How do you see persecution? According to Open Doors, 1 in 8 Christians worldwide experiences persecution for their faith. That’s 1 in 8 of us whose faith can come at great cost — in some cases, even at the cost of life itself. This month, in response to this painful statistic, we will be sharing stories in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who so often live out their faith in the shadows. We pray this would shine a light in the otherwise-darkened corners of our world and connect us all to these hidden members of the body of Christ.
Asal* was just 14 years old when she married David*, who is much older than she. Today they live together in a small Middle Eastern city, where life isn’t easy for women.
Asal grew up in this environment surrounded by spoken and unspoken messages telling her that women aren’t supposed to have much freedom. It’s not only little girls who must approach their fathers and brothers and seek permission simply to go outside or cut their hair. Even older women can’t speak for themselves or travel alone. Some are abused or are forced into child marriages. Many of the women who write to TWR response teams suffer under this treatment.
Sharing Asal’s perspective, another listener wrote: “I am a 20-year-old woman, but I feel if I had been born a man, it would have made my life easier. I live within a large Middle Eastern family. My fears always stop me from fulfilling my dreams. I always wish I were a man to have more freedom in life. Because I am a young woman, there are many restrictions in my daily life. Help me.”
For Asal, being treated as worthless was normal, so she was puzzled when she noticed that David had changed. He had become strangely affectionate. She grew so suspicious of his unusual kindness that she asked him what had happened.
David told her he had found a new friend who changed him. Asal knew her husband’s friends, so she couldn’t imagine one of them changing him like this. She kept asking, never imagining what David would tell her.
“I found Jesus,” he said.
That’s when Asal started to laugh. In this part of the world, leaving the majority religion to become a Christian is hard. Religion and state are so tightly linked that becoming a Christian is often seen as a decision against the nation, reports Open Doors USA, a ministry that supports persecuted Christians. That’s why, in many countries, leading a Muslim to Christ is prohibited and preaching biblical sermons in the national languages is not allowed. People who become Christians can experience persecution by the government or even face the death penalty.
All these thoughts ran through Asal’s mind. Her husband must be mad.
David tried to take her to a small house church, but she always refused. Attendance could be punishable by arrest. Finally, when he encouraged her to visit a little group of women, she went. The women were kind, talking about this Christian faith.
But what stunned her was when they spoke about God talking to them. God talks to women? Crazy! This was drastically different from what she experienced her whole life. But it was true, and the reality overwhelmed her emotions. From this day she became interested in the Christian faith and decided to follow Jesus.
You see, women in much of this region are treated as having less value than men and therefore don’t have the same rights as men, as dictated by some religious laws. Many, in situations like Asal, can experience persecution on two levels: for being a woman and for seeking hope in the Christian faith. Thus, it can seem nearly unthinkable for a woman to turn to Jesus.
TWR Women of Hope ministers to women and their needs across generations and around the world. Through the popular Women of Hope broadcast and prayer groups comprising over 60,000 intercessors speaking more than 100 languages, the ministry speaks to women about their value as God’s beloved daughters, shares lessons from the Bible and offers practical information for living.
The message from our listener, Asal, must have cost her a lot of sleepless nights because it can be dangerous to contact a Christian organization like TWR. Our programs regularly meet people who are immersed in customs and belief systems that are hostile to the Word of God. The only one who can break through these barriers to the gospel and transform lives is Jesus – and he does!
* A pseudonym to protect the person’s privacy