No decision to follow Jesus in the Middle East is an easy one. For Saheena* and Noreen*, saying yes would mean losing friendships and family members. Perhaps even their own lives. A local IFES worker shared the stories of these two students following Jesus, whatever the cost.
Saheena: finding Jesus after all
Saheena had been secretly exploring the Christian faith. She had dreamed of studying overseas in a country where she could go to church and learn about Jesus. But her father is a devout Muslim and wouldn’t allow it. He insisted she stayed in the Middle East, safe from possible influence.
But in God’s kindness, Saheena ended up with a Christian roommate at university. She was introduced to the Christian group on campus and later came to faith. Saheena has been sharing the gospel with her friends, even though they mock her. She longs to tell her family about Jesus, but the risks are great: given her father’s position in the community, there could be a very credible threat to her life. Her family have noticed the change in her, but don’t know the reason for it. Her mother told her: “If you ever choose a different direction in your life, I would have failed as a mother.”
Noreen: burned, beaten and thankful
Noreen is in her final year of university. She came to faith from a Muslim background, a few months after meeting an IFES staff member in the food court at university.
Since then she has faced a lot of opposition from her father and sisters (her mother passed away a few years ago). A few months ago, her family found a Bible she’d hidden in her room and got very angry. “How dare you betray and dishonour your family like that? How stupid of you even to consider another faith! It’s all brainwashing!” They told her that they would forgive her and forget all about it if she denied Jesus and went back to Islam.
In the midst of this, Noreen kept trying to witness to her family. Her dad got so angry he poured boiling water on her. Even then she refused to be silent: “Please, you have to read the Bible for yourself – everything it’s saying is true”. Her sisters beat her unconscious. The next thing she knew she woke up in hospital. Her burns were so severe that she had to stay there eight days. No one visited her during that time. When they discharged her, she got a taxi home only to find that her family had moved house while she was in hospital. The family house was completely empty apart from a cardboard box with a few of her belongings.
Noreen has kept clinging to the words of Jesus that we are to expect suffering and persecution if we follow Him, and that anyone who loves their father or mother more than Him is not worthy of Him. She said that even though so much has been taken away from her, she still feels thankful that she knows Jesus. And thankful for her church family who have provided her with clothes, food and a place to live. Jesus’ words ring out through Noreen’s story:
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.” Mark 10:29,30
Lord of the nations, draw near to these two girls and to each Christian student in the Middle East, suffering for their faith. May they know Your presence, love and provision in profound ways. Keep them trusting in Your Word and following You faithfully to the end, whatever the cost. In Jesus’ name, Amen.