By Zarina* as told to E. M. Patton
I come from a large, close-knit family. My paternal grandparents, who were Muslims, lived with us. My parents, however, were not religious. They were raised during the Communist era in our country when it was illegal to think about God.
My grandparents felt they had been mistaken in not teaching their religion to their children, so they were determined that their grandchildren, my four siblings and I, would be strong Muslims. As a child I spent most of my time with my grandparents; they taught me a lot of the Koran and talked a lot about God. Girls do not go to the mosque, so I had to read the Koran at home. My siblings and I memorized a lot of Arabic and we could read it, but we didn’t understand it. When I asked my grandfather to explain it to me he said, “When you are grown you will understand it. Anyhow, it doesn’t matter because it is a holy book. You have to read it even if you don’t understand it.”
My mother was a teacher at a Russian school near our home; my father was in the Russian military. Besides living in a Muslim environment, we also had the military influence. My father was very strict. He liked everything organized and demanded obedience from us children. Because I was the eldest daughter, I had to be a model for my younger sisters. My brother, the eldest of the family, was not interested in the Koran. Because he was a male, our grandparents did not try to change his mind. However, in our Islamic society the approach to females is quite different. It seems that our grandparents’ work was to raise up good Muslim girls who would be obedient and submissive.
I attended the Russian school where my mother taught and graduated at age 16. After our country gained independence, my younger sisters were sent to a local national school so they could learn to be good Muslims. About that time a civil war broke out. My mother fled with us children to a neighboring country for a short time. We returned on foot before the fighting ceased, grateful that we were all still alive. Although the civil war was mainly in the south of the country, we had tanks and people with machine guns on our streets. Criminals took advantage of the situation and committed many crimes.
My worst memories are not of war but of violence in the home. My father often beat my mother, especially when he came home drunk. If I tried to interfere he would beat me, too. To hear my mother’s screams, pleading and weeping made me fear men. I began to hate my father.
I often wept because I felt I wasn’t accepted and didn’t get anything I wanted. It seemed that I always had to fend for myself. Whenever I asked for help with homework I would hear, “You don’t need this because you are just going to get married.” My brother, like all males, was loved and could do no wrong. If something happened that was his fault, he could blame me and I would be punished severely. A few happy times did come into my bleak life; my father would take my brother and me to the circus or to swim in the lake.
Generally, I lived pretty much in isolation. Even as a child I was not allowed to play with my friends. My classmates at school were Jewish and Russian; they had freedom. They would visit in each other’s homes, but I was never allowed to go to their homes or to invite them to ours. When I was 18 I became close friends with one of the boys. He started calling me on the telephone. My father said, “If he calls here again, I’m going to kill you.” He thought he was protecting me until the family could arrange a marriage for me. They didn’t want my opinion or cared whether I liked the individual. They merely wanted to find a husband for me, so their task would be fulfilled.
When I graduated from high school, my mother wanted me to take further studies to become an economist so I could work in a bank. We had many relatives working in the bank and she thought Economics would be good preparation. My grandparents were strongly against the idea. So I studied by correspondence at home but really didn’t learn much that way.
I didn’t even have much time for study; I was always working. From morning to night I was cooking, cleaning, gardening and taking care of the geese and chickens we raised. Sometimes my father gave me permission to go to a relative’s home; I was overjoyed.
I was very discouraged with life. I would ask myself why I should keep on living. I was of no value; my family needed only my labor. I surely didn’t need a husband who would beat me every day. I didn’t even enjoy wearing jewelry. My father was a jewelry maker and he would bring me many gifts. I would wear them to please him and then I would take them off and put them in a box.
I had only one friend in my life, God. I would talk to Him and it seemed to me that He understood; however, I never thought to ask Him to help me. To me, Allah was unknown and very distant. I now believe it was God who put a desire in my heart to learn the English language. I began to study secretly at night.
