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The Imam and the Pastor
By Reginald Suttles with Dave Franco

My name is Reginald Suttles. I'm currently a "lifer" at R.J. Donovan state prison. I have been incarcerated for 34 long years.

I was born and raised in Flint, Michigan. I was blessed with loving, Christian parents with my mother trying to curb my wild ways. But I was into mischief. I would break into cars and egg people’s homes just for fun. As I got older, I sold drugs and was put in prison at 22 on a murder charge.

I was introduced to Islam from a Muslim scholar giving a message at the prison. Most of the men attending were black like me. It made me feel comfortable and I learned that staying with my own race increased my chances of survival.

I began to study Islam sincerely. I came to believe that there was no other god but "Allah.” I taught myself to read and write Arabic. I became an Imam and very respected, which, having the lowly status of a prisoner, became very important to me.

Meanwhile, my mother prayed for me to come back to Christ everyday. One day while she was visiting me, a Muslim brother walked past and greeted me by my Muslim name, "Sahabazz." My mother looked him in the eye and said, “Do not address my son by that name. His name is Reginald!”

With tears in her eyes, she explained that calling me by a different name hurt her deeply, considering that she raised me to be a Christian. It was at that moment that I saw the pain in her loving face and the sound of her soul pleading to me. She left that day asking me to think about Jesus and that she would be praying for me to see the truth.

During that time, I was in a battle with a Christian pastor from the Rock Church. We were fighting over chapel space and time slots.  I didn’t like him. He was loud and abrasive. I even submitted prison paperwork against him. I wanted him out of there and he knew it. He was a threat to me and I was going to eliminate that threat.

The pastor would always keep a smile on his face and every time we would come into contact with each other, he would tell me how Christ had a special purpose for me. He would give me scriptures and verses to read, invite me to come back and discuss them with him, even inviting me to his prayer circle on Friday nights or to hear him preach on Sundays. I went. I must say, he sure had a packed house. I was impressed!

Suddenly, there was a lot of talk about the Muslim leader who was becoming a Christian. That wasn’t true, but that was the perception. I got lots of looks that I hadn’t seen before from friends. Angry faces. I even received death threats. I had become the topic of conversation. There was a tension in the air. I was afraid for my life.

In the meantime, the pastor just continued to minister to me, showing me love in the face of all the animosity I had shown him and all the hostility going on around the prison. While others threatened violence, he preached forgiveness.

Everyone was watching to see what would happen next. I walked the yard knowing that it was full of men who plotted to beat me down or stab me, and those who just really wanted to see it happen. I thought of my mom at home praying for me. Boy, did I need her now.

One day I was given a note that I had a phone call waiting for me in the office. I walked into the room where the call was and the fellow who handed me the phone had a concerned look on his face. My heart sank. My older sister and my mother had died in a car accident. I sat there as a feeling came over me that I had never experienced before. It was if my world was coming apart. I was devastated to the point of death. It left me in a dark and utterly helpless place, with nothing but pain and regret crashing in on me for what my life had produced.

No matter where I turned, it seemed that no one had any compassion for me. I felt abandoned and alone. Did I really have any friends at all?

A few agonizing days later, I was called to the chapel. I made my way over and opened the door. The pastor was there with his giant, mighty arms open, inviting me into his embrace. As I looked at him, he was like the crucified Christ to me. I nearly broke down right there under the power of that image. I stumbled into his embrace and knew at that moment that I wanted Jesus as my Savior. I wanted this kind of love. I accepted Jesus into my heart.

From that point on, I started sharing Jesus with everyone I came across. I wanted them to know about how He had come into my life and blessed me in ways I never thought possible. There were some hostile responses, but I didn’t care. The God of truth was my protector.

Jesus healed me from cancer, loneliness and hatred, and I found a whole new family to share my life with. He has surely brought me out of darkness into His light. God reached down from heaven through a pastor right to an imam, touched his heart and mind and changed his life and future. I have dedicated my life to the service of God until I meet Him in heaven and see my mom and thank her for her prayers. Now when I say there is no other God, I’m talking about Jesus.

I read this every morning before I start my day. Philippians 4:13 says, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."