The following is a story from a mission trip to the Middle East. I wanted to share a better story than the basic itenerary. This story was from an interview we conducted while there and it was too incredible not to share. May God use our feeble words.
Her hands were shaking as she wrung them out. Her voice was feeble and cracked a few times as she told us how her husband’s fists crack her open.
Amira (real name changed) is a very small woman. She has an internal ferociousness that is not accurately displayed in her small frame. Yet she cowers around him.
It was not always this way. When they lived in Syria, their lives were simple but happy. They had friends and family and a decent paycheck. Their needs were met and they were hopeful for the future, especially when they looked ahead to all that lay before their two daughters, ages 6 and 4.
Then the war happened.
This war is unlike any other in our present day.
The civil war in Syria has grown increasingly complex with multiple “sides” that have several factions. In some ways, it is a faceless war because it’s often difficult to identify the real “enemy”. As Amira tells us her story, the war is no longer faceless. I’m seeing real tears roll down the face of a real woman whose life has been forever changed by this war, and not just in the way you might think.
Amira and her family fled Syria as refugees and settled in Lebanon. There’s growing racial tension between Lebanese people toward Syrian refugees so when Amira’s husband left each day for work, Amira stayed inside with her two daughters. Many Syrian refugees are denied access to Lebanese schools and most days Amira and the girls had nowhere to go.
She and her family were trying to make their way in a new country even as they watched their old country slowly being destroyed. Forever travelling but never arriving.
Amira and her family are from a Muslim background. Being Muslim and Syrian were integral to her identity.
On one of the loneliest days in this new place, she met a Christian who invited her to attend a church. She was desperate for her and the kids to be a part of a community. She started attending, and found much more than casual friendships. She met Jesus and began to follow him! Her life was suddenly filled with purpose and joy. She learned about how Jesus is much more than a prophet, how he is the God who loves us and promises to never leave us.
She couldn’t wait to tell her husband about this new life she had found! But he was less than pleased. As a proud, Muslim man, her husband, Muhammad, forbid her to go to the church again.
One night, when her husband came home from work, she begged him to let her and their girls attend church tomorrow. He refused, again, but wanted to make it clear he was not going to have this conversation again. So he hit her, hard.
Muhammad’s a welder. At least that’s what he tells us. But something got lost in translation because we later learn he’s actually a blacksmith. He works 12 hours a day, six days a week with his hands, burning and shaping and pounding steel. He raised those hands against his wife to send a powerful message.
One night, with tears rolling down her face, Amira looked at Muhammad and said, “Even if you leave me I will never leave Jesus.” He hit her again.
Unfortunately, this is a fairly common practice in the Middle East.
As Amira tells us this part of her story, you can see the pain in her eyes. The pain is much deeper than the latest beating. It’s a pain that carries in her eyes years of strife, suffering, and unfulfilled dreams.
But there’s a joy that persists.
She smiles and says, “My blacksmith husband has a black heart…but I used to have one, too. Jesus changed me, gave me a new heart, and I believe he can change my husband.”
The men in our group took Amira’s story especially hard. There’s about a dozen total people listening to her story and all of the men are crying. Not just sad tears, burning, hot, angry tears. Some are ex-military and I’m wondering what is rising up in them from past trips to this region. Some are dads and are looking to protect Amira as they would their own daughter. Some are husbands and can’t believe a husband would treat a wife like this, especially a wife as sweet and tender as Amira.
After she finishes telling us her story, Amira and I have a chance to talk. I tell her that we are planning to visit people from the church and others who have shown interest.
Amira tells me her blacksmith husband, Muhammad, is off today and resting at home. She invites us to her house to meet him. I accept but then my heart starts racing. Racing with fear and fury, hatred and sadness.
Even as we’re walking up the steps to their apartment, I’m struggling to even pray for this man, much less for our team and how to interact. I simply muttered, “Jesus, help me see him how you see him.”
Their apartment is very nice. Many refugees live in difficult situations but theirs is the nicest one we’ll visit. Muhammad is very gracious and hospitable, proudly showing us his custom metal bars he made for their windows. They don’t look anything like what you might think. Their design is beautiful and 100% hand-fashioned.
The men sit on the couches with Muhammad and Amira sits in the corner with their daughters.
I have no idea what to do, so I just keep praying, “Jesus, soften my heart. Help me see him how you see him.”
As we’re making small talk, even a few jokes, their youngest daughter rises from the corner and runs over to her father. He smiles warmly at her as he scoops her up and put her in his lap. We continue talking, even as she’s playfully pulling on his beard and he’s tickling her. They’re doing Daddy-daughter stuff, just like many do here. He’s soft with her, even tender.
God answered my prayer. He humanized Muhammad for me. Even in that place, God was faithful to remind me how much I still need him, how far away all of us are apart from him.
This story does not end with Muhammad trusting in Jesus…yet.
But God reminded me what He is capable of. That he can use a war with seemingly no end in sight to displace a family to bring them to a new country to put them in the paths of Christians, and to one by one bring them to himself.
When we return to the church, I thank Amira for her courage, for allowing us into her home. She was so proud we came. I shared with her my prayer for her husband, that when we return next year, Muhammad will be a Jesus-follower, and that he can serve as our translator when we do the next round of house visits. Would you join me in that prayer? If God can save you, he can save Muhammad, and he can use him to save many more people. Even though they don’t have a home country anymore, they can have a home forever with Jesus.