Amal is a woman living in the Middle East. This is her testimony as recorded by Dr. Andrew.
My story started thirty-eight years ago. My mother died six months after I was born, and from then on I was raised by my father. When I turned five years old, my father started working long days without any time off, and so I spent my days with the neighbors until my father came home. My neighbors happened to be Christians, so at their house I would often hear verses and stories from the Bible or Christian music playing in the background. For me, their house was the home I never had.
Three years later, my neighbor died, and the rest of his family had to relocate. Instead of the neighbors', my father would send me to my aunt’s house to be watched during the day until he got off from work. My aunt regularly sent me on her personal errands, and it was during these trips that I started to notice a certain church building. It had a cross symbol out front like the one I would see at my former neighbors’ house, and I wanted to see inside. Every time I would pass this church, I would stop to gaze at the building for ten to fifteen minutes, watching the people come in and out of the doors.
One day my father’s friend saw me in front of this church and told my father. When he got home from work, he beat me and threatened that if he ever heard that I was standing in front of that church again he would kill me. I am not sure how serious my father’s words were, but for a ten year old girl, they seemed very serious to me. I spent the following years trying to find any opportunity to leave the house and go see that church, wishing that I could go inside. That dream never came true.
My father arranged for me to be married at fourteen years old; I married a twenty-five-year-old man, who I never saw until the wedding night. As a little child, I should have been getting ready for school the next morning, but instead I was being married to a strange man. I moved out from my father’s house to live with my new husband and his parents. For the first five years of my marriage, I essentially served as their family maid. I would clean the house, cook, and be sure that all the needs of my husband were met.
A year after moving in with them, I gave birth to my first daughter. I was not yet even sixteen years old. I did not know how to take care of my child, and my husband was not helpful. Eventually, my husband and I moved to our own house, but there was no real change to my life. It actually became more complicated, with two children and a husband who did not care about me. He only saw me as his maid and the mother of his children!
I was always curious about that church I encountered before, and as I grew older, I started to wonder about my faith and the Christian faith. I began to think about the violence and hatred that Islam had produced in this world, and the Imams who taught that husbands should beat their wives and that men should look down on women. All this made me feel uncomfortable when practicing the rituals of such a religion.
Time passed on, until one day my husband decided to get cable connected to our house. I began to watch Christian TV programs all day until the kids came home from school. This was the first time I really heard anything about Christ and what it meant to be a Christian. After finding these programs, my life started to change, and I began to enjoy every single minute at home.
Then one day, while I was in the kitchen, my husband arrived home and saw the TV playing one of those Christian programs. He started shouting and cursing and beating me. He told me that if he ever caught me watching these programs again, he would kill me. I thought it was ridiculous that the two times I was ever threatened to be killed were from the two people who were supposed to be the closest to me; and in both cases, it was because of my curiosity about Christianity!
Finally, in 2012, I ran into a childhood friend. We started meeting together often to talk about a variety of subjects, including her Christian faith. After some time, my friend took notice of my genuine inquiries about Christianity. When she was not able to answer my questions, she referred me to a more learned person in the faith – Pastor Boutros*. I found that he had a gentle spirit and a great heart for the Bible. He and his wife treated me like a princess, cared for me, and answered all my questions about Christianity. They introduced me to Dr. Andrew and his wife, who also were very delightful and sweet. From these two families, I learned a lot about Christianity.
The turning point of my life took place when Pastor Boutros explained to me the meaning of the gospel and what Jesus did on the cross for me. His words shocked me greatly – especially when he explained the pain and suffering that Jesus went through for my sins! At that point, I fell on my knees and asked God for His forgiveness. That was the moment my whole life changed. For the first time in years, I felt a deep joy and peace like nothing I had ever experienced.
Since then, I have grown in my faith and have started to experience the meaning of having a loving Father. This has changed the way I view life and how I experience joy. My life finally has meaning and hope.
One of the stories that I will never forget in my life happened in 2013 on my birthday. Up until that point, no one had ever celebrated my birthday with me, but that year was different. I was happy because I had a loving Father who cared about me. That day, I bought myself a birthday cake and brought it with me to visit Dr. Andrew and his wife. For many of you, it may seem strange that I would prefer to celebrate my birthday with the Andrews family, rather than with my own husband. But to me, this was an obvious choice. The Andrews and Pastor Boutros's family had become my real family. They were the people who really loved me and cared for me.
During my time with the Andrews, they asked me what I would like for my birthday. I told them that I wanted to go and pray in a church. That day was a Sunday, and despite the danger of taking a Muslim to a church, they were willing to take me to the Sunday service. We went to a church nearby, and Pastor Boutros preached that night. After the service was over, I went back home happy and encouraged that I finally had a family that cared about me.
For many people, Christianity is their cultural religion; for others, it is just one religion among many. But for me, Christianity is the truth about what God did for me more than two thousand years ago and what He has done for me today. For many people, the story of Jesus is just like any other story; but for me, it is the story that changed my life.