I met “Addie” on the beach. The party had been going on for quite some time, and most of the university students who had gathered on the shore that night had already finished their chicken wings from the sand pit grill and commenced to play frisbee, a sport introduced by the island by American Christians several years ago.
Addie slipped on to the scene quietly, worn from a long day of work without food or water. You see, this party was taking place during the month of Ramadan, when Muslims all over the world observe sunup to sundown fasts in attempts to posit themselves well to receive God’s forgiveness for their sins. However, in Islam no amount of good deeds or fasting seasons can grant assurance of Allah’s pardon. In Addie’s country, she was pronounced Muslim by her very birth and is forced to practice Islam against threat of arrest and certain punishment for refusing to do so. In submission to and respect for her authorities, she does not eat in the daytime hours of Ramadan. She also wears the hijab, a black chiffon scarf which veils her hair and neck, hiding much of her beauty from the outside world. Her sleeves reach her wrists and her pants, her ankles.
After greeting several others at the party, Addie made her way around the tables and sat down next to me in the sand where my friend introduced us and Addie began to share her story…
Addie was born into a very devout Muslim family. By the time she reached college, her extended family had already given five parties to celebrate each time she had finished reading through the Quran.
“I can read the Quran very well,” Addie told me, “but I never really understood what I was reading.”
She went on to tell me her story of leaving home for university to study with the aid of government subsidy because she was Muslim. She told me how she was first exposed to the good news of Jesus Christ through believers she met on campus. Addie thought they were crazy. Her Muslim friends urged her not to follow the path of spending time with them, and although she enjoyed their company, she almost followed her friends’ advice because she thought the beliefs of these Christ followers were freakish and wrong. That is, until the God they loved and worshiped began to reveal Himself to her in powerful ways.
Addie had a difficult childhood. She never knew her mother and was raised primarily under the care of her grandmother–a Sikh convert to Islam through marriage, a woman with a loving heart, although this heart was darkened by idolatry and stained with the enemy’s deceit. In her late teens, Addie began to have dreams of a man standing near her bed, bright light gleaming around his figure. The dreams really began to concern her when they persisted for two weeks. The concern led her to tell her grandmother about the dreams. Her grandmother responded that the man was Addie’s grandfather, who she had never known, and that he just wanted to get to know her. Addie couldn’t understand what he could possibly want from her.
The light perplexed her. She opened the internet browser on her computer and began a search for what the Bible says about light. Through His Word, God revealed to her that the man was Jesus the Christ–the light of the world–who had come to light up the darkness.
Around this same time, one of the believers with whom Addie was associated was diagnosed with cancer. Addie lifted up a prayer to God for healing–the first time she had ever prayed in Jesus’ name. Addie was stunned when a mutual friend told her over the phone that this young man had been healed. So stunned, in fact, that she quickly ended the call and began to cry. She knew the truth, and for her, the truth would be costly. Addie was confronted with the realization that Jesus Christ was the way to the Father. She was afraid. For a while, her relationship with Christ was very personal and she didn’t tell anyone. Eventually, she began to open up to some of their Christian friends who gave her a study Bible that she kept hidden under the seat of her car. One day, she forgot to hide it and someone saw it, calling the attention of the school authorities because Addie was a Muslim. If the school administration found out she was a Christian, she could be expelled, sent to a reeducation camp, or worse. When called in for questioning, Addie remained silent. She told me she wanted to stand up to them but sensed the Holy Spirit telling her to be quiet. She told the administration she was asking to be dismissed and she was, with a debt owed to the government for not finishing her studies. ”I lost my school just like that.” When Addie told her family about her decision to follow Jesus, her father told her if she was going to believe that then she was no longer his daughter.
“I lost my school and I lost my family in a moment,” Addie say, “but for me, I know this is the cost of following Jesus, and He is worth it.”
I sat there, in tears, trying to place myself in Addie’s shoes–in her hijab, in her long-sleeved shirt and full-length jeans. I tried to imagine what my response would have been in her situation. I went to a Christian college where study Bibles were all over the place. If anything, we ran the risk of being “super spiritual” or “Jesus freaks” if our Christianity was visible and vocal. I tried to imagine what it would have been like as a sophomore in college to say goodbye to the chance of earning a degree. I tried to imagine what it would have been like to realize, at age 19, that I would not get a college degree and would struggle to provide for myself, let alone cover the debt I now owed the government for not completing college. Just when, in my imagination, I thought the prospect totally unbearable, I saw my father’s eyes, looking at me dead-on and telling me I was no longer a part of our family. It was too much.
I couldn’t have gone through that without Jesus. I can’t help but wonder if I would have with Him.
Addie desires to reach her people with the Good News. She can’t attend public church services, participate in a Sunday School or open small group, or even be visibly mentored in a coffee house by a Christian without threat of punishment. How will she grow? How will her people hear? I’m shocked at the cost Addie has already paid for her belief in Jesus and even more so at the realization that the cost will be even higher for carrying that message to her friends and family.
There are stories like Addie’s in corners all over the world and in large, international cities. We’ve heard them. We’ve read them. We’ve watched them on videos in our churches and chapel services. But having met a real, breathing character of one of these stories… I am uncomfortable. I have lots of questions and few answers. However, I know that suffering does not catch God by surprise. I’m afraid suffering will be what it takes for Addie’s people to know Christ, but I shouldn’t be. I know that suffering is often the avenue to true victory. I know He has been through it, and I know He will be with us–and with Addie–in every instant of it. And He is the victorious One–worthy of all sacrifice, all honor, and our very lives. Oh for grace to trust Him more.