipping. I felt there was secret power in this place. The atmosphere was different. I started to feel jealous—why are they so confident to worship in this way? My curiosity levels raised higher and higher.”
The pastor spoke about the God of love, of the incarnation… of how Jesus left His glory and came to earth as a human being, died on the cross for us, rose again, and that if we put our faith in Him we could be saved. “I was listening and I had never heard anything like it before, although I still didn’t have faith at that time. A couple from Norway gave me a New Testament in Arabic. I took that Bible, and I called it my Treasure. I started to read Matthew and came across the story of how Jesus was baptized and a voice from heaven said “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”. The God of heaven speaks!”
The Beatitudes in Matthew chapter 5 were particularly compelling to him. At that point, John’s name was still Mohammed. He felt like God was talking directly to him. “Mohammed! I’m speaking to you! This is for you! The Sermon on the Mount is for you.”
“It came like water into my spirit. I can’t explain the joy I had. This is what I’ve been looking for! This is the God I didn’t know! This is the God I want to follow! As I continued to read it answered all my questions about prayer and fasting, I was so excited to go back to the church the following Sunday.”
At the end of the service, the pastor asked, “Who wants to give his life to Jesus Christ?” Straight away I raised my hand. He led me through the sinners’ prayer and oh my, as soon as I said “Amein!” and opened my eyes, everything seemed so beautiful all of a sudden, all the people around me, everything! There was great joy and peace inside.” Soon, John was baptized.
“As soon as I came out of the water I feel God gave me boldness in my faith. I wanted to share my faith with everyone – on social media”. The few Yemeni believers that exist are not willing to be open on social media because it’s so dangerous. “I knew I would experience persecution but I didn’t care. My video went viral, gaining over 16 million views, and my family saw it. The Imams saw it. Everyone saw it. It was very painful for my family. I was declared an infidel and my family were attacked for raising me in a bad way, and for bringing shame to our community, our country, and even the whole Islamic faith.” John’s wife and children were banished from him and they were forcibly divorced. He tried to call his mother to tell her he’d done nothing wrong, that he was following the God of love. She replied, “I wish you had killed someone rather than become a Christian. You’ve brought shame to our family”.
“It broke my heart because they are blind, you can’t discuss it with them. I was no longer their son and they said I was dead to them. At the beginning, for the first two years, it was very hard, but God held me. He gave me peace and grace. He has anointed me to share His good news. I started to share more and more in Arabic and we baptized many people from Muslim backgrounds. I receive death threats all the time. In 2019 one Yemeni young man contacted me on messenger and became a secret evangelist in Yemen and has since baptized many people there.”
John has become a very famous face in Yemeni society, and he continues to boldly share the gospel on all manner of social media platforms. He can no longer travel freely, but his message can. Many have come to faith through the message he shares, and many of those have gone on to become prolific evangelists themselves—John’s words about Jesus have been seeds that fell on good soil, producing a great harvest.
A heart to bless Israel
Early on in his new faith, John asked for the whole Bible and determined to read it from cover to cover. It wasn’t long before he came across the calling of Abraham in the first few verses of Genesis 12:
“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
“I started to feel guilty. We have cursed the descendants of Abraham over and over as the Yemeni people. I read about the 400 years of slavery in Egypt and about the Exodus. I saw that God was with them—even when they rebelled, He was still with them.”
These truths seeped into John’s soul and he began to cry. As he was crying he felt like he connected to the people of Israel. He repented of the hatred he had expressed towards Israel in the past, and on behalf of his Yemeni people. At that point John received special love for Israel and the Jewish people. God put it in his heart that one day he would serve them. To this day, whenever he sees the Israeli flag or hears about Israel, hears Jewish music, his heart races. “I do believe that according to the Bible, God is the same yesterday, today and forever. His promises are all still there for the nation of Israel. It’s an ancient nation, but God is still with them and will reveal Himself to them and one day they will receive Yeshua and share those blessings with all the nations.”
Today John is determined to replace all the cursing of Israel with blessing. “I feel deeply sorry for all the years I hated Israel, I am sorry for the Yemeni people that they have hatred for the people of Israel, and I know that to heal the land of Yemen we need to turn these curses into blessings”.
John has taken part in the virtual Bible studies held by our Arabic outreach team, led by Carlos Damianos from our offices in Israel. “Whenever I have hard questions about the Bible, especially about the Old Testament, I will go to Carlos because he knows Hebrew. I am always blessed by his explanations. We pray together for Israel, and for the Jewish people.” As much as John has been blessed by our team here at ONE FOR ISRAEL, we have been greatly blessed by him. What an amazing testimony of God’s mighty love!
John Ghanim has recorded his testimony with us in Arabic so if you have friends who understand Arabic feel free to share this video with them!