When I heard there were American people in our locality, I went to see them. I wanted to see people who spoke the language I loved. I was very impressed with a blue-eyed American girl. I didn’t look at her appearance, I just kept looking in her eyes. I sensed her warm, gentle spirit. When she spoke to me, I forgot my English; I forgot everything. I went home, but I could not get her out of my mind.
I begged my parents for money to enroll in the English classes the teachers offered. My mother didn’t want me to study, but my father, a translator, realized the importance of languages. He gave me the money and the permission to attend.
After class one day our teacher invited us to her home. She told us about her family, about America and her culture. When I finally could converse with her, she realized that God was my friend. When we were together one day, she told me that God was her Father. She said, “I love my Father; I love Him so much.” I was very surprised. Then she lifted up her hands and talked to God. My heart was burning within me. I began to explain to her that God is not the father, He is judge and that we have to be afraid of Him. “You have to be in awe of Him and kneel before Him,” I said.
She replied, “I don’t know, but I love Him. He saved me.”
Our friendship deepened, so I invited the teachers to my home to meet my parents. They wore our national clothing and spoke our language. My parents really liked them. Then the Americans asked my parents if I could visit them overnight. I wanted to go so badly. To my relief my grandparents spoke up first and said, “Yes.” I was the happiest girl in the world.
I was telling the teachers about Mohammed and Islam when they asked, “Would you like to go to church with us to know what we believe?”
I said, “Why not?” I couldn’t understand anything they talked about except for the words “Jesus, Lord, Bible, love and Father.” But when they prayed and worshiped, there was laughter in my heart.
Six months later, my blue-eyed friend went back to America. I lost a dear friend. I felt completely alone. I cried and cried every day. I thought I would never find another friend like her. One day a friend of hers called me, inviting me to a ladies’ meeting. I met two Iranian women there who told me about Jesus in my own language. As they spoke I remembered an incident that happened when I was eight years old.
Our teacher at the Russian school had told us to go home after class, turn on the TV and we would see God. I was taught that it was a sin to see God’s face or to have pictures, but I ran home and turned on the TV to the Super Book program. A cartoon was showing Jesus ascending into heaven. That couldn’t be God, I thought. To me God was an old man, strong and almighty. Just then the narrator said, “Children, this is Jesus and He loves you so much. He will come back and He will take you home to heaven.” He added that we would receive a book if we wrote to the address they were showing.
I sent for the book. It had lots of pictures! I ran with it to my father. “Look,” I said, “This is God. His name is Jesus and we didn’t even know it.”
My father was very upset. He took the book from my hands and said, “You throw it away right now and forget about it. Jesus is a prophet; He is not God.” I hid the book and forgot about Jesus.
Now these Iranian women were telling me what I heard as a child, that Jesus is God, that He loves me, and that He died for my sins. They said, “It is His blood that cleanses, not the blood of the animals we sacrifice.” The other added, “God doesn’t hear the prayers you pray five times a day. You are praying words that you don’t understand. You are not communicating with God. Jesus will give you His life. He loves you so much that He is going to come back to take you and all His children home.” The very words I heard on the TV! I wept and said, “Jesus, I want You to be my Father. I want You to be my God. I want to love you very much.”
I opened my eyes and I knew I was changed. It was beautiful! Then I thought of my parents. They are not saved; they are going to die. And they will kill me for being a Christian. The ladies assured me that the church would be praying for me.
For six months I was a secret believer. I retrieved the book I had hidden and began to read it. At first I was afraid of the Bible the women had given me, but when I began reading it, I couldn’t get enough of it. Of course, I had to read it secretly at night.
One day my mother said, “In two weeks you are getting married.”
I said, “No, I am a Christian; I will marry only a Christian.” My father overheard us and he came and slapped me hard, then began to beat me severely. My grandmother began screaming that our house would be burned and how could they live in the same house as a cursed one.
