I grew up in a culturally traditional Middle Eastern home in the United States, and Islam was our cornerstone faith. I believed that Allah was the one and only true God, and Mohammad was His messenger. I was not allowed to question God, the Quran, and the Islamic faith. "Read and believe" was the motto, and that was the end of that. As a child, I was very inquisitive about God and his nature. There was no mistake about how powerful, mighty and majestic he was. But I constantly wondered if Allah loved me just as a father loves a child. The Koran also states Allahs very nature to be transcendent and distant from his creation. There was no way to bridge the great divide between humans and himself. But in my heart, I didnt believe that. I knew that if God knew how much I loved him, he just had to love me back and become my friend. I also knew in my heart at an early age that in order to have a fulfilling and satisfied life on earth, I would need to be in tune with God. So I began my personal quest to discover God, and for God to discover and notice me. I wanted to be special to him, so I begged my father for a translated version of the Koran. My father complained time and time again that it was too expensive and thought that I would just forget about it. But I was persistent and finally got my first Koran. I read furiously through the book, but my hunger was never satiated. My primary question of why God kept himself so distant from his creation was still baffling to me. If I pursued him tirelessly, why would he not pursue me back? Unsatisfied and left empty, I put my quest on hold.
A relationship of mine had gone very sour my junior year of college, and my need to pursue God was resurrected. One evening in the student union, I was approached by two of my closest friends. We were chit-chatting about superficial stuff, when all of a sudden I said, "Im not sure that Islam is cutting it for me. Im just not satisfied, and I dont think that the problem is me anymore." They both turned to each other in shock. Little did I know that my two closest friends were Christians; it never came up in previous conversations in my two years knowing them. Also, shortly before our meeting in that student union, they were praying for my salvation. I noticed that they were nervous to talk to me after that revelation, but they both knew that there was a wide open door for them to talk to me about Christ. And when they did, I became very hard-hearted. Ever since I was a little girl, I was raised to believe that Christianity was just plain wrong, misleading, and if I ever converted to Christianity, I would go straight to hell. Well, going to hell would definitely be a damper on my quest to befriend God, so I didnt want to hear what they had to say to me that evening. But I was challenged to just "talk to God." What? No, no. You dont understand, I said. You dont just talk to God. You have to become ritually clean before prayer. And even during prayer, you only recite the Koran. There is no window to have a conversation with him. And if there was an opportunity to do that, hes so distant from me would he hear? But my friend was persistent and continued to challenge me the God of the universe is a God of love, compassion, and desires a relationship with all his people. Ah, and there it was. Relationship. The one thing I was desperately seeking. And the stark realization that my quest for Gods love could possibly be found through belief in Christ left me paralyzed with fear.
I did talk to God that night, confused as ever as to whom God really was. Could God really pursue me the way Ive been pursuing him? I stared at my dorm room ceiling half jokingly and half serious. I called out, "Okay God, here I am and Im talking to you. Not in Arabic, but in English. Im not reciting anything; Im just talking to you plainly. Could you please tell me who you are? Id really like to know." And that was it. There was no flash of light, no booming voice from the sky, nothing. And I fell asleep.
About a week later, I was walking to the mail room to pick up my mail, and my friend who had challenged me to talk to God was there. Before she could say anything to me, I approached her and said "Can I come to church with you sometime?" And as soon as I stated that, my hand went right over my mouth in disbelieve. It was as if someone else had talked right through me. My friend also stared at me in a bit of shock, not believing that I said that too. After a bit of stuttering, she agreed happily and invited me to accompany her on Sunday.
The drive to church was painstaking for me. I had never been to a church and did not know what to expect. I dont remember the sermon message that day and I did not accept the alter call, but I remember the congregation warm, inviting, hospitable, relational, and genuinely happy to speak with me even if I did not believe what they believed. It was as if they were living out their faith, and I now know of course that they were modeling the body of Christ.
It was now Winter break, and I was home with my family. My "challenge friend" (whom Ill call Mary for the sake of conversation) called me and invited me to accompany her to a Christian youth conference that was taking place over New Years. I declined right away, telling her that outside of school, my parents are very protective and do not allow me to go anywhere overnight. She begged and begged, and I finally gave in. While I was contemplating how to ask my dad about going, Mary and her small group at the church were praying furiously for me. I finally gave up trying to come up with the perfect way to ask, expected a resounding NO, and walked downstairs to ask. "Dad, can I go to a youth conference with my friend. Ill be gone for 4 days and 4 nights over New Years." And as I turned away from him because I already heard the answer echo in my mind, he cheerfully said "Yes! Sure, have fun." WHAT? ARE YOU SERIOUS? I thought he didnt hear me, so I repeated the question, emphasizing that I would be gone overnight and for a few days. And again, he said yes with no hesitation. Well, I was ecstatic, but he did rethink his answer and told me to make sure it was okay with Mom. Darn, well, Im sure thatll be the no I was expecting. And, again, the answer was yes!
I went to that conference full of questions. I had never seen so many people filled with such spiritual satisfaction and love for God and life! I learned about sin and why it separated us from God. But even more important, I learned about Christs mission and about His death and resurrection bridging the great divide. I learned about His pursuit for mankind and that every individual matters to Him and has a purpose here on Earth in the great mosaic of life. And then I finally knew that I had found what Ive been searching for since my childhood. I gave my heart, mind, body, and soul to Christ at that conference.
I knew that my acceptance of Christ would lead to my disownment from my family. That was especially difficult for me since I was the oldest of four siblings, and I practically raised them during my adolescent years. Disownment meant separating myself from my siblings which was terribly painful for me to think about and actually do. Even after my conversion, I was wary about my decision, for my family was also my God. I was on the brink of giving up Christ for fear of my siblings future when I was away. No, I just cant go through with this, I thought one evening. And that same evening, I prayed to Jesus to help me know somehow that the decision I made was the right one. After that prayer, I went out with a friend for a bite to eat. In the restaurant was a homeless man named Fredrick. My friend was drawn to him and began talking to him. I was nervous and avoided eye contact. Quickly, my friend got up and excused himself to use the bathroom. Now Fredrick and I were sitting alone. I met his eyes, and he smiled the warmest smile I had ever seen on a human being before. He pointed his finger right at my heart from across the table and said, "I know that Jesus Christ is in your heart." And just like that, I knew that God had given me my answer. I was filled with unshakeable, warrior-like courage at that very instant. My friend came out of the bathroom a bit disoriented. "Well, didnt you use the bathroom?" I asked. "No," he replied, "I actually forgot why I went in there." And again, I knew that moment what I just experienced was hand-wrapped by Christ just for me. Fredrick asked for some money for a bus ride home to his family. He needed only six more dollars. My friend pulled out all the money he had, and wouldnt you know it it was exactly six dollars. We left that restaurant without any food that night. I was already full.
I shared my faith with my family, and I was disowned. But I was blessed with a new family both earthly and divine. My Abba father takes care of me daily now, and we talk. We talk all the time. We live life together. I finally found what I was looking for. Finally, a relationship.
If you have further questions, you are welcome to write me.
July 9, 2008
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