“Lizi” (not her real name) is likely someone you will never meet and I may never meet her again this side of heaven. The details of who, what, when, where and how can impede on the safety of everyone. Please forgive me for the code language and hazy details. I would never have met Lizi had it not been for my friends in-country.
The conversation started when Lizi, my friends, and I linked up for a dinner of fish and rice. Fresh fish pulled from the Java sea that morning and placed on the open grill curbside was the scene. The fresh catch was missing nothing but its intestinal tract when delivered up for dinner, served with indigenous rice and some side relishes that were unidentifiable. The meal might have been a distraction, but it was not the focus of the evening. You just push through the meal as you push it down.
My friends arranged for me to meet Lizi over dinner so she could have a safe place to tell me her story. It was more than the unappetizing fish that caused me to eat very little that night, it was the reality of the conversation that was taking place over the fish skeletons that caused me to lose my appetite. The persecuted church isn’t a relevant conversation for me most days, however, it was that day. What 26-year-old Lizi began to recount, with emotion, was her story. It was of near biblical proportion when it comes to persecution. It was her personal story of religious persecution that I had to swallow hard with every bite.
Lizi grew up in a poor Islamic home in a suburb of a large South east Asian city. She had devout Islamic parents, siblings, aunts and uncles. She was following the path of family tradition until age 17, when she began to have dreams– vivid dreams: dreams of Jesus calling her, dreams of her family converting to Christianity from Islam, dramatic dreams of angels and demons. She began looking for help and consulting with some NGO workers that had moved into the country. She had already struck a relationship up with the foreigners through ESL (English as a Second Language). The worker “so happened” to be a follower of Christ. One of the trusted workers told her the dream was the Lord calling her to Himself. She fought it for a while, but eventually she received Jesus as her personal Lord and Savior. The new relationship changed her life. She felt whole and complete for the first time. She was baptized publicly. With such a bold commitment and profession, it was only a short time before her mother found out. And when she did, everything changed!
She was about to face what continues to this day, persecution from within her family and beyond. For the last 9 years she has faced beatings from her mother, brother and uncles – so many she can’t remember. To be sure she understood, I asked her twice how many times she had been beaten. She couldn’t count. She said the worst time was when they took a metal pipe to her body again and again. They also took her and the foreign aid workers before the Islamic court at the university. Uncles, brothers, and her sister (who was the one that betrayed her trust and told the family of Lizi’s new faith) testified against her. Lizi and the aid worker were thrown in jail for their faith. They created rumors that Lizi was in intimate relationships with some of the aid workers. The neighbors were informed of her infidelity to Islam and told to have nothing to do with her once she was released. This was Lizi’s welcome to the Christian faith.
Once released from jail they shaved her head in humiliation and beat her again a number of times. They then sat her down with the whole family, close and extended, and told her she would have to recant her faith. She would not be able to return to the walls of a church. And if she did, she would be killed and the church building burned! This was a heavy load for a 17-18 year old girl to bear alone in a male-dominated world, rejected by family and neighbors, humiliated and afraid for her life, with a Seventh Grade education. It would have been much easier for her to recant.
She was recounting the story and timeline of events at the restaurant that night when a neighbor walked in and “chose” to sit at the table immediately next to ours. We quickly changed the subject to a safe topic to give an appearance of normalcy. We quietly left the restaurant. We all piled into a car and slipped away to a back street so she could finish her story. I had to ask her, after such trauma, where she was with her faith. She gave me her answer from one of the latest conversations she has had with her mother. Her mother has threatened to tie her up next to a tree and bring her a Muslim man to marry her. In this culture, forced marriages are possible. She told her mother she would fight and scream all the way…but “Jesus was her life, and she can’t turn back.”
She hasn’t wavered. She hasn’t faltered. The persecution hasn’t stopped. Since the early days of her persecution, she has gone to church only one time. This is not in denial of her faith but in fear of her friends with whom she fellowships. She doesn’t want them to suffer as she has. She is relegated to a digital Bible on her phone locked down under password. She also receives text messages that come in from friends to encourage her. These are her only sources of exhortation. She is limited to her home on Sundays, and they watch her with great scrutiny if she goes anywhere.
After we prayed with Lizi, she got out of the car to go back to her Islamic world. I told her that she was my new hero and her faith dwarfs mine. She smiled with tears in her eyes. Space is too limited to tell you of how God has continued to manifest Himself to her life with “signs and wonders,” and how she has begun to lead her workplace associates to faith in Christ. Pray for her continued strength. Pray for her a Christian companion before her mother follows through with her threats.
Being a social outcast has made her very lonely. Pray for her family. She lies in bed every night begging God to save her family despite the torture she has endured. She is a model of unconditional love, grace and mercy. Lizi is my new hero.