NORTHERN AFRICA AND MIDDLE EAST (BP) -- Mahfuzah* thought no one knew she believed in Jesus until the day her mother beat her.
"She said, 'Something is different about you. What is it?' I told her I was the same," Mahfuzah recounted. "But then she went to the fortune teller, and the fortune teller told her that I had become a follower of Jesus."
So Mahfuzah's mother beat her.
"I was surprised. She had never done that to me before," Mahfuzah said. "She said I had to come back to Islam, and I told her I can't."
That was when Mahfuzah was a teenager 20 years ago. She says she still can't return to Islam. "My heart is all with Jesus, not with Islam anymore."
Before she left Islam, Mahfuzah was riding in the car with her cousin and heard someone on the radio talking about the life of the Messiah and the cross.
"I asked what in the world he was listening to, and he told me about how Jesus died," she said. "At that time, I was just a normal Muslim. I read the Quran and prayed. I thought he was crazy, but I wanted to know more."
Mahfuzah's cousin encouraged her to read.
"I read all the Gospels, and I saw that they were different and beautiful," she said. "The biggest difference was God's love."
In the Gospels, Jesus said for all who are weary and heavy laden to come, and Mahfuzah counted herself among them.
"I sat and cried a lot because of all the years I had gone without knowing these things," she said.
She bought a small radio and with the volume low would hold it to her ear at night, pretending to be asleep.
"From the radio, I learned how to pray and how to line my life up with God," Mahfuzah said. "My eyes were opened."
But the beating she received was only the beginning of her troubles.
"My mother wouldn't speak to me, and she wouldn't allow my sisters to speak to me. None of them would eat with me. I was unclean to them," she said.
Mahfuzah's mother also kept Mahfuzah locked in her room and only let her out to go to school. When she found a job, her mother wouldn't let her take it.
"This went on for three years," Mahfuzah said. "I prayed, 'God, I don't want to leave them. Please show me the solution.'"
Mahfuzah then learned that the young man she had been interested in before she believed in Jesus also had accepted Christ.
"We started praying about when to get married, but my mother caused problems. She didn't want us to get together," Mahfuzah said. "I felt like when I got married, I got out of the lion's mouth. I still call my family and try to talk to them but they are still unwilling to listen."
Christian women have it hard in her country, Mahfuzah said. It's a male-dominated society, but women still have the honor of being the "keeper of Islam" for the family. Christian women don't even have that, she said.
"There is much persecution," she said.
Now Mahfuzah and her husband have a teenage son who's learning the hard way how to grow up as a Christ follower in a Muslim country.
"He's not free to be open about who he is, not free to be himself," she said. "He's lived in eight different flats in his life because of problems with security. He doesn't get to have an extended family because of our faith. He goes to a school of all Muslims, but at home he is a Christian."
One night, Mahfuzah heard him yelling into a tape recorder his name and who he really is, because he feels like most people he knows can't know everything about him.
"It was like he had to tell someone," she said. "He is strong in his faith and in Jesus, but it is hard for him sometimes."
Mahfuzah tells him God is everything he needs.
The family has had close calls, meetings with police and state security, threats and harassment from neighbors, Mahfuzah said. But the family still actively shares their faith with others.
"Fear is ugly, and it will keep people from sharing," she said. "We aren't afraid."
Lisa Langworthy*, a Christian worker who lives in the region, underscored that the spiritual needs of women in the region are deep, especially for the many who don't know Christ. "Even though their culture tells them they are of no value, we know that our heavenly Father knows each precious woman by name and loves her deeply. They so desperately need to know that the love and acceptance that their hearts long for won't be found in a better marriage, or by following religious rules more strictly, but only in the grace and love of Jesus Christ."
Langworthy asked for believers to pray:
-- that Muslim women will have the opportunity to hear of the God who deeply loves and values them.
-- that many of these women will have a chance to hear and respond to the Gospel, whether through TV and radio broadcasts, print materials, national believers or foreign workers.
-- that husbands and fathers will come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
-- for workers and local believers as they seek to share the wonderful, life-giving love of Christ with these women.
*Names changed. Ava Thomas is a writer/editor for the International Mission Board. A free prayer guide focusing on Muslim women is available from the International Mission Board . Southern Baptists' gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and through the Cooperative Program help Southern Baptist missionaries around the world share the Gospel. Gifts for the offering are received at Southern Baptist churches across the country or can be made online at www.imb.org/offering where there are resources for church leaders to promote the offering. Download related videos at www.imb.org/lmcovideo.
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