Bearing the Silence of God
I must admit, I am no heavenly man! Unlike most other Muslim-background believers, there is nothing supernatural to tell about how I came in touch with Christians or decided to be one.
On the contrary, I went to an old Anglican church with some friends because of an article about it in a local Turkish newspaper, which accused it of luring young people to become Christians by offering them wine, 100 U.S. dollars every Sunday, and the possibility of marrying a young British woman.
I was 17 years old when I had to face my family and relatives about my decision to be a follower of Jesus. I remember vividly how fearful I was, and how isolated and alone I felt as I lay in the fetal position in a sleeping bag on a friend's floor.
I am still broke, sober, and single after all these years, and I still struggle with shame, loneliness, and fear.
As I read the testimonies of other believers and heard sermons about great faith heroes, I realized that I was not one of them. I daydreamed about Luther and his courage to stand up for what he believed. I imagined him in front of the colorfully dressed, high-ranking clerics of the Diet of Worms, unshaken, strong, and confident. I could picture him saying his famous lines in a loud, confident tone:
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture, or by the clearest reasoning, unless I am persuaded by means of the passages I have quoted, and unless they thus render my conscience bound by the Word of God, I cannot and will not retract, for it is unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience.
But as for me, these lines from Pablo Neruda's poem "We Are Many" have always been more appropriate:
All the books I read lionize dazzling hero figures,
always brimming with self-assurance.
I die with envy of them;
and, in films where bullets fly on the wind,
I am left in envy of the cowboys,
left admiring even the horses.
Twice, I came close to giving up my faith. On one of those occasions, I genuinely doubted whether or not Jesus was worth all the pain, and on the other I struggled with my commitment to work in the Middle East and the continuous price I pay, when I could have easily settled into a comfortable Christian life in a Western country.
The Average Persecuted Christian
Statements such as, "More Christians have died for their faith in the 20th century than in all other centuries of church history combined," and, "It is estimated that two-thirds of all the martyrs in Christian history died in the 20th century," are frequently used in reports and writings on worldwide persecution today.
More Christians are killed than are saved from execution at the last minute. More Christians stay locked in prison, beaten and tortured, than are able to walk free, guided by miraculous escape plans. More Christians suffer lifelong deprivation of their most basic civic and economic rights. More converts from Islam give up their faith than stay Christians, and those who remain in the church struggle with lifelong battles with shame, depression, and isolation, caused by the loss of ties to their families, communities, and nations.
Above all, for the average persecuted Christian, there are unanswered prayers and the absence of peace, strength, courage, and joy. Their humanness in a very earthly plot line finds no place in our modern-day obsession with heroic stories with victorious resolutions.
Fear of physical and emotional damage is manageable when one's ears and heart hear the loving and strengthening voice of God, and the assurance that the global church will be there to embrace you.