*representative image used
“Every home, without exaggeration, has a struggling wife, a drug addicted child, an unemployed, alcoholic son or father or someone with disease,” A lecturer from ALIVE Bible College explains, “While dealing with the realities of life as a Christian who is denied basic rights because of poverty and their faith, there is little time to revel in the truths of being a Christian.”
One 2013 ALIVE graduate, Rehana, knows these harsh realities all too well. She has grown up in a predominantly Muslim country where her family has long experienced persecution.
As part of the religious minority, living in close proximity with Hindus, Rehana says her family struggled to maintain their Christian identity. Her mother, a school teacher, taught at a school where all the students were Muslim. “She was invited every day by her students and coworkers to deny Christ and become a Muslim. She never did. Eventually she lost her job.”
Her father, too, struggled to find work. Despite being a well-known musician, people constantly pressured him to convert to Islam if he wanted a job. “Papa refused to give up his faith for the sake of fame and money.”
In addition to discrimination, Rehana’s family also fought social persecution. One local woman, for example, made it her goal to discredit Rehana’s parents and their faith. She would throw potions and amulets into their home, while inventing rumor after rumor about their family. First, she alleged the family used pig-based products in their business to chase away their Muslim customers who believed pork was unclean. “She told people my mother was mentally ill and that my father was having an affair with my aunt. If there was a rumor she could cook up she did,” Rehana said with tears rolling down her cheeks.
“The worst part was when I would see my father weakening and believing the rumors, even though he knew why they were being generated.” Rehana explained. She began waiting for God to send her father a sign to bring him back to his senses, like he had caused the cock to crow three times for the disciple Peter.
“I have seen my mother strong and weak, frail and courageous, able to stand and sometimes needing me to hold her up. I have seen my brother torn between trusting God and questioning God. He ended up taking drugs for a while. I have seen everything,” Rehana said.
Even though Rehana believed in God, she had a difficult time sorting out her faith and her challenging circumstances. “My understanding of God was weak because my understanding of reality was too complicated, and there was no one to walk with me while I was trying to be brave and walk with mama.”
Thankfully, someone was watching out for her. Her cousin Hameed*, who was already a student at ALIVE Bible College, felt led to reach out and invite Rehana to enroll.
“Rehana was passionate about Jesus and about sharing Him with others,” Hameed remembered. “As children our pretend games would be about how to get Bibles into secret places. I knew the crisis around our family would have led her away and disillusioned her.”
“The three years spent at ALIVE Bible College became the time and place where Jesus changed my life,” Hameed continued. “I knew it would change Rehana’s life too. I wanted to see my little cousin saved from the nightmare of life at home and the destructive plans of the enemy against our family.”
Hameed convinced his aunt and uncle to let his cousin attend ALIVE Bible College and enroll in the 3-year M.Div. program. This, Rehana says, was life changing. “Coming to ALIVE Bible College gave me an opportunity to develop my mind and understanding as well as to grow spiritually and reflect deeply on what God wanted of me…I was able to get away from the problems of home and focus on studying God’s word to deepen my relationship with Him, allowing Him to form me for future ministry,” Rehana shared.
At home, Rehana’s life had been just like the scenario described by the college lecturer: she spent so much energy overcoming obstacles, she had little left for engaging her faith. “Daily decision making processes revolved around how to avoid conflict with neighbors and how to protect myself from their pagan attacks. In college I saw what it meant to be in love with Jesus and long for the whole world to know Him.”
The Bible College lecturer has seen people lives like Rehana’s changed many times. “So many are fighting to be Christians in this land that they forget to live as Christians in the freedom and abundant life that comes with it. I teach theology of personhood, suffering and persecution, and one thing I see year after year is students breaking down in a flood of tears as they begin to see their reality and what is in the pages of the Bible. They find Jesus in the meeting of the two and they experience healing in Him. At ALIVE, I get to engage with the realities of persecution and martyrdom with my head, my heart and often my body. As a community, we walk this journey from the book to the person, we walk it together and we walk it often singing, often praying, often crying, and always confident that nothing can separate us from the love of God.”
Currently, Rehana is working closely with Hameed–who is now an evangelist–to disciple young women in one of the most closed parts of the country where all Christian activity is closely monitored and discouraged. “The women I disciple and counsel come from all backgrounds. Some of them do not know anything about God and live in constant fear of ISIS. When they are attacked like my family was attacked, I am able to minister to them. I have opportunity to pray, learn and grow.”
Open Doors praises God for our supporters who help people like Rehena and Hameed and their friends as they witness to a community that is hostile to Jesus. You can continue to stand with believers in their greatest need by providing Bibles to those on the frontlines of persecution by clicking here.