*A representative photo and name were used in this story to protect the identity of the secret believer.
In Saudi Arabia (#12 on the World Watch List), the pressure on believers from family, society and government can be suffocating, both emotionally and spiritually. Isolated from other Christians, Saudi wife and mom Nawal has gone almost completely silent, afraid to be in touch with other believers. Like all women who have converted from Islam to Christianity in countries governed by Sharia law, Nawal lives in the very real tension between finding ways to follow Christ in secret and being a wife and mother in a Muslim family and culture. Each day, she faces the terror of fear, silence and isolation.
In the silence of her kitchen, Nawal* bows her head, closes her eyes for a second and whispers “Amin,” (Arabic for “amen”).
She has just received a WhatsApp message from an unknown number. Just a few words—an encouraging message in Arabic from her Christian friend, letting her know she’s praying for her.
She answers the message briefly and then resolutely deletes the whole conversation from her phone.
This is what Nawal’s faith looks like now. She’s so afraid that anyone–especially her husband–will find out about her faith in Christ that she hardly dares to answer messages from other believers. If she does, she keeps it superficial with no hints pointing to her decision. She also stopped reading the Bible online on her laptop because she was afraid her husband would check her internet history or discover another way she’s following Jesus.
According to Saudi law, if her husband does discover her faith, he is entitled to beat her, divorce her or even kill her. Nobody will come to her rescue. The strict Islamic laws in her country show little mercy for those who leave Islam, and the Saudi state leaves Saudi families the freedom to “handle” these matters in private.
Meeting the Body of Christ—online
Nawal is in her late 20s now. She remembers vividly how she went online for the first time to search for more meaning in her life, for more appreciation of who she was as a young woman. Like many Saudi women, she grew up feeling like a second-class citizen. On the internet, she quickly encountered the teachings of a foreign Christian preacher, a woman. The way this pastor spoke about God’s love–about Him accepting sinners and being a loving Father to His children–touched her heart.
Through an online follow-up network supported by Open Doors, Nawal got in touch with other Christian believers. They sent her discipleship materials and guided her toward an online Bible. Gradually, she felt the Lord speaking to her, and one day she gave her life to Christ. She still vividly remembers the sheer joy and peace she felt in her heart that day.
Jesus’ words, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” spoke to her and guided her in the first steps of her new life with Him. Christ’s last words on earth before He left his disciples also touched her heart: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Through the online Christian network, she got in touch with some other foreign Christian women also living in Saudi Arabia. They lived too far away from her to meet face-to-face, and it probably would have been too dangerous. But at least she could communicate through the internet with these mature believers who know her culture and could disciple her.
With the beginning of her new life in Christ, problems began for Nawal. Soon, her mother found out about her faith and placed her under house arrest. Going outside the house is already restricted to Saudi women–they are not allowed to drive cars and can only go out when a relative is accompanying them. After discovering her faith, Nawal’s mother kept her inside for years, afraid she’d meet other believers if allowed outside. Nawal did manage to keep access to her phone and laptop, allowing her to stay connected with the online Body of Christ. Still, loneliness set in, as she was completely cut off from her social life.
Soon, Nawal’s family started pushing her to marry. In Saudi Arabia, most marriages are pre-arranged by the parents. Children can choose whether or not to marry the proposed candidates, but they cannot pick one themselves. Of course, her parents only suggested devout Muslim men for her to marry. The first two she resolutely declined, causing her family to grow increasingly concerned about her future. In Islamic culture, an unmarried daughter is considered a shame to the family.
Meanwhile, the group of believers she met online intensified their prayers for a change in her life for the better and for the Lord to make clear what He wanted for her. Using her phone and WhatsApp, Nawal prayed with them for her future.
Then her family presented the third candidate to be her husband, also a Muslim but less strict than the others. Marrying him would mean that she could leave her house where she was a prisoner. After significant prayer, Nawal accepted the marriage, hoping and trusting she was following God’s lead.
In her heart, praying to Jesus
So, here Nawal is now. A wife and mother married to a man who cannot find out about her faith. That discovery may cost her life, and her daughter will grow up without a mother. She behaves like a proper Muslim, performing the Muslim prayer rituals five times a day, at least when other people are around. But in her heart, she is still praying to Jesus and asking Him to give her the strength to keep believing, even though she’s completely isolated.
But the reality is that fear, depression and the feeling of being isolated are continuously threatening Nawal’s faith. On her wedding day, she grew so afraid of being exposed as a believer that she felt she had to say goodbye to the believers who were still in touch with her through social media. Her last message to them: “I will delete your contact information, and I may not respond anymore for my own safety. But please know that I will read whatever you send me.”
Still being prayed for
Every now and then, the 20-something believer still receives a message from an unknown number–a neutral message of encouragement. She knows she’s still being prayed for. When she’s able, she answers in the same neutral way, careful not to disclose her faith and unable to witness. The people in touch with her can only imagine how her spiritual walk is right now.
Our prayer is that God keeps His child Nawal close to His heart, wherever she is and whatever may happen to her.
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Praying With Nawal
- Please praise God for Nawal’s faith in Christ as her Savior and for other isolated believers like her.
- As she’s completely isolated and cut off from the Body of Christ, pray for God to be Nawal’s comforter.
- Pray for Nawal’s faith to endure and that she would sense Christ’s presence with her as she struggles to find His guidance in the darkness surrounding her.
- Pray for her husband, that he will find Jesus too. Pray with Nawal, that she will find ways to be the fragrance of Christ in her home and family.
- Pray for the group of believers supporting Nawal and other isolated believers in Saudi Arabia. Pray that they will be encouraged to continue to comfort and encourage others.
- Pray for Nawal’s young daughter, for her safety and that God would reveal Himself to her.
- Pray that across the world, God would put an aching in the hearts of Muslim women to seek more in life. Pray that He would reveal Himself to these seekers and that they would find a community of believers like Nawal has.