Tears run over her cheeks. She needs to pause when we talk about the situation of women who make the ‘big transition’ from Islam to a follower of Jesus in her country. The suffering, the rejection, the injustice - she experienced it all herself. Now she helps women in North Africa who find themselves in similar suffering, because they want to follow our Lord Jesus. Aizah* gives an insight of what it means to leave Islam and follow Jesus in North Africa. She is one of our staff in North Africa who is investing in the lives of converted women.
We meet in her house on a Wednesday morning. Inside the living room no one can miss that this is the house of a Christian. The paintings and verses on the wall, leave you in no doubt. This modern dressed woman with her dark curly hair serves me tea before she starts telling me how Islam views women, because that is the starting point for the ladies she accompanies in her region.
“Women in Islam are seen as persons with less wisdom, less faith. As they are each month a period unclean, they cannot pray as often as the men do. Women are seen as stumbling blocks for men; women would make men sin,” she starts telling us, going straight to the problem. Aizah herself was raised in a Muslim family and it is this view of women in her country that made her leave Islam and search for something else. “A woman can never be alone, as the men, the fathers, the brothers, and the husband would risk shame because of her acts.”
This dedicated woman is clearly touched by the women she accompanies in her region. She went through many of the ways they are persecuted herself. Every time I meet her, I am again impressed by her love for the women, her patience to continue her walk with them. She is an example of someone who goes the second mile and beyond that with those vulnerable new believers.
This way of thinking about women is common in Islamic society in North Africa. “But also in church,” Aizah says. That shouldn’t be a surprise as every new believer needs discipleship training to be renewed in their thinking, men as well as women. “When men become Christians, their view on women isn’t changed.” At least it is not taken for granted upon their conversion. “The Islamic thinking of the purity of women is a big thing for them. For example I heard of a Christian man who didn’t want to marry a Christian woman because in the past she had another boyfriend who had raped her.”
“Jesus’ purity is contagious, not our impurity”
Aizah decided to preach in her house church on the topic of confronting men. “I preached about the unclean woman who touched Jesus’ garment. In that story we see that Jesus’ purity is contagious and not her ‘impurity’. Jesus makes us pure. Jesus restores us. Sadly enough, only one man in my church said he would forgive such a woman, the other five said they wouldn’t. People come to church with their background, with their culture.” One sermon doesn’t change that.
She gives a personal example. “I am not living in the house of my parents, my father and my brothers have disowned me. That is why many don’t respect me. They simply don’t believe I was disowned because of my conversion. In their minds I probably have done something wrong with a man and that should be the real reason that I was sent away from home. For many women it is difficult to gain respect.”
Of course, also women who convert from a Muslim background come with their religious and cultural background to church. All converts need time to have their thinking renewed with the Biblical truth.
She really can get angry when injustice is done to a convert lady. “I don’t accept it when a woman is put down or beaten. I can respond very aggressively to that, meaning that I raise my voice against it. That is perceived as aggressive, when I as a woman do that. Women are supposed to let men take care of us. I don’t like it when men want to save us. I carry my own suitcase, I do things on my own. My attitude makes it difficult for men to deal with me.” For her it is even difficult to see the women act in the way that is correct to the culture. “Sometimes women don’t like me, as I confront them also and as I don’t live according to our culture influenced by Islam.”
Aizah herself suffered from most of the things many converted women suffer from in North Africa. “My father kicked me out of the house. He said that I betrayed our culture, that I was no longer his daughter. It broke my heart. He made me feel a bad girl. I felt like that until a friend brought me to a place where, in the past, Christians were martyred.” There, Aizah suddenly realised that Christianity was present in North Africa way before Islam arrived. “I am not a betrayer, I said to my friend when we drove back in her car. “I just returned to the Christian roots of my country.” A big smile appears on her face, when she tells about this significant discovery. Indeed, before Islam came, the North African countries had a significant Christian presence in the first ages after Jesus returned to the Father. Several of the early leaders of the church like Augustine, Tertullian, Athanasius and Origen were North Africans.
Of course, being thrown out of her family’s house hurt Aizah deeply. “I missed all the celebrations, the happy moments with my family. I was not welcome when cousins married but also not at the funeral of my grandmother.” As she missed so many celebrations, as a compensation, she is very much involved when weddings have to be organised for sisters of the church. “In a way it feels like being with family, but still it’s not the same. A hole in my heart remained.”
When years passed by, Aizah sporadically was welcome at home again. For example in 2021 she went there to celebrate her brother’s birthday. But as her sister complained of Aizah being there, her father sent her away. “I was so sad. I went to a friend. She sat and cried with me.” That her friend was crying too, triggered something in Aizah’s mind. “I became angry as I saw that even others were crying for what I had to suffer. I drove back home and confronted my father.” She told him about the suffering he caused by sending her away. “I stay here, you are my father, this is my father’s house,” she said with conviction to her dad. This outburst of anger opened the eyes of the man. “He said ‘sorry’. After so many years I was welcome at home again.”
Aizah accompanied dozens of women in North Africa in the past years who needed support because of persecution. Sometimes both women and their children. “Children often are bullied at school because of their parents being Christians. I remember a girl who was very depressed because of being bullied for having Christian parents during her school years. Often the children of converted parents don’t feel safe, they have no friends. They are often confused, they hear that God is love, but see lack of food, see parents losing their jobs.”
She has lots of examples. “I know of a mother who stopped going to church because of this. Her daughter was spanked at school because she spoke about Jesus in the classroom to the teacher. The way we as Open Doors try to help the women, is going on a discipleship journey with them. We teach them a Biblical view of women. We talk about ‘women who broke the rules’ in the Bible, women like Rahab and Tamar. During individual conversations, but also during training weeks with several other women in a similar situation, we try to change their way of thinking.”
Open Doors uses a program called Restorations to help the women discover a Biblical view on women. Aizah is very honest about the effect of this long-term investment in women. “Some women do change and the training has a positive effect on them. Others resist, it confuses them, they turn back to their old way of thinking. One day a woman said to me: ‘Thank you for this teaching, but in our church we believe differently’. It is a long process for the women, a real struggle and the process of changing your view is painful. Next year we will, in addition to the program, start with a counselling school in the region.”
There are women who significantly changed through the whole process. “For example a lady who followed the training just before Covid came. Now she helps other women in her country. Before she suffered from depression and had a very low self-esteem; this all changed now.”
Women should not suffer alone, is Aizah’s opinion. “Search for help, for support. I was lucky to have a close friend, a coach, who did not give up on me.” With the experience of how much that helped her, Aizah is committed to every woman who needs her support. “I don’t give up on them, no matter how long it takes.” Sometimes it takes long and a lot of patience is needed as she has seen women not taking the best decisions. “I continue with them. I go the extra mile. I don’t show another face, it takes what it takes, there is no time set for it. These women need love, encouragement and support.”
Of course Aizah doesn’t do the work in her own strength. She feels constantly guided and supported by God. “God is faithful. When we fail, He takes care. I sometimes feel inadequate to do the work, but God is faithful. He helps, he changes lives.”
There are many more women in North Africa that need your help. You can help women like Aizah find their real value in God. You can help the training and the counselling course turn into a success. Please pray for the work Aizah and her colleagues do in North Africa.
*Pseudonym used for security reasons.
Every PHP 1,620 provides three persecuted women with a Bible in her language.
Every PHP 2,430 helps a woman or girl receive trauma care so she can heal and realize her God-given identity and worth.
Every PHP 3,240 trains four women to withstand persecution with courage and confidence.
Thank you and may God richly bless you.