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"I'm Not Here to Kill You"

His sister and niece were killed by terrorists. A trained military machine, John was determined to exact revenge and had the skills to do so. However, God completely rewrote and redirected John’s heart and soul, and he is now sharing the love of Christ with thousands of people in the Middle East. Here’s John’s story in his own words.

Beginnings of Faith

I am from Kfarhabou in the northern part of Lebanon. I was born into a large family of the Greek Orthodox Church. My father died when I was very young, and my older sister practically raised me.

Some missionaries came to Lebanon, bringing revival to our church. For the first time, I heard the good news about the love of God. I wanted to hear more about this kind of love, but it was just intellectual, mental knowledge and nothing more.

When I was 15, I realized I had to make a choice: either I had to submit my life to Christ or stay away from Him and enjoy my life the way I wanted. But away from God, my life was totally empty. Sometimes I prayed, “Lord, I want to live for you!” but the next morning I would wake and forget what I prayed for the last night.

One night, I felt the Spirit of God surrounding me. I felt that if I didn’t give my life to Christ, I would have lost the opportunity forever. I was very fearful, and, in my mind, I saw all the sins and mistakes I’d committed playing like a tape. While I was struggling with God and asking Him to come and change my life, I felt something amazing; the power of the Holy Spirit filled my heart, and I felt joy and peace. I started to weep, but the tears were tears of joy.

Military Career

I decided to enter the military, and I was selected to be the special guard of the president of Lebanon. At that time, there was a war in Lebanon. I was almost killed many times, but the Lord delivered me and gave me life. I received very special, tough training and became a strong and powerful man. That made me very aggressive, and my heart also became hardened.

I spent five years in the military. After that, I married my wife, Vania, in 1999. I thank the Lord, who gave me a godly woman like Vania. Her brother was also married to my sister’s oldest daughter, my niece.

Four months after Vania and I got married, we began to have a lot of troubles in our area. Terrorist groups began coming down from the mountains and infiltrating the towns. The army and police began fighting a war against these groups.

The Attack

My sister was now a widow and living with her daughter and her husband. On New Year’s Day in 2000, they spent the evening at my house. At midnight, we said our goodbyes, and they left to return home.

A short time later, we heard shooting from the part of town where their house was located. I wanted to go outside, but Vania was pregnant and didn’t want me to go. I called my sister’s phone, and a strange man answered. I knew then that the terrorists had their house. Was my family even still alive?

I took my weapon and ran out of the house into the night. I began to pray, “Lord, deliver us!” As I ran, someone started shooting at me. I didn’t know who was trying to kill me, but I kept running. The terrorists had occupied my sister’s house and the one next door. Before long, the army arrived with tanks and heavy artillery.

The army and terrorists battled for two days. Eleven soldiers were killed in front of my eyes. I could do nothing but watch the bloodshed. I could not rescue anyone. I could not do anything. I was completely helpless. The houses were close to collapse, almost leveled to the ground.

Inside the house, my sister and my niece were terribly injured and died from their bullet wounds. My niece’s husband, who was also injured, stayed with them until they passed away, and then he jumped out the window to the ground and escaped. After the battle was over and I saw what had happened to my sister and niece, I lost it; I beat my head against a wall. People had to restrain me.

After the Battle

My heart became like a stone. I lost every kind of feeling. I swore that I would not only kill some Muslims but that I would also destroy the entire village and kill everyone, especially the man who killed my family. I knew who had done it; he had escaped after the battle.

I was tortured by my craving for revenge. I was working as a salesman, but I had my gun with me at all times, ready to kill. I lost my home. I couldn’t live as a Christian man, and I started to forget everything Jesus taught about love and forgiveness. I didn’t want to hear it.

But then the Lord slammed me in my face. One person from the terrorist group came to Christ. My reaction? I said, “No, that will never happen. I don’t want those guys to be Christians.” But when he came to Christ, he became a totally different person. He started coming to my mother’s house, kissing her hand and serving her. He was transformed, and my hard heart hated to see it.

