We can only have a short meeting with this young woman, as she’s expected home after college. Girls and women in the Middle East are not expected to hang out alone. Most of her family, including her dad, don’t know about the big change in the life of this 22-year-old woman who was raised as a Muslim. But Islèm now follows Jesus Christ as her Lord in deep secrecy from her Muslim environment.
This inspiring young student is a living example of the fruit of courageous Christians who opened their house and their church to a Muslim girl in search of truth.
One day she saw a TV program where a Christian woman was in prayer, thanking God. “That was a little strange for me because, in Islam, we always ask God to give us something, but we have never thought of thanking Him for something.”
She wanted to know more. “My search started at that moment, despite my father being a bit of a Salafi, always praying, always reading the Koran, and leaving the house to serve God. I was wearing the hijab, praying and reading the Koran, just like my dad, but one night I felt something was different, odd, and I had concerns. I did what this woman did: I prayed, and I thanked God.”
She searched on the internet. But it didn’t lead to answers. She connected with some Syrian friends via Facebook. “They were Christians and I was a Muslim trying to know more about Jesus. I tried to tell them about Islam, so it led to confusion and they ended the contact. At that time, I thought there was no Christian in North Africa. I thought I was the first person who might become a Christian in North Africa.” She hadn’t met any Christians from North Africa at that time. “For me Christians were people living abroad.”
There were big problems between her parents in 2013, and Islèm drifted away from a religious life. “I started smoking and became aggressive. I tried to commit suicide by an overdose and cutting my wrists; psychologically I was a mess and all I could think about was dying.” At hospital she prayed to God to show Himself to her.
Back home, she restarted her search on the internet. “I found a page called ‘Christians in [my country*]’. It was strange for me. Maybe it was a sign. I clicked on it and sent a message.” In the beginning people were hesitant to respond to this Muslim girl. “Later they connected me with a pastor. In the beginning the pastor also had doubts if my conversion was genuine.”
This pastor arranged a Bible for her. “A Tunisian girl came together with her brother to give me a Bible. She was sent by the pastor. She said they were going to church. I asked them if I could come with them and she said yes.
“I went to church and it was great. I went to the Bible study group with them and that was the first time I was reading the Bible. On that day, the pastor was teaching John 14-6 ‘I am the life, the way, the truth’. While he was explaining this, I felt as if he was answering the questions I had when I was at the hospital. On that day, 8 November 2013 I became a believer. After two years I was baptized.
“My family still thinks that I am a Muslim. Only my mother knows that I am a Christian, and she accepts it. My father does not know anything about it.” She is afraid to tell him as he earlier responded with threats when discussing topics about Islam with her. “He is a nice man, but from time to time he shows his other face. You never know how he will react if I would say that I am a Christian.
“After I got converted, I started to learn more about Jesus, I attended several bible study groups in the church and I have a special relationship with the family of the pastor, with his wife with whom I speak a lot. She gives me much advice and she tries to help me grow, to change and to learn the basic principles of Christianity.
“Jesus is like oxygen, because without oxygen you cannot breathe. If Jesus was not in my life, I would not be here today, I would not be alive. I would not have resumed my studies, would not have led a normal life. It is as if I was taken out of the waste bin and cleaned. No matter what happens in my life, I can’t leave Jesus.”
Islèm had the good fortune that she did not stay alone as a new believer, something that happens a lot to Muslims who find Jesus. “I am sure that even if I would have stayed alone, God would not forsake me. But in the Bible, we are told that we need to be a united community, we Christians should be part of the body.”
Living as a Christian with a Muslim background in North Africa isn’t easy. “But it is worth it. I thank God for it, to know the truth and to know who God really is. I am lucky to have a special relationship with God but when I see my family, I feel bad. I love my family, I love my dad. I would like them to know Jesus.”
In cooperation with local partners and churches, Open Doors supports the church in North Africa through training, literature distribution, socio-economic development and advocacy.
*Country in North Africa is for security reasons not mentioned.
To Stand With Them
Open Doors’ goal is to “strengthen what remains and is about to die” (Rev 3:2).