For six months they locked me in my room and every day they would come and beat me badly, but I felt no pain. They starved me, burned my books and prayed over me. They brought me different amulets and prayer beads. I prayed, “Jesus, You said I am Your child and that You love me. Please give me faith so I can be faithful to You to the end.”
Finally, they decided they would have to kill me. My father took a shovel and was going to drive me out to the graveyard. My mother was screaming and telling me to reject Jesus. When I said I couldn’t because I loved Him, my father said, “She loves Him more than she loves us.”
I finally told my father the truth that I had not loved him, that I had been afraid of him and hated him. But now I really loved him. He beat me severely, took the shovel and threw me into the car. We were heading for the graveyard when my grandfather came out of the house and said, “Stop! It’s Ramadan. In two days it will be over and you can kill her then.”
My father stopped and locked me back in my room. I was bleeding, my teeth were broken and I had bruises everywhere. My mother unlocked my door so I could go and wash the blood off my face. As I passed the phone it rang and I answered. A woman’s voice said to me, “Tomorrow at 10:00 o’clock I will be waiting for you at the bus stop.”
No one saw me leave. I could hear the prayers and the noise of the holiday celebration. I said goodbye in my heart, thinking I would never see my family again.
For three months I lived in the village all by myself. A Christian woman brought me a Bible and came daily with some food. I read, prayed and wept. The Lord healed my body and my heart and established me in His love. I was confident that He would meet me if I died. When I read the verse, “Honor your father and your mother,” I asked, “Lord, do You want me to go home?” I had such peace in my heart that I went back.
I saw my grandfather first and he started sceaming and crying hard. “You are alive! My girl is alive! I can’t believe it!” He trembled as he hugged me. He called for my grandmother saying, “Come, come. Look who came! Look who came!” I cried, too, as the family came. They cooked a big feast for me and said, “Believe in your Jesus, but don’t leave us anymore! Never!”
The person that I really wanted to see, my father, did not come. He didn’t come home from work. He said, “I don’t want to see her.” When he did come home he said, “Get out of this place.” I knelt down and grabbed his feet and said, “I love you in the name of Jesus. If you want to kill me, here I am. You can kill me, but I love you very much.” He looked at me and his heart was broken. He hugged me and said, “Don’t leave me anymore. You are my flesh. How can I live without you?” He forbade me to go to church or speak to the family about Jesus.
I got a job working at an international Christian organization. My boss would give me an hour a day to read the Bible since I could not bring one home. My family continued to pressure me to return to Islam. I fasted and prayed for a month then asked my father for permission to go to America to study the Bible. He asked how I dared ask him such a favor when he hated Christianity so much. Then he asked if I thought that was the most righteous way. When I told him I was confident that it was, he said, “Go study wherever you want.” I spent a year in the USA at a Bible school and then returned to my family.
The Lord continues to change me and my family. He has given me acceptance, courage and authority. I no longer feel that I am nothing. My father comes into my room to talk to me and drinks much less. He stopped beating my mother when I told him God was going to punish him for hurting her. He is embarassed when I tell him I love him, but he likes to hear it.
My mother is also drawn to me and tells me her problems. I am the only person who understands her and encourages her. She is afraid to become a Christian, but I believe she will come. I am reading the Bible to my grandmother and talk to her for hours about God, about the things He does, His love, kindness and mercy. She listens and enjoys what I tell her. My one aunt is reading the Bible to her grandchildren. Another aunt dreamed that God said to her, “You read the Bible. You are going to teach the Bible to the women of your place.” She secretly asked me for a Bible and reads it to her family. One of my sisters dreamed that a blind man came to her on the street and called her name. He said, “Jesus is God.” The Holy Spirit is also working in her heart. She no longer speaks against me.
All my neighbors now know me as the girl who loves God very much. They admire me and the children all run to me. I have many opportunities in the city to speak for Jesus. Those that show interest ask very good questions. I pray for them and I believe they, too, will one day come to Christ.
* Not her real name
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