This story began in November, 2017.
It has led to a woman, formerly Muslim, living out her faith in Christ at St. Paul Lutheran Farmington Hills.
This story is told by the pastor, Rev. Gary Siefert.
Not even the assumed name of this woman is included for her own security.
The story about this woman and our non-profit organization starts simply enough; It was almost the weekend.
Our church secretary texted me that a gentleman had called the church, asking whether the pastor would be willing to accept a walk in office appointment in order to discuss Christianity. The woman came in around noon on Monday.
She could hardly speak any English.
Communicating was quite a challenge.
The app on her phone helped a little, allowing her to translate Arabic to English. She was concerned, and really tense.
Was she safe?
I assured her she was.
I tried to establish why she was here and where she was from. It’s enough to know she had come over from the Middle East. She had come to get away from cultural and religious persecution. In her home country, she had access to the internet. That’s where she had begun to learn about Christian faith. She expressed over and over again that she was not Muslim, that in her heart she was already Christian.
Of course, she had always known about Christianity as a religion, but through her internet reading, she expressed that she believed in Jesus Christ, and had become a Christian in her heart while still back home.
In the coming days as I had the chance to get to know more of her story, and especially more of her love for the Christian faith, I learned that she had been on a journey of several months before landing in Farmington Hills.
An acquaintance who spoke Arabic had helped her find her apartment. What were the reasons when looking for a church that she came to St. Paul’s?
One, was the close proximity — a little more than a mile. Another was because St. Paul Lutheran was not a Catholic or Baptist church. Another reason is because St. Paul Lutheran had five stars on its facebook page.
She had ubered to the church.
She expressed her exasperation with the hypocrisy, rules and regulations, and the discrepancy between men and women in Islam. She did not like the fact that Muslim women are required to dress the way they do.
Well, at least I was getting the basics of her story.
I thought to myself, “Why not show her the sanctuary?”
When we got to the sanctuary, just looking at how big her eyes had become, I knew it was her very first time inside a church. She was looking all around. She walked right up the steps, all the way to the altar.
Normally, I would not encourage people to do that, but she did, rubbing her hands on the altar, and touching the candelabra like a small child.
I wanted her to explore.
Next, I showed her the baptismal fount. That day, she told me many, many times how much she wanted to be baptized. She knew about baptism.
She wanted to be baptized!
I assured her that if she believed in Christ as a Savior, she would be baptized in good time. But first, I told her, I would need to teach her more. She was a little disappointed.
Next, I gave her a pew Bible. She could barely hold it as she was trembling. She very reverently opened it and kissed the pages.
What a testimony!
Seeing all this made me think. I really take my hat off to anyone who is willing to become a Christian, a follower of Christ, knowing that it could mean death.
As I understood her story, it was clear that not one, but many of her family members would be willing to kill her for leaving Islam in order to follow faith in Christ. That kind of faith takes on a totally new meaning — to suffer all, even death, for faith in Christ? It’s not a small thing when there’s a very real price on your head.
All of this was brought to me in the very first meeting. I called POBLO International Ministries to let them know. This non-profit could help to teach our sister, including teaching in Arabic provided by POBLO missionary Joy Markus.
And so, our dear sister did get the teaching she needed in order to be baptized. The baptism itself was a mountain top experience for me and the church. Just to hear her confession of faith was incredible!
What sincere faith she expressed!
If someone were to ask me what I learned from this experience, I would say that I learned the difference between someone going from being Muslim to being Christian, as opposed to someone who grew up with a Christian background.
I see a big difference in the way someone lives out their faith.
We can take so much for granted.
They do not.
I see a totally different relationship to Christian faith that puts us to shame. They have an advantage over us. Living life under a false religion, and then coming to know the One and only true faith, the Christian faith — they take it very personally, and seriously.
What did it mean for our church? Well, it gave our congregation the kind of mission project and opportunity to serve they’d never had before. It was an opportunity to help someone who was sincerely in need with daily needs, like clothing, food, and utilities. People have stepped up with transportation, and to help her with English. It’s fortunate she came to St. Paul, fortunate that she now has good and close friends in the church.
Our sister in Christ is so thrilled about her faith in Jesus! She worships at every opportunity and tells us how much she enjoys coming to worship God. If the reaction of other Lutheran churches in the area is something like, “Wow, that’s really unusual.”
I would try to convince them otherwise.
I would tell them, “Don’t be surprised.”
“It could happen anytime, anywhere.”
Also I would urge people not to be judgmental.
Instead be the opposite.
Be very welcoming.
Be for them what they need at that moment.
Listen to what they need.
How can we help them?
God has blessed every congregation with certain blessings to share.
Give them the benefit of the doubt. It’s not that they are here to take advantage of the generosity of Christians.
They sincerely are in need.
This is the best testimony you can give them — show them how much you love them — don’t just tell them how much Jesus loves them.
They may not care how much Jesus loves them until they see how much you love them. That’s the way to love and befriend them.
-Rev. Dr. Gary Rohwer