by Sue Eenigenburg
Although operating in three very different worlds the Muslim woman, the Muslim woman who trusts Christ, and the missionary woman to Muslims all share in the basic human responses to their situations.
When we first moved to the Middle East, I was excited but nervous as I met my neighbor. She looked so different from me. She was veiled, wearing a long loose coat and gloves. Her native language was different as well. I knew that her worldview was different from mine. She was as foreign to me as, I am sure, I was to her. Yet, as we talked, we discovered that we also had much in common. We loved our families and wanted what was best for them. We worried when our kids were sick. We liked to laugh and shop. We both loved God and were happy with our own religious beliefs.
These initial perceived similarities and differences have been refined by a dozen years of ministry experience in the Middle East. Although operating in three very different worlds the Muslim woman, the Muslim woman who trusts Christ, and the missionary woman to Muslims all share in the basic human responses to their situations. Let’s take a look at these three women and focus on what their concerns are and what their main, natural response is to these concerns.
First, let’s look at a Muslim woman. From the time she is born, she realizes that she is at a disadvantage because she is not a boy. In some countries, this excludes her from educational opportunities. It decreases her value to her family and forces her into a role where it is assumed she needs constant supervision. She cannot be trusted without the family’s supervision to keep her morally pure. She grows up with pressure to marry as soon as possible and she must marry someone approved by her family. They have either chosen him for her or approved of her choice. Once married, she worries about how to fulfill her duties to her husband. She should have a baby within that first year of marriage, preferably a boy? If she doesn’t, she could be divorced. She must do all she can to keep her husband happy so he feels no need for another wife. While her husband goes to the coffeehouse to relax with friends, or works two jobs to support his family, she is at home taking care of the kids and supervising their homework for most of the evening. Even if she has a full-time job she still does all of the housework. She must try to please her in-laws. This is even more important when her mother-in-law lives in the same home. Expectations of her are high, and the pressure is on for her to conform to the ideal of the traditional Muslim woman in a modern world.
How can she pursue education, modern or Western trends, and social equality, and yet maintain her Islamic and traditional values? She is concerned with political, religious, scientific and social concerns-how do these fit together and how do they affect her and her family? How should she raise her children? What can a person do in the face of political corruption? Is Western technology more important than her religious convictions and Muslim traditions? Are they compatible? The Muslim woman must deal with these tensions.
She hears that her country is poor because it has forsaken Islam, so she dresses in Islamic garb and reaffirms her Muslim faith and heritage. She longs to walk closely with God and obey him. Yet her religion doesn’t allow her to touch the Koran or pray during her monthly cycle and she cannot pray with men in the mosque.
She is plagued by fears that exist throughout all economic levels of society for the Muslim woman. She is afraid of curses from jealous neighbors. The evil eye is a serious threat to her well being. To protect her son, she may dress him as a little girl because the evil spirits are less interested in girls than boys. She and her children wear charms to ward off the evil eye. She is afraid of evil spirits. At one home Koranic study I attended with upper-middle-class, college-educated women, I met a woman who gave a report on how to protect oneself from evil spirits in the bathroom. She said to repeat a verse of the Koran when entering the bathroom and then repeat several verses when leaving.
What does the future hold for her? She has others read her coffee grounds to try to find out. She uses numerous means to gain her desires, whether praying to dead saints, eating or drinking Koranic inscriptions on paper, or paying money to a sheik to pray for her. She must try hard to win the favor of the God she fears.
What do others think of her? She must guard her reputation fiercely. If the slightest rumor of immorality reaches her family, she may be killed for tainting her family’s honor. She is afraid of death. In her religion she finds no peace or security regarding where she will spend eternity. Though she tries hard to pray and obey God, he may decide she still cannot enter paradise. She has no way of escape from this fear that entraps her and holds her captive in its tireless grip.
