RICHMOND, Va. (BP)--"Leave!" her father shouted.
Just like that. Thrown out of her house, out of her family, out of her world as she had known it. She had nowhere to go, nowhere to find shelter, no immediate way to survive.
Miriam* is 20, but that's more like 17 in the Muslim country of her birth, where most girls and women depend on their fathers or husbands for everything -- even their identity.
What angered her father enough to cast his own daughter out?
Miriam had always been intrigued by stories about Jesus Christ. A certain TV channel occasionally featured programs about Jesus' life. She would sit and watch for hours as a young girl. Her father noticed her fascination with the programs and canceled the channel.
Sometimes Miriam would wonder, "Could I be a Christian? No, no, of course not. I'm a Muslim. But maybe...."
She tried to put the idea out of her mind. But she couldn't forget about Jesus. There was something about Him, something pure and loving, something she wanted.
About two years ago, Miriam's mother met an American woman where she worked. The American visited their home for a few meals and soon became a family friend. Miriam asked the woman if she believed in Christ. Yes, she replied. Miriam was doubtful; she had heard a lot about Americans who claim to be Christians but live immoral lives. With time, however, she saw the woman was a true follower of Christ. One day, the woman gave Miriam a Bible in her own language.
Miriam drank in the Word like a parched wanderer in the desert. About a year ago, she befriended another believer from her own country. Under her guidance, Miriam decided to follow Christ as her Lord.
Eager to share the truth she had discovered, she began to tell her classmates about what she had read in the Bible. One day she received a letter threatening her because of her new beliefs and her connection with Christians. Scared, she hid at home for a time -- and started doubting her faith.
The doubts lasted for a few months. Then Miriam's mother was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. Her Christian friends heard little from Miriam during her mother's illness. They began to wonder if she had abandoned her faith. When they arrived at her home to join other mourners the day her mother died, Miriam calmly told them, "God is with me. I'll be OK."
Her mother's death marked a major turning point for Miriam.
"I'm not sure what was going on inside of her, but after her mom passed, she got very serious about studying the Word, serious about wanting her family to know and serious about being in fellowship with other national believers," says a Christian friend.
Miriam pored over the New Testament Book of Acts, which recounts the rapid growth of the early church in a hostile environment.
"She was interested and eager about the idea of multiplication," says her friend. "She noted one of the major themes of Acts is that the people didn't just hear God's Word; they did it. She wanted to do it."
That's when her father discovered the many hours she spent reading the Bible. He demanded to know if she had become a Christian. She told him the truth, almost relieved she no longer had to hide her faith from him.
"Leave!" he said. It could have been worse; at least he didn't kill her for the "shame" she had brought upon the family.
Homeless and alone, Miriam sought out local believers who had lived through similar circumstances. She moved in with another female friend.
"As far as I know, she's still living with her," says her Christian friend. "Apparently, her father now lets her back into his house so she can have contact with her younger sister. They are the only two children, so you can guess how incredibly traumatic this last year has been for her.
"It has been difficult for me to get in touch with her recently. I think she is afraid to show me when she's not doing well. Perhaps she's doubting things as she counts the cost in a new way and she's ashamed. I'm not sure."
Miriam's story doesn't necessarily have a "happy" ending. It's still unfolding. Will she stay faithful to Christ, no matter the cost? Will her father relent and allow her to come home? Will she renounce Jesus in order to win back her father's approval and protection?
These wrenching choices are common for young Muslims who decide to follow Christ. Pray for Miriam -- and many others facing similar challenges -- to be strong in faith. Pray that the reality that they are blessed when they are "persecuted for the sake of righteousness" (Matthew 5:10) will lift their hearts and comfort them in difficulties.
Pray for the many Muslims who, like Miriam, want to know more about Jesus but fear the consequences if they act on their desire. They need to know that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6) are also blessed -- and will be satisfied.
*Name changed. Erich Bridges is global correspondent for the International Mission Board (imb.org).
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