In Central Asia believers, especially former Muslims, live under increasing persecution from a variety of sources, from dictatorships to a surrounding culture generally dominated by Islam. In many of these contexts, being a Jesus-follower is extremely difficult. But we know that God is not slowed by dictators or cultures—Jesus has the power to break into any context and change hearts and lives.
A few years ago, Christians, especially those from a Muslim background, were the No. 1 target for Roman*, a devout Muslim in Kazakhstan. He considered them “betrayers of the real faith.”
“By ‘betrayers,’ I meant Christians with a Muslim background,” he says.
Roman had no problem confronting, challenging and persecuting Christians. He was like many fasting Muslims during Ramadan who intentionally confront Christians, drilling them with questions about their faith with the purpose of tripping them up and even making them question their faith.
Last year during Ramadan, Roman went a step farther to express his devotion to Islam. He decided to pay a visit to the local Baptist church in the area for the sole purpose of interrupting “betrayers of the real faith.”
“I went to the church service during Ramadan because I considered myself to be a devout Muslim,” he says. “I [wanted] to prove my faith to Allah.”
Roman walked through the church doors, sat down and began to make his plan. But as the church service started and the pastor began to speak, Roman couldn’t force himself to do what he came there to do. He couldn’t bring himself to stand up and cause a scene. The words he heard the pastor say touched him too much.
“For the first time I heard about a God who loved me,” he says. “I never knew the Almighty God loved me even though I am not perfect.”
The surprising and healing truth of a God who loves His creation unconditionally began to wash away a lifetime of guilt.
“That thought [of being loved even though I’m not perfect] seriously never entered my mind. I always felt guilty. I felt that I had to earn His attention.”
The words Roman heard that day focusing on love, mercy and forgiveness grabbed the heart of the persecutor. And then something happened he never expected: tears, prayers to Jesus, repentance and joy. Sitting in that church service in a Baptist church, the man who had devoted his life to persecuting Christians became a follower of Jesus. Roman’s story isn’t unlike another former persecutor of Christians who 2,000 years ago penned the words we read and cling to today:
“For I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
Says Roman: “I never want to go back to the Muslim faith.”
The nearness of a God who listens
Like Roman, Fatima was also a devout Muslim from Central Asia until last year’s Ramadan. In Muslim-majority Chechnya where she lives, persecution of Christians continues to escalate.
Every night for more than five years, Fatima had prayed for relief and healing. Fear and anxiety had taken over, which had led to continuous nightmares and sleepless nights.
“Muslim prayers didn’t help me,” Fatima says.
Knowing how she was suffering, one of her friends, Indira, came to see Fatima during Ramadan last year. Indira told her friend about the Jesus she had found. Then she invited Fatima to come to a Christian meeting–a secret homegroup.
“For several weeks, I refused to go,” Fatima remembers. “I considered myself Muslim and was afraid that it would be a betrayal of Islam to meet Christians, especially during the pure and holy month of Ramadan.
“But I couldn’t deal with my [emotional] condition any longer and decided to go. Everything I heard in that meeting touched my heart, but I refused to accept Jesus, as I didn’t want to be guilty of leaving Islam. After two weeks, I understood that my [Muslim] faith couldn’t help me. I knew I needed to do something or else the devil would slay me. I went again to the homegroup and accepted Jesus into my heart and asked Him to heal me and my life.”
That experience, she says, was strangely surprising.
“I expected to feel guilty about betraying Islam,” she explains, “but there was no guilt. When I came home, I felt peace and joy. That night, I slept so well—no nightmares, no fears and no bad thoughts.
“And I couldn’t stop thinking: What if my friend Indira had not visited me that Ramadan when I was in such a critical condition?’ Now I pray for my parents to accept Jesus. I know that it is possible for Him to touch their hearts even though they are Muslims.”
*Names changed for security
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