When a Muslim woman becomes a believer in Jesus Christ, she deals with many of these and other issues. If she is married, she has an unbelieving husband to deal with. If he disapproves of her faith, it is his right and obligation to divorce her and take the children away from her. Her family may not want her back. If she is single, how will she handle it when her family burns her Bible and any other religious materials? How will she cope with possible death threats if she doesn’t forget this Christian faith? Who should she marry? What will she do when her parents try to force her to marry a strong Muslim man so she will come back to Islam?
One young Muslim woman who came to know Christ kept refusing the Muslim men her parents brought home. Her parents got more and more upset with her. They assumed that if she married a strong Muslim man, she would forget her new faith. Their pressure on her to marry kept increasing. Finally, her mother wanted to take her to the sheik so that he could talk some sense into her and force her to marry.
As this young woman met with our cell group, she wondered what to do. Should she go or not go? Should she run away? As we met and prayed together, we encouraged her to go with her mother. Meanwhile, we fasted and prayed for her. Her mother took her to the sheik. He told them, "Your daughter, as well as everyone else, has a ‘double’ (qarina) in the spirit world. This double is jealous of all the men you are bringing to the house and is causing your daughter to refuse them all. Back off and leave her alone for a while. Then her spirit double will be appeased and eventually she will marry!" She came back to our cell church confident that God delivered her and would continue to take care of her in spite of her family’s threats.
A Muslim background believer doesn’t want to marry an unbeliever, but her family-her entire society- would never approve of her marriage to a Christian. Even if she does meet another believer from a Muslim background, and they get married, it will be challenging to maintain a Christian home. When the children are born, they will have Muslim written on their identity cards as their religion. The children must participate in Muslim religious classes at their school. If the children share their true faith at school, the whole family will face bitter opposition.
These are some of the situations the believing woman from a Muslim background encounter. Even though Jesus has delivered her from fear, she can easily slide back into fear. She is afraid she may lose her job if her faith is exposed. She may lose her family or even her own life when others learn of her faith. She cannot worship freely in churches for fear of spies reporting her to the authorities. Even in cell churches, people have informed on others to the secret police. Fear can entrap her and hold her back from trusting God to take care of her.
If she depends on herself and her own strength and attends to the words of others more than the Word of God, fear becomes a ruthless tyrant. It is as she walks by faith, deepens her relationship with Christ, and is encouraged by other believers that she knows true freedom. Freedom from fear is a minute-by-minute walk of faith, not a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.
The missionary woman who goes to work with Muslim women also encounters difficulties that can lead to fear. She deals with the stress of culture shock. She must learn a new language as well as the rules and taboos of another culture. Things that she would do at home-smiling and chatting with a man behind her in the grocery line, or looking in the eyes of the men she passes in the street, or simply answering a question from a taxi driver-are all considered in her host country as come-ons and invitations to a sexual relationship. She not only goes through culture shock, but she watches as her husband and children deal with it as well. She may deal with guilt as she knows her children are suffering because of her calling and wonders if it is really worth it. She and her husband must re-evaluate their roles in this new culture. Decisions are made on how to educate their children. She must keep up with her family and their needs as well as keeping up with her housework, correspondence and ministry, in spite of the homesickness that threatens to overwhelm her. The missionary woman must balance her time and keep up with her different tasks without the support of extended family and the familiarity of dealing with issues in her native language.
The missionary woman also faces fear. She can be afraid to go out on the street because of harassment by men. She can be pinched, fondled, followed and propositioned by strangers. Men assume she will be open to their advances just like the women they see in foreign films. A simple taxi ride can become a ride of terror as she pushes probing hands away. She is afraid for her children as they go through their adjustments. National children laugh at their Western looks and lunches-how can they eat peanut butter and banana sandwiches? Will their negative experiences scar them emotionally for life? Will the amoebic dysentery cause long-term damage to her children’s intestines? As she struggles in ministry she wonders if she will ever learn the language well enough. Will she ever lead someone to Christ? She is afraid of failing in ministry, in the eyes of both her family and the nationals.
