Entering Through the Narrow Gate
1 May 2017
Noora’s story shows how immense pressure from family makes following Christ in Saudi Arabia extremely difficult for believers from a Muslim background. The biggest challenge for this young Saudi woman – and for many others like her – was not to start following Jesus but to keep following Him every day.
For Christians, Saudi Arabia is one of the most restrictive countries in the world. Part of the country – the area surrounding the holy cities of Mecca and Medina – is totally forbidden for non-Muslims. All over the country Christian churches are illegal; the Islamic Sharia laws are the only official laws. Yet it was in this country that Noora* decided to follow Jesus, the Son of the living God.
A window of time
Due to her high grades she was accepted into a scholarship program in a western country, and accompanied by her brother, Noora moved there for a few years. She soon found out that not everything she was taught in school about non-Muslims was true. Their teachers had been lecturing her that all non-Muslims surely would go to hell and that all other cultures were inferior to the Saudi.
Her experiences in the west were the opposite of that. Happy to be able to go outside wearing comfortable clothes and a fashionable headscarf instead of the fully covered abaya that is mandatory for women in Saudi Arabia, she soon also met Christians who shared their lives with her. This is a rare case; many Saudis don’t connect to local people in their host countries when living abroad, due to language and cultural barriers. And in most Western countries, only a few Christians feel called to reach out to visiting Saudis. So Noora was blessed to make this connection so quickly. “They took me to their meetings once every week. I really felt welcomed and loved there. They gave me a sense of community that I really missed while living abroad.”
Strong family ties
Community is a big thing in Saudi Arabia. Family ties are strong, and especially for women, the family community is life-defining. Since they are only allowed outside if accompanied by their husband or a male relative, many Saudi women spend most of their days inside in the company of other female relatives.
Even though Noora befriended a number of Christians in the country she was studying in, and she felt very much at home in their midst, she didn’t commit to Christ there. It was only a few years later, when she was back in Saudi Arabia and married to a friendly and mild Muslim man, that she would accept Jesus Christ as her Savior and start following Him.
The seed for this was sown by the Christians she met abroad, who got Noora in touch with believers in Saudi Arabia. Her family – happy that she had returned home unharmed – warned her not to get too close to those Christian foreigners. “The devil uses them to sow seeds of doubt in your heart. Do not befriend them,” they said to her. But Noora didn’t listen. Helped by her church friends back in her study country, who continued to pray and connect with her, she made contacts with Western believers in Saudi Arabia.
In Western countries, people often see a commitment to Christ as merely an individualistic choice – something between them and God. For many Saudis, the community of Christian believers is just as important. “They don’t just choose Jesus, they choose Jesus and His children,” a Christian worker active in Saudi puts it. “It is not uncommon that Saudis first become an active part of a group of Christians and then later – after finding out what those people have in common – so they start following Jesus.”
This was also the case with Noora. Being in their midst, she gradually started to accept Jesus personally. And finally, she made the bold choice to follow Him, despite the potential cost.
*name changed for privacy
Are there any international students in your sphere of relationships and connections? Why not invite them over for a meal and see how God might use you to bring his light and love into their lives?