“Where is God? What does He look like?”
Good questions. Important questions. But dangerous questions – especially if you are an eight year old girl in Libya. Maizah* began searching for God when she was very young. When she was eight she asked her mother about God – ‘Where is he? What does he look like?’ “It’s not good to ask this,” her mother replied. “God has no form.
You can understand her mother’s nervousness. In Libya – as in many places in the world – it’s dangerous to ask these kind of questions. Libya is number 4 on the Open Doors World Watch List – the ranking of the worst places in the world to be a Christian. It’s a place where asking the wrong kind of questions can see you imprisoned or even killed.
But one of the lessons you learn from the lives of persecuted Christians is that when people truly seek God, God always finds a way to reach them. And in Maizah’s case that came in a miraculous way.
A dream in the darkness
Maizah continued her search for answers. But nothing satisfied. Then, a few years later, she had an incredible vision. She was lying in bed, alone in her room, overwhelmed with her troubles. “I felt someone touch my feet,” she said. “The room had been dark, but suddenly there was a man shining like light. He didn’t look unreal, but I felt I couldn’t touch him. He kept standing next to me. I felt happiness in my heart just because of his presence. ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,’ he said. Then he was gone.” You might recognise that statement: it’s a verse from the Bible, from John’s gospel. But Maizah had never read the Bible. It’s illegal to bring Arabic Bibles into Libya. Just owning a Bible, let alone reading it, can be fatal. So where had this statement come from?
‘Tell me about Jesus’
Two weeks later, Maizah’s life changed completely. The civil war started in Libya and the government collapsed. As bombs started falling, Maizah’s family fled to Egypt. Egypt was different. Maizah made friends with a Christian neighbour and Maizah’s relatives warned her not to speak her because of her faith. However that completely backfired. “It made me really want to know more,” says Maizah. This woman risked arrest and imprisonment by sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with a Muslim. “This woman was really honest with me. Her words spoke directly to my heart. I believed her, I felt it was true,” Maizah recalls.
Mazah asked to see a Bible. “It was the first time I saw one. I was scared of it.” She told her friend about the vision and the man who had visited her. Her neighbour was amazed. “She told me it was Jesus, and she showed me a Bible verse in which He said, ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.’” That was it. Maizah knew it was true.
Meeting in secret
Back in Libya, Maizah wanted to talk to others. With help from her Egyptian friend, she got in touch with an Egyptian Christian family in Libya. This was incredibly risky. The Libyan government claims that all Libyans are Muslims, and Islamist extremists attack Christians freely. Libyan Christians like Maizah must hide their faith.
“We met for two years in secret,” remembered Maizah. Then, some of the secret Christians she met with were arrested. Maizah was warned: “The police were searching for you when they arrested your friends; they found notes with your name.” So she fled to Egypt again.
‘I didn’t feel the pain anymore’
In the end, though, the real threat came closer to home. Much closer. Maizah had a phone call telling her that her mother was ill – she was paralysed. So, disregarding the danger, she rushed home. “At the airport, my family was waiting for me as if nothing happened,” she recalled. “When I entered my home, my mother was standing there. I felt betrayed.” Even worse, there were people who wanted to talk with her.
“The living room was filled with men she did not recognise. They started to ask questions,” she recalls. “One of them hit me with his fist in my face. I didn’t answer as I thought my brother would protect me. They grabbed me. They continued to hit me more and more, but then, somehow, I became aware that I was being protected, I didn’t feel the pain anymore. They kept on hitting and hitting me. I am still bearing the consequences of that day.”
At last, their leader spoke to Maizah alone: “Your name is on a list of people who should be killed. I can make you an offer – I can marry you. I have three wives; you can be the fourth. If you do this, we will forget about all of this.” Shocked, Maizah agreed – anything to gain time. She said she needed to see a doctor before she could marry him. He agreed, but didn’t want her to go to a Libyan hospital. She was taken to neighbouring Tunisia. She had memorised the phone number of a pastor in that country, and, with the help of a doctor, she managed to escape. She found refuge in a safe house. Her family started a search for her, but thankfully, the safe house did its job.
Today, Maizah lives in another country. Her family have not given up searching for her. And she hasn’t given up serving Jesus.
Paying the price
Maizah’s story is not unusual. Throughout the world there are people who are seeking God, who want to find out more about Jesus, but who are stopped from doing so, because they live in countries where Christianity is forbidden. But even so, God finds a way and people still hear about Christ. Sometimes, as in Maizah’s case, that happens through miraculous intervention – through dreams and visions. Sometimes it comes about through a smuggled Bible, through a radio programme listened to in secret, or a website visited despite the restrictions. And sometimes it happens because they have an encounter with a follower of Jesus who dares to say something, in spite of the potential cost, like the Egyptian neighbour in Maizah’s story.
These brothers and sisters are inspiring examples to us, ones who count the cost of following Jesus and decide that He is worth it! For over sixty years Open Doors has been supporting believers in countries where Christianity is forbidden. And despite the danger and the difficulty, despite the laws and the persecution, not only is the church still alive in these countries, it is growing! People are searching for the way, the truth, the life.
Find out about persecution of Christians around the world, and how you can support and strengthen them at: www.opendoorsuk.org
* Maizah’s name has been changed to protect her identity.