She is also afraid of exposure in creative access countries. If the authorities find out that she and her husband are church planting among Muslims, the authorities could arrest her or her husband, they could get kicked out of the country with no time to adequately prepare. What if her husband is kicked out or imprisoned, how could she handle all that would need to be done on her own? How would this affect her family? What would her neighbors say or think about her?
These three types of women, the Muslim who hasn’t been set free, the Muslim background believer who is new in her faith and the missionary woman who is expected to be more mature in her faith, though different in many ways, all struggle with fear.
Fear is the opposite of faith. For many years I assumed that doubt was the opposite of faith. It is not. Fear is. When I have faith in God-in who he is and all he can do-I cannot be defeated by fear. I need not be afraid. It is when I take my eyes off of him and look at my circumstances, my own strengths and weaknesses, or the power of others that I become afraid.
The Muslim woman can be released from fear by placing her trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. She need not fear death, her future or evil spirits as she comes to know the God who loves her and delivers her from death into life. The Muslim woman who comes to faith in Christ no longer needs to be held captive by the sinewy tentacles of fear. Through her growing trust in the Trustworthy One, she can walk by faith as she looks to him.
One young believer, experiencing persecution at her work place, was terrified of what might happen to her. As she focused on her circumstances and the people around her, as she tried to figure out how she was going to take care of herself, her eyes were no longer on Jesus and his ability to keep her. Fear once again tried to ensnare her in its grasp. She met with two other believers who talked with her about Jesus’ character. As they encouraged her to trust him and reminded her of his faithfulness in the past she grew in her faith. Fear lost its power over her. She returned to work; faith overcoming her fears. The circumstances were no different, but she was!
Before the missionary woman goes to the field, she must demonstrate faith. In spite of her fears or concerns of what may happen, her faith remains strong. She knows God has called her. She sees God provide for her as people give and pray so she can go. Preparing herself through Bible study, reading books on Islam, and attending classes on Muslim evangelism gives her confidence. She is sent by a church that supports her and honors her for her commitment to serve the Lord.
She then arrives in a country that probably does not want her and dishonors her because of her religion and gender. Communicating in a new language is difficult and her self-image plummets as she becomes aware that little children know more of it than she does. All the evangelism methods she studied don’t seem to be enough to convince her friends of the truth.
Could it be that her confidence has been in herself more than in God? Has her self-esteem been based more on what others have thought of her than God’s perception of her? Has her faith been strong only because life had been easier in her home country where she was surrounded by people who encouraged her and responded to her ministry? Where does she turn for help? As she hangs on, trusting God becomes all she has to see her through. The Word of God becomes her lifeline and prayer becomes a necessity to survive. She must choose between faith and despair. As her walk with God deepens, she faces her weaknesses and sinfulness. She confesses the shallowness of her faith and realizes her need to really know God. She begins to depend less on herself and her own abilities and more on the God who has called her. By faith, she looks to God to use her. In time, she may begin to see some fruit. She is encouraged.
Then the police send for her husband to come for an "interview." She doesn’t know where he is, how long he will be gone, whether he will come back or be sent out of the country. Fear comes knocking on her door. Fear wants to take over, wants to send her packing. Faith in God in the face of fear is what keeps her strong, even when she is surrounded by events that could lead to despair. Faith in God gives courage to continue on. Though fear seems ever present, it is not allowed to flourish because she has come to know God, who he is and how he works, and she trusts him.
It is only by faith that fear is conquered. We must turn our eyes on the Fearless One. He experienced death and conquered it. He fought the enemy and vanquished him. He is the sovereign Lord. He delivers Muslim women from darkness to light. He protects his believers in any and all situations. He sustains his workers in the fields. Faith, it truly is the victory.
Sue Eenigenburg is the assistant director of Women’s Ministries at Christar’s home office in Reading, Pa. She and her husband Don have been members of Christar (formerly International Mission) since 1986. They have four children.
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