Dancing and Syrian TeaPosted on Monday, August 2nd, 2021
I walked into work like any other day. I was feeling pretty tired. More than most days. Unfortunately, I was hoping to get in and get out. Little did I know that the Lord had something really special planned for me.
It had been 6 months since I had moved to the Middle East. I had just finished my language studies and had entered into full time work. For the ministry that I was involved in, that included going to our weekly mother and children tea programs where refugees living locally were welcomed. They would be able to create community, feel safe and known, get free child care and a meal, and hear about Jesus.
Was I really capable of doing this?
My role this week was to lead a discussion group. It was my first time doing this at our program and I was a little nervous. Maybe that’s what was stirring up my ‘get in and get out’ mentality. I would love to say that I was feeling all of the excitement and joy, but nerves were the main feeling. I was going to be speaking through a translator. Were they going to understand my heart? We were going to be discussing the story of David. Was I really capable of doing this?
With little time to assess whether I was capable or not, I walked into the building and soon found myself sitting at our table heading into storytelling and question asking. I could tell you all about how the discussion went or what was said, but it was clear that the Lord was doing something in Hannah**’s heart and I want to tell you about her.
Hannah was a refugee from Syria who had been living in the same city as me for about 5 years after fleeing from war in her country. She had three kids and found our program a few years after moving to this country. Hannah was asking questions about David’s stories. Her face showed interest and curiosity of how God showed Himself to David. Could He make Himself known to her in that way?
We quickly got along. She was honest, blunt, and confident. Right away I understood her. Although she was a foot and a half shorter than me, we found that we were quite similar in the way God had made us.
A few weeks after we met, I was invited over to Hannah's home. She lived in the tight quartered refugee part of the city. Apartments seemed to be stacked on top of each other as kids played on every street corner, throwing toys from windows, cultivating a charming chaos that I loved. Through many twists and turns, I found her home and was welcomed into her apartment on the fifth floor. It was a small one bedroom apartment now filled with 8 people. Steam seemed to hit me in the face as we entered. She was cooking us a classic Syrian meal, maqluba.
We caught up, met her three children, and shared stories with one another. We started sharing the word with her. Why not start in Genesis? We entered the journey there and found ourselves returning to Hannah’s house every few weeks to get deeper and deeper into the stories. We made our way through the old testament sharing the promises of a Savior to come. Then we entered into the new testament where we saw our Savior come to life and fulfill these promises. She was hearing the Gospel in full.
As the weeks went on, my visiting partner (someone else on my team) and I paused in the middle of our reading and asked her “Hannah, do you believe this is true.” Her reply. . . “yes”. But for Muslim people, it’s not that simple. She told us that she would commit her life to Christ if she could, but her husband would never allow it. For our Muslim brothers and sisters, converting to Christianity is seen as the unforgivable sin. There is no going back from that move. And with most Islamic cultures being an honor/shame culture, this decision would bring much shame to her family. She would most likely be disowned as we have seen time and time again with the other refugees we know who have entered into the family. For Muslim people there is much sacrifice and persecution.
We held this information close, hoping and knowing that the Lord would turn Hannah’s beliefs into action towards a life dedicated to Christ as He protected her from persecution. We returned to her apartment one day with the hopes of watching the Jesus film. As we were watching, her husband returned home early from work. Uh oh! Where was this going to go?
Luckily, her husband was willing to sit down and chat with us. This isn’t normally what I experienced with Muslim men when another man isn’t present. But luckily he felt comfortable with his wife and children being there. He looked at the screen and began sharing with us how much he respected the Christian faith. He wanted his kids to be able to have a well rounded view of all religions so he asked if we would be willing to do a bible study with his kids. What is the Lord doing here??
Evangelizing to people is a lot of listening and presence.
The rest of my time in this city, I was journeying with Hannah. Evangelizing to people is a lot of listening and presence. It’s not handing them formula after formula, story after story. A large percentage of it is being a friend in a hard time. Unfortunately and fortunately (that’s an entirely different story in itself), the Lord called me back home. I had to say goodbye to Hannah which sadly couldn’t happen in person due to COVID. It was a tough goodbye because I wanted so badly to be with her when she entered into the family. I wanted to hug her and celebrate with some Syrian tea and good music as the angels danced in heaven. But I had to trust that although the Lord was using me, He did not need me to change Hannah’s life.
I returned home. I settled back into American life. I mourned the relationships and city that I lost, but I continued to pray.
Just two months ago, I saw on my teammates newsletter that Hannah committed her life to Christ! My sister will be dancing and drinking Syrian tea with me in heaven! Even through the hard sacrifice, she found this to be the worthy life call. This is how the Lord works. He is interested in the hearts of all people. Sometimes he does it quickly, but what I saw mostly is that He is in the business of slowly and beautifully drawing people to Himself. This is our God!
**Name changed for security purposes**