Below are snapshots of the stories from women who live in a restricted area in the Middle East as told through a translator to Laura Wilcox, the director of Sacred Story. Their identities are confidential. Please pray for these precious women who encounter many struggles when it comes to being a woman and living for Jesus Christ.
I am now in my mid forties and have known Jesus Christ as my Lord for twelve years. Eight years before I believed in Him, I had a dream. I was in a desert and there was fighting on both sides. I didn’t know where to go. A door appeared and I walked through it. When it closed behind me, I felt so much peace. The memory of the dream remained with me even though I didn’t understand what it meant. Then my family encountered really difficult times and we were separated from each other along with financial hardship. I became really depressed. At one point, I secluded myself for three days and poured water on myself. Out of great concern, my sister who is a believer asked her pastor to help. I went to meet him at the church. The pastor prayed for me while I was lying down outside. When he finished, I opened my eyes and was stunned. Even though it was night, I thought the sun was shining because I saw a bright light. I know Jesus is the only one who can give me peace.
I have 5 sisters and 2 brothers. My aunt, who is my mom’s sister, has 5 sons and 1 daughter. In our culture, the expectation is that at least one of the girls in our immediate family will marry a first cousin. When my parents were approached about one of my cousins marrying my oldest sister, they said “no” but the intention was to eventually give one of their other daughters in marriage. When none of my sisters became a wife to my first cousins, my cousin asked to marry me. My parents decided to give me to him because as the youngest, I was the only daughter unmarried. I was nineteen years old at the time.
In my country, a man and woman are able to be married legally which means we can hold hands and go places together but we do not share the same bedroom or sexual intimacy until after the public celebration. I was forced by my family to legally register and become my cousin’s wife. My cousin followed the custom of bringing a dowry to my parents and a gift of gold to my mother. Over time, I realized things about my cousin which caused me to become very opposed to marrying him. We had yet to celebrate our marriage publicly so I refused to marry him. My family was furious including my aunts, uncles and parents. They pressured my mother so much, demanding her to persuade me that I do not have a choice. My brother was so angry he beat me almost to the point of death. I was very sick and went to the hospital. The police are powerless to intervene because this is seen as a family matter.
At this point, my cousin was informed he has ninety days to divorce me and dissolve the marriage. He said he wouldn’t do so. Then, he gave the condition that if he could get all the money back from what he spent, he would leave and let me go. He knew my father did not have a lot of money and the amount he requested was too much for our family. When my cousin was adamant about not signing the divorce papers, I went to him. I explained that even if I lived with him as a wife, I am in love with another man. How would he feel about that? During the three years of ongoing conflict concerning the marriage, I had secretly fallen in love with another man. Finally, my uncle talked to my cousin and convinced him that I was not the girl for him. My family paid all the expenses when the marriage was cancelled.
Six months after the divorce, when I was twenty two, I shared with my family about the man I really loved. They were strongly against him as they were skeptical of his character. My father consented to let his parents come and ask for me in marriage but made it clear that if I accepted, I would not be their daughter and could not come visit them. When my boyfriend’s parents came to ask my parent’s permission, my brother met them at the train station and cursed them. After the conversation, my boyfriend and I traveled right away to another city to marry.
None of my family attended the ceremony except my father. My family thought my husband was a drug dealer. He decided to prove this is not the case. After about six months of marriage, I missed my family so much and wanted to see my parents. At first, they resisted me coming because they were fearful of my brother’s reaction. Finally, my parents agreed for me to come but warned against bringing my husband. My husband did eventually come with me and my family has embraced him because of their love for me. About a year ago, I began to hear the message of Christianity and have believed in Jesus. I continue to grow in my new-found faith and trust God’s hand on my family.
Living as a devout Muslim for a number of years, I followed all the vows to cover myself completely. I began listening to a radio program about stories and really liked the voice of the speaker so I tuned in consistently. I was also studying religion at that time and graduated. I started to teach the Koran. I would actually tell the stories I heard on the radio to my class. After a while, I realized the stories are from a pastor who talked about the Bible. I decided to leave the role as teacher of the Koran and devote my studies to learning English. As I heard more about the Christian message, I understood that we cannot reach God by rules and actions. Little by little, I understood the gospel and became very excited.
The police requested for me to appear in person at the information office. They put me under a table and interrogated me from behind. I couldn’t see who was talking to me. They gave me papers to fill out personal information. I didn’t put an answer in the box of “religion” because I do not consider Christianity a religion. The officer saw that I had not placed an answer to religion. He began to question me and I responded.
“I love Jesus and Christianity is not a religion. I don’t know what to write in the box.”
He said to write Islam. I said, “No, I’m not Muslim.”
“Your father and mother are Muslim so you are Muslim.”
“I was born into the Muslim tradition.”
“Who has made you a Christian?”
“No one has made me Christian. I just love Jesus.”
“Because you are in a Muslim family, you are Muslim. You should be Muslim.”
At this point, my knowledge of the Koran became very helpful. I pointed out that it says, “’There’s no force in exiting religion.’ Why do you force me to be a Muslim? You believe in the Koran so why are you not acting according to what it says?” He didn’t respond.
The interrogator asked where my family stood in their beliefs and I said I didn’t know what is in their hearts. He asked me a series of questions and I answered. Finally, I was released with the threat that I’d be called back. I continue to follow Jesus and believe His plan for my life.