Layla has found new friends, and wants to share Jesus with the other students at her school (top image: illustrative)
For many children, Christmas is a time of joy and excitement. But for Layla* (14) from Egypt, Christmas meant rejection and loneliness – until you stepped in with your gifts and prayers during the Open Doors children at Christmas campaign.
When Layla was nine, her parents became Christians. “My parents gradually told me about Christianity,” she says. “Our family are strict Muslims; it was dangerous for them to tell me all at once.” Despite her parents’ caution, Layla’s extended family soon found out about their conversion when they noticed that Layla’s father had stopped attending the mosque. Her parents were forced to flee with her in the middle of the night and settled in a new town far away. Layla didn’t really understand what was going on. Jesus was still a mystery to her, but she knew that she belonged to a family that was ‘different’.
“One of the teachers once insulted me in front of my classmates” -LAYLA
It was Ramadan when Layla started at her new school, but her parents’ faith made her an outsider. “My peers gathered to celebrate breaking their fast and watch TV together, enjoying each other’s company,” she remembers. “However, they excluded me from their gatherings because they knew my family didn’t participate in Ramadan. Instead, we celebrated Christmas at home, but I could not share this with my peers.”
Even though Layla didn’t fully understand what being a Christian meant, she was no longer allowed to follow the rules and habits of strict Muslims. This led to further struggles at school, including bullying. “My friends at school ridiculed me when they saw me once drinking a cup of water during the break in the Ramadan period. I was hurt by their harsh looks and verbal harassment,” she says. “One of the teachers once insulted me in front of my classmates and intimidated me to get veiled. Teachers said that if I didn’t wear it, I would go to hell.”
Layla’s parents tried to explain their faith to her, but they couldn’t find the right words to help her understand. Layla started wrestling with lots of questions, but there was no one her age to share her struggles with: “Is the Christian faith the truth? Or should I go back to Islam so that I may not end up in hell? I didn’t know who I was. What was my identity? What beliefs should I accept and live for? I only felt left out and rejected.” She became severely depressed, and even attempted suicide.
But thanks to you, Layla was not alone for long. When Open Doors local partners heard about her desperate situation, they immediately stepped in to help. Sally*, an Open Doors fieldworker, came alongside her to listen to her worries and encourage her. “She became the Christian friend I had been looking for,” Layla says. “She gave me new hope.”
“After the camp I just wanted to share about God’s love with other people and to help them to change” -LAYLA
Sally also invited her to a secret children’s camp, and a discipleship group, where she could connect with other Christian children her age. “My eyes were opened to the truth,” Layla says. “I believed in Jesus’ words when He said the truth sets us free. After the camp I just wanted to share about God’s love with other people and to help them to change by God’s power.”
Meanwhile, Layla’s parents were invited to join discipleship training which, among other things, helped the to explain their faith in a way that Layla could understand.
She has also learned to play the piano and accompanies the worship in the small house church that she attends with her parents. Although Layla still cannot share much about Jesus at her school, she is still in touch with Sally and others who continue to encourage her in her faith.
Thanks to you, Layla has a new Christian community to grow in her faith with – not just for Christmas, but the whole year round. She says, “Jesus stepped into my life in my hopelessness and made all the difference.”
*Names changed for security reasons
Today, if you are able, will you give hope to persecuted children this Christmas?
Every PHP 2,950 provides a month’s education to two children impacted by persecution.
Every PHP 3,950 supports a child at the Colombia Children’s Centre, giving safety, education and a future.
Every PHP 5,370 gives Bibles to ten children, so they can know Jesus through Scripture.