Jean-Louis Kassis works as a minister of religion, becoming a caring face for the abused, drug addicts, and alcoholics. Why? Because he knows exactly how it feels to be unwanted and unloved.
"I was born in Beirut, Lebanon. When I was growing up, my childhood wasn't very good," Jean shares sadly. "My dad was always saying things like, 'When you came along, you just made us poorer' and 'I wish I had brought a donkey or even a dog instead of you.'
"As a little boy, I felt like I was not accepted, that I was rejected, that I was just a number, that I was a mistake in life."
Things grew worse when Jean's godfather, who was supposed to teach him about the Christian life, began sexually abusing him.
"I didn't trust anybody," Jean admits. "I was afraid to tell anyone what was going on because I thought they wouldn't believe me, that they'd look at me in a different way. I thought, 'No one will help me. I can only trust myself'."
Jean started smoking. His habit grew until it peeked at 60 cigarettes a day.
"I was like a chimney," he remembers. "I just smoked one after the other after the other."
Jean got into black magic, still searching to find real love and acceptance. He called himself a rebellious "pastor's kid."
"I was like someone searching in the sand for something precious," he states. "I was searching for that moment, searching for somebody to love me ... without any motive, without them wanting something from me. It was really hard. It was not pleasant at all."
Soon afterwards, Jean joined the army and became a sergeant responsible for 300 soldiers.
"One of my colleges filed a report about me," he says. "He said I was giving information to the enemy. The secret police came and took me to a secure prison, which I stayed in for 45 days."
It was often circulated around the army that whoever went inside this particular prison would die.
"I was tortured for that amount of time," Jean recalls. "I still have the marks on my body. They broke my nose by kicking my face with their boots. I was tortured every morning, lunch and evening. It was very hard."
While he was in there, Jean practised his old religion, praying 10 times a day for his god to save him.
"But then I remembered a story from *the Christian Bible," Jean recalls. "It was *about a prodigal son who took his father's inheritance and spent all the money. When he had hit rock-bottom, he said, 'Let me go back to my dad and ask him to be his servant.' [Luke 15:11-32]
"So I prayed a prayer: 'Lord, save me from this prison and I will follow You.'"
In the fall of April, one early morning, Jean's door was opened and he was told that he could return home.
"I went through gate after gate to get out of prison, all the time thinking they would shoot me in the back," he remembers.
As soon as he was able, Jean went to a bookshop and bought his first Lebanese Bible.
"It was like God had opened the window of heaven and poured His love on me!" Jean exclaims. "He started convicting me to go and release forgiveness for the man responsible for landing me in prison. I drove more than four hours to go and see him."
Afterwards, Jean went to his father and asked him for forgiveness. However, he says that the hardest thing for him to do was to go to the graveyard where his godfather was buried.
"To just stand there and release forgiveness on him, after all that he had done to me in the past, was very hard," Jean says. "But with God's mercy and grace and love, I was able to stand up and go forward. I am no longer sitting down, lingering on the past. Everything's changed.
"I think in Jesus' way, I see through His eyes, I listen to His voice. He's changed me, not because of me, but because of Him! He's transformed me 180 degrees!
"Without Christ," he concludes. "I am not here. Without Christ, I may have died a long time ago. But I am here now and I will rise up with Christ."•