Areefa* is a Christian from a Muslim background in her late 30s living in India. (In India, the majority religion is Hinduism, but it’s estimated that 172 million Muslims live in the world’s second-most populous country). She is also a widow—and a mother of two young children. Recently, an Open Doors’ ministry partner traveled to meet and pray with her. They also provided Areefa with a better sewing machine to support her in her work as she cares for her young family. Here, she shares her story of heartache and strength.
When you look at her, the first thing you notice is Areefa’s eyes—dark eyes that have seen so much tragedy. Somehow, they glisten with hope.
“Areefa, you are so pretty,” I say, embracing her. We can’t show you Areefa’s face because she lives in rural India where becoming a Christian is seen as a betrayal to the family. And Hindu extremists who oppose any other religion besides Hinduism search out Christians.
She takes my hand. “I am so glad you came to meet me. I feel so blessed,” she says, smiling shyly.
Inside her small home is a manual sewing machine on one side and a pile of partially stitched clothes nearby. A single bed occupies most of the room. Attached to the main room is a tiny, modest kitchen.
Soon I meet her two children. Her son, 13-year-old Sameer* tells me he has a math test at school today.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I ask him. In India, the question is significant. Every student is inspired by their parents to study well and get a good job and a better wage—better than what their parents earn. Education is most parents’ only hope for a better life for their children.
“I want to be an engineer and give a better life to my mother. She works very hard,” Sameer shares.
Areefa enters the room carrying a tray full of coffee mugs.
“I want him to be a pastor, but he wants to be an engineer and earn for the family. We have always struggled financially; probably that’s why,” she says, becoming a little emotional.
A Dark Night in India
After the children leave, I sit with Areefa to hear her story. She starts at the beginning.
“When me and my husband started to grow in our [Christian] faith, everything improved,” she says. “God blessed our earnings, my husband stopped drinking, and we both worked very hard. We seemed to become more well-off than all of our relatives.”
Jealousy set in, soon leading to persecution from their family.
“All of our relatives started asking us to leave church and prayers, saying that it was against our tradition and culture,” Areefa says, looking down.
One of the relatives, her husband’s brother, began picking petty quarrels with them. He had no job and lived with them at the time. He was also an alcoholic.
Her eyes grow moist, sharing about the night that 10 years ago forever changed her life and the lives of her children.
“One night, he started verbally abusing me for no reason,” Areefa remembers. “My husband had just arrived home from work and was tired. He defended me and scolded him for verbally abusing me.”
In a fit of rage, her brother-in-law picked up a knife and stabbed his brother in the chest. The tears flow uncontrollably now as she continues.
“We thought it was a minor cut, but it didn’t take much time for the blood to ooze out, and soon he was breathing his last. We took him to the hospital, but we had already lost him.”
Holding On to Jesus
The persecution didn’t end that night.
She continues in broken sentences, still sobbing: “After my husband’s death, my brothers wanted me to come back home and leave my Christian faith. They wanted me to become a Muslim again and get married in the community. They said that they wouldn’t help me in any way if I didn’t leave Christianity.
“I denied everything, because I wanted to hold on to Jesus. My church members and leaders helped me and prayed with me all this time.”
In the midst of her loss, Areefa chose to continue to follow Jesus and look for ways to provide for her family without help from her family. She is illiterate yet supports her children using her tailoring skills.
“I was able to become strong and work hard to support my children,” she said.
Still, hate from her family is ever-present.
“Even now my relatives hate me because I choose to hold on to my faith. They never gave me any kind of support in bringing up my children.”
“What makes you so courageous to follow your faith?” I ask her.
Her voice is surprisingly bold. “Jesus has promised He will be with me always, even ‘til the end of the world. He has promised to strengthen me. I can feel Him with me and I can feel His strength.”
Mother, Widow, Businesswoman
We spend more time with this mother, widow and now businesswoman, reading Scripture with her and praying for her and her children. She tells us about how God has helped her become a skilled tailor and how so many women in her community like her work and prefer her to stitch their clothes, even amidst so many tailoring shops in the area.
Helping her advance her business and support their family of three, Open Doors partners recently provided Areefa with an electric sewing machine and an embroidery machine.
“These machines will help me do much better and earn more for me and my children. God has made all these provisions for me,” Areefa says, smiling. “I am thankful to God and to all those who have helped me through Open Doors partners.”
Through you, God has helped Areefa to stand up and walk in the midst of loss and grief. In the absence of her husband, she has discovered His strength to continue.
Open Doors partners help persecuted believers like Areefa to survive, heal and move on with their faith amidst challenging circumstances. Apart from providing practical aid like livelihood support, groceries etc., we also offer training seminars where believers like Areefa learn about persecution from a biblical point of view.
*representative names and top photo used for security reasons