Women on the street in the Gulf Area (Image used for illustrative purposes)
What defines your identity? Is it the country or family you were born in? Your job or education? Or is it your redemption in Christ?
Rebekah*, a pre-school teacher in a Gulf country, sometimes struggles to remember her identity in Christ as a redeemed and worthy person.
One of the few Christian teachers in her school, Rebekah has a silent agreement with another Christian teacher to teach the young children under their care Christian songs. Rebekah doesn’t attend the same church as this teacher, and they never meet outside of school. But together, Rebekah who teaches English, and Mustaq* who teaches music, interweave songs that tell of Jesus Christ and the Bible into the many other benign melodies that they teach the children.
After teaching in the school for five years, Rebekah has formed friendships with many mothers. “Some mothers will come quietly to me and ask me to pray for them or ask me questions about a song their child was humming at home. One mother even warned me that I could get into trouble, but she did so with love.”
However, for every positive experience she has had with a parent, there were also bad ones.
“Every year, a parent or group of parents come and complain that Brother Mustaq and I drink from the same water source as their children. They complain that our influence waters down the Islamic influence on their children and they do not want Christian role models in the school.”
Hailing from another Gulf country, Rebekah grew up knowing that no matter how hard she studies, or whatever grades she gets, she will never be able to change how she is viewed in the Muslim society she lives in. She will always be a discriminated minority, from the lowest class, and a kafir – someone who denies or rejects the truth of Islam and is thus deemed unclean.
“This year I nearly gave up. One little boy came and said to me, ‘Miss, my mum has sent gifts for the teachers in school, but there is none for you. Mum says you are a kafir. Is this true? My grandmother says kafirs should not touch us.”
To hear the little boy whose hand she had held to teach him how to write his ABCs say that, was heart-breaking for Rebekah. She didn’t know how to reply him.
“For years I read and heard through textbooks and my own teachers and [schoolmates] that I was a kafir. Perhaps somewhere inside me I had assimilated that into my identity. I was a woman of dignity in Christ, but in my country I was a slave and captive to an ideology that was false but taught one day after the other to millions of people.”
Just a few days later, Rebekah was asked to switch classes with another teacher.
“I had no other option. The head teacher was kind, but… I knew it was because some parent did not want my “sweeper” skin to touch the skin of her child,” Rebekah said as she thought back on that day. “It was like being back in school myself. Once again the Muslim kid has more influence and power over the school than I did. Only this time I was the teacher, but still I was the kafir.
The smile on Rebekah’s face as she said the following words was a contradiction to the tears pouring down her face. Yet this is what generations of Christian women in the Gulf region have been doing as they share Jesus while serving as teachers and nurses in a hostile environment. They persevere in the faith with joy in their hearts, even as opposition and persecution surround them.
“There is only one way to save ourselves from the daily onslaught of attack and hatred. That is to throw in the towel and say I will become a Muslim. That I will never do. That I will never do.”
*names changed for security purposes