By Nicole James —
“First, I am from a Muslim background,” Firuza* said, scooting her white plastic chair farther into the sun as she shared her story during a short break from babysitting. “In school we were taught there was no God. God doesn’t exist… I learnt about God in my family. My grandfather was a Muslim leader, a mullah. He taught us stories of God from the Qur’an.”
Desiring devoutness, Firuza quit high school at age 15 to study in an Islamic boarding school about an hour away from her house. Ten days into her stay, however, she returned home.
“The head of the [school] was a very rude, yelling woman, all covered in black, and I was scared. I didn’t see any godliness,” she explained.
Firuza re-enrolled in high school, learnt reading and Arabic script, and continued following standard Islamic practices: attending the mosque, praying and fasting during Ramadan. After finishing high school, she decided to study in her country’s capital city.
“There, I heard about Jesus for the first time,” she remembered.
A group of Westerners invited Firuza, along with other students, to watch the Jesus film at their apartment. While the cinematography impressed her, the video’s message fell flat.
“The first impression I had was, “Oh, they make good movies about their prophets. We must make good movies about Mohammed as well,” she remembered thinking. “I didn’t know it was all taken from the Bible. I didn’t believe the Bible was real.”
That mind set, in fact, was the first barrier to her believing in Jesus. Shortly after viewing the film, Firuza started avoiding the people who had extended the invitation. However, God pursued her.
“I heard about Jesus from my roommate in the dormitory. My teacher at the university, she gave me the Bible in three languages… In my working place, I heard about Jesus. They were inviting me home, having coffee, talking about Jesus,” she said. “Of course, I always avoided those people. I didn’t want to talk to them.”
And although she kept the Bibles, she put them away, afraid she would be a sinner if she even touched the books.
While taking a tram to work one day, an old woman approached Firuza, who was standing in the middle of the overfilled car. “No person died for people’s sins, only Jesus Christ did,” the lady told her. Um-hmm, Firuza thought, plastering a polite smile on her face as she turned away. She’s one of them.
“God was kind of chasing me,” Firuza concluded. “He was sending all kinds of people: friends, people that I knew, people that I didn’t know, strangers.”
Another day, on her way to work, Firuza said, a prayer came to her. She began crying as she prayed, “God, I only want you. I want to go to paradise. What if…when I go to you, my sins would be heavier than my good deeds?”
“This is what Muslims believe,” she explained. Cupping her hands, she listed the ways to earn points: going to the mosque, fasting, doing good deeds. But suddenly blowing her imagined collection away, she continued her charade—if the points fail to add up, they disappear, “and I will have to go to hell.”
Not long after that experience, Firuza had a dream. “I was on the very top of a mountain or hill, a high place, and the sun started rising,” she described. “I was watching it. It came right above me. Then I reached my hands, and it came, it landed in my hands. And I lowered my hands, and I looked, and the sun became a baby. The sun became a baby.”
Burned into her mind, the dream occupied her thoughts. “This is something,” she pondered.
Sometime later, a lady brought painted Easter eggs to Firuza’s work. “Why did you paint these?” Firuza asked.
“It’s a holiday,” she responded, continuing with an invitation to celebrate Easter together at church.
“What do you do there?” Firuza wanted to know.
“We sing songs, we pray, we praise God, we worship.”
“Maybe for a concert I could go, because I like music,” Firuza decided. So on Sunday, she went to church. “But the concert was awful.” Looking around the church, Firuza was confused by what she saw. She saw rows of Central Asians—her people—listening to the message.
Bored and uninterested in the preaching, Firuza didn’t concentrate on the message. Afterwards, though, people from the congregation went forward to share their testimonies.
“This really touched me, the testimonies,” she said. Previously, she had thought God gave rules and had nothing to do with individuals personally. At the church, she heard people describe the ways God was intimately involved in their lives.
Firuza agreed to attend church a second week. Again, she ignored the preaching but listened intently to the testimonies. And when the pastor asked to pray for newcomers, to bless them, Firuza walked to the front of the church.
Besides a blessing, there was also a prayer. Unable to return to her seat, Firuza answered the set of questions being asked.
“Do you think you are a sinner?”
“Do you want forgiveness for your sins?”
“God sent 2,000 years ago a Saviour to sacrifice for your sins. If you accept that sacrifice your sins will be forgiven… If you want to be forgiven, you can pray this prayer with me.”
And they prayed. “I accepted Jesus, not really deciding I want Jesus, I just thought they were asking questions,” Firuza said.
Immediately after praying, she was filled with fear. “I thought I betrayed my family, my religion, my ‘god’… I thought, ‘What have I done? Is this right or wrong? How can I know?’”
When Firuza got home, she locked herself in her room. Weeping, she began to pray. “I didn’t say Allah, I didn’t say Jesus, I didn’t say Mohammed. I said, ‘My Creator, I known You exist. Only You can show me the truth. You know my heart. I want to go to You.’”
After praying, Firuza found the Bible she’d been given, a New Testament in her language, and began to read the Book of Matthew.
“I couldn’t stop until I finished this book,” she said. “Then God in His power showed me the whole picture. He took away this thought I always had that the Bible was changed… God spoke this, and I…believed the Bible was true.”
As Firuza continued to read the Bible, she discovered more evidence of God’s love and truth. She began studying the Bible with the woman who had invited her to church, and she also started praying for her family.
“It took me seven years to receive Jesus. For my youngest sister, it took less than seven minutes,” she said. Later, another sister also believed.
“I see God’s power in my life,” Firuza said. “There are so many hundreds, if not thousands, of miracles… God knows my heart, and He gives the answer that I need.”
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Nicole James is a journalist, ESL teacher and adventurer. As a writer for OM Middle East North Africa, she’s passionate about publishing the stories of God’s works among the nations, telling people about the wonderful things He is doing in the world.