Aqilah* was exhausted after her second pilgrimage to Mecca, and soon after sitting down in a corridor near the Kaaba, the huge black cube at the center of the Islamic ritual, she fell asleep in the cold.
Her soul also was exhausted from the pilgrimage of her life – starting with her mother dying when she was 5 and her father sending her to a Catholic boarding school. When she left it at age 18, her father still wanted nothing to do with her.
“I was the only daughter of my parents and lived as an orphan,” she said, adding that after she left the boarding school, her father sent her to live with an uncle who was a Muslim fanatic.
“When he first saw me, he ripped the rosary from my neck, breaking the chain,” Aqilah said. “He treated me harshly and forced me to return to Islam. I was subjected to psychological and physical abuse in my uncle’s house.”
She managed to get sent to the house of another uncle in the Middle Eastern country that is unnamed for security reasons, but he also mistreated her. Moving into the home of another, kinder Muslim relative, Aqilah began to study Islam in earnest and questioned various Muslims about the religion. Her studies led her to go on her first umrah, a pilgrimage to Mecca that is lesser than the annual Hajj and can be done at any time of the year.
After six months at this home, she married a Muslim and attained a measure of stability in her life. After harried but happy years in which she gave birth to five children, she decided to go on a second umrah.
A day before she set out, she saw Christ in a dream, Aqilah said. She paid no attention to it and continued on to Mecca.
“After completing the rituals, I sat down in a corridor there to rest and fell asleep from fatigue, and the weather was cold,” Aqilah said. “I saw a dream or a vision of a strong light approaching. When it reached me, it covered me, and I felt a warmth. I had a feeling that it was Christ.”
Back home, the experience compelled her to secretly watch Christian TV programs.
“Initially I felt angry at some of the programs because they criticized and attacked Islam,” Aqilah said. “But then I began to be convinced by what they were saying. One day I prayed with tears and asked God to guide me to the correct way. I saw a vision from the Lord: a cross covering the globe, then a clergyman or a priest gave me three pieces of bread.”
When she began to look for a church to learn more about Christianity, she found a native ministry’s fellowship where local missionaries were prepared to help her, the ministry leader said.
“We explained the message of Christ to her, and she accepted Christ as the Savior of her life,” the leader said. “Today she grows and advances in faith. But all of that is in secret and hidden from her husband. She was baptized with water in the church, and she has influenced her daughters who come to attend the church intermittently in secret.”
Besides sharing the gospel at home visits, special events and sports outreaches, ministry workers offer an array of services to refugees from Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, from humanitarian aid to medical care and job skills training.
Daily, local missionaries help refugees who have passed through unimaginable suffering feel the spiritual comfort that Christ offers. When Islamic State (ISIS) militants overran one Christian family’s town in Iraq, threatening to kill them if they did not join them or pay the Islamic jizya “protection” tax, the family fled to Erbil that night, leaving all their possessions behind, said a 20-year-old member of the family, Hadeel*.
Before discrimination in Erbil drove them to an undisclosed country, Hadeel’s father returned to their hometown to see what might be salvaged. He found his house bombed and charred, everything in it destroyed, Hadeel said.
“My father had worked in a coffee shop for 20 hours a day to buy us that home,” Hadeel said. “My uncle also loaned him some money to pay for the house, which my father must pay back later. We had only lived in that house for a few months before Da’ash [ISIS] entered the village and destroyed the house and all of our hopes and dreams.”
Hadeel had wanted to study to become a lawyer, but schools in her new country were expensive, and the family had nothing. A Christian neighbor told her about a native ministry’s church. Local missionaries at the church provided food for her family, as well as employment for Hadeel and her mother making handicrafts.
One of the local missionaries helping them visited and prayed for Hadeel regularly, helping her when she was sick, sad or afraid of losing her father. The worker was there when their application for asylum in Australia was rejected after an 18-month wait.
“She asked that God may open our eyes and light our way so we do not forget Him or make our hearts harsh,” Hadeel said. “She taught me how to pray for my family. I learned that every new day is a blessing from God. We must live with joy, helping others, and standing with them in despair. Despite all the pain, there is joy.”
Such local missionaries are helping to transform lives throughout the Middle East. Please consider a donation today to equip them to bring Christ’s salvation and love to the lost and hurting.
*Name changed for security reasons