In 2004, we had a revival in our church. I went with my wife out of obligation, nothing more, and I felt the Lord inviting me back into His arms to enjoy His love—His unconditional love—to the maximum. My heart was broken, and finally I accepted the invitation and His sanctification. The Lord brought me back to Him in a very strong way, to the point that I was spending all night reading the Word of God.

But a voice kept whispering, “If you truly come back to the arms of God, you must forgive the leader of the terrorist Muslim group that killed your family.” After prayer and fasting, I knew it was the voice of God speaking to me. I realized that to live a truly Christ-like life, I had to love my enemies, even the man who killed my sister and niece.

Confronting the Killer

I had been looking for this man for years, and even though he was a fugitive, I tracked him down. I went to the place where he was based, and I asked to speak to him privately. He brought some of his guards with him, but I told him, “I want to be alone with you; send these guards away.” When they realized I wasn’t armed, the guards went back to their place, and I stood alone in front of the man who killed my family.

I was a powerful man, a fighter. I could have finished his life in less than a second without using any weapon. As I looked at him, I struggled hard between loving him or killing him. It was as if I had a voice in one ear saying “kill him” and another voice saying “love him.”

Finally, I decided to release love to the man.

“My name is John Raad,” I began. “I am from Kfarhabou, and those who were killed in that house were my sister and my niece.” He jumped back in shock. His eyes filled with fear; he knew his life could be over. He knew what I could do to him if I wanted to.

But then I said, “Do not be afraid. I am not here for revenge. I am not here to kill you. I came to you with the love of the Lord. This love changed me and did a turning point in my life. I came here because of the love of the Father God and His Son Jesus Christ.”

I began to weep, “I came to tell you that I love you, and I forgive you.”

He couldn’t face me; he couldn’t even put his eyes on mine. He tried to justify what happened, trying to prove himself innocent to me. I told him, “I don’t want to hear any justification. It’s over, it’s done, and it’s behind us now.

“I care about one thing: I want you to hear clearly that God loves you, and I forgive, totally. If you think you’re pleasing Allah by what you’re doing, look at yourself. You’re not pleasing God, and you’ll never be able to please Allah. The only thing that will bring joy to the heart of God is when you accept Jesus Christ as Savior over your life.”

Then I gave him a Holy Bible as a gift. He took the Bible, and I invited him to read it and search for the true God. We had a long talk. I still see him from time to time, and every time he sees me, he gives me a salute.

Freed to Forgive, Freed to Love

Jesus is the One who gave me the power to forgive. I could not have done it on my own. But since then, I have been totally at peace with myself.

I never imagined one day that my hatred for those who killed my family would turn into absolute love. In fact, I lived my life saying I would never share the gospel with a Muslim. But then God gave me a tremendous love for Muslims.

The war in Syria has brought over 1.5 million refugees into Lebanon (our pre-war population was only 2.5 million). I felt God leading me to introduce the life in abundance to them. When refugees cross the border, they often have nothing but the clothes on their backs. Once stopped by border guards, they are taken to large government-run refugee camps. I began traveling to the border and meeting refugees as they crossed. Along with volunteers I lead from my church and my wife, Vania, we give them food, blankets, and other supplies.

Then, I go into the refugee camps and offer more help there, building the relationships further. We are even able to have regular meetings where I can share about the love of Jesus.

I feel so blessed, so humbled, so honored that the Lord is using someone like me to share the love of Christ with Muslims. I serve with all my heart and all my strength; I love them with all my heart. You would not believe: in the past six years, I have shared the good news with over 60,000 refugees from Syria. God gave us favor in their eyes and grace in their eyes, and we are impacting their lives for Christ.

*Editor’s Note: Since this story was written, John and Vania Raad have been accepted as field workers to Lebanon. We are excited to see how God has led them to serve Syrian refugees, and we look forward to working more closely with them in the days ahead.

Action Steps

GIVE: Do you want to be a part of sharing Christ’s message of forgiveness and redemption in the Middle East? You can join John’s ministry to refugees—and many other dynamic, life-changing leaders—by donating to the Global Impact Fund

The Call (December 2017)

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