PLEASE DO NOT USE HER NAME! Today we introduce you to a new friend. She is a beautiful young lady who is sold out for Jesus. Be encouraged by our friend today! Share her story with anyone and everyone who needs to hear it! It is truly one of the most amazing testimonies of The Lord's continued pursuit of one of His children I've ever heard! We will not be sharing our friend’s name to keep her safe. If you know her, PLEASE DO NOT USE HER NAME!
Let me introduce you to my world of "defining identity.” When you're born in America I assume you call yourself American, right? This might be a natural understanding for a lot of people, however, in the part of the world where I live this isn't as natural as it is in the USA.
I was born in Central Europe and grew up in what we consider to be a western environment. At the same time, I was raised with a Middle Eastern mindset. What does this mean? In the Middle East, it is not welcomed to be open-minded or express thoughts in public. Even simple decisions can have a significant consequence in my culture, especially when you are a girl.
As a girl you’re always expected to consider the honor of the family. If your decisions are contrary to your family’s values or worldview this would be interpreted as disrespectful and others would conclude that the head of the family (normally the father, husband or brother) failed to teach you honorable manners. The result would bring shame on the family’s name in our society. My struggle with identity began with these cultural considerations but became even more complicated.
In my early childhood when someone asked me where I was from and I told them my citizenship they would respond, “This cannot be true, you have dark hair, dark eyes and eyebrows, you don't look European." My parents are originally from Turkey, and for that reason I do not look European. In the city where I lived I was always considered a person with a migration background regardless of where I was born. Being considered an outsider was normal for me, not only in my neighborhood, but also among family.
When I visited Turkey, I was always considered to be a European girl. My parents came from the same country but one of them is from Western Turkey and the other from Eastern Turkey where they were raised with different customs. I struggled to try and live according to the customs of both sides of my family and the country where I lived because I was a part of it all. The result was a life where I was always identified as an outsider. No matter what I did or how hard I tried I never fully fit in where I was. Others who did fit in couldn’t understand my desire to be normal. Wherever I found myself I was typically expected to be someone I was not, basically it wasn't acceptable for me to just be me. I was left with no personal identity from a very young age.
From early childhood, I had important questions about life. "Where do we come from? What will happen after death? Is there a life after death?" These were questions that troubled my heart. No one could give me a satisfying answer.
I was raised in an Islamic home with greater emphasis on the traditions than the religious aspects of Islam. However, I always felt the desire to become religious. While my father tried to raise us more secular according to his communistic worldview, my mother was my spiritual guide. She believed in Allah (Arabic name for God) while my dad didn't. She taught me to memorize Arabic prayers to find peace in struggles or in fearful times. I always wanted to please Allah with all my heart. I wanted him to be proud of me and love me. I decided to seek his will in doing more religious works like fasting, praying, donating money to the poor and so on. I kept asking questions to people who I thought could give me an answer but without real success. Unfortunately, I also didn't receive answers to my prayers even though I thought Allah was the truth and would save me from my fears and struggles.
Because my parents were divorced there was also a lack of warmth and understanding at home. As a result of this, I became more unhappy, disappointed, bitter and started to live a rebellious, worldly life in my teenage years. I tried to walk away from God but in my heart, I couldn't deny him. This restless life lasted until the year 2010 where I met a schoolmate in high school.
One day during the break he shared with me that he believed in Jesus, which wasn't a big deal for me at first. My response to his enthusiasm was that I said that I also believed in Jesus but there was nothing special about it. He explained his belief and made this statement, "You believe that He is only a prophet, but He is more than this, He is God!" Obviously, the Lord must have worked in my heart because I didn't feel offended by that statement at all (which is unusual for someone who believes in Islam.) Instead, I questioned it and challenged him by asking for proof. He started to quote Jesus' sayings from the Bible. "Jesus says love your enemies." or "There is no greater love than to lay down your life for friends."
These teachings were so new to me and it hit me. I started to attack him with questions and it bothered me that he always had answers right away. He even knew Islam better than me, which was embarrassing. He always urged me not to trust him but to read and investigate everything on my own. After weeks and months passed, he asked me a very important question which shook my foundation. His question was, "Do you know where you would spend eternity if you would die today?" I didn't hesitate with my answer and told him, "Yes, I believe that I would spend eternity in hell, but I always hoped that my punishment wouldn't be so harsh there." Then, he shared the Gospel with me and shared why the Lord Jesus had come and died for our sins.
I couldn't comprehend the necessity of why Jesus Christ’s blood had to be shed. My friend explained the necessity of an ultimate sacrifice for our sins. Atonement through animal sacrifices was familiar to me long before I began to study the Bible. Muslims believe, as the Jews do, in atonement through animal sacrifices, and they still practice it actively. After I realized that I couldn't possibly practice enough animal sacrifices to be fully cleansed from my sin, I asked him what I needed to do.
Before he told me what I had to do, he asked me another very important question. “What are you ready to give up in order to know the truth? Are you ready to give up everything?" He explained what the cost might be for me. In my culture, following Christ could mean giving up family, job, friends, image and reputation. Basically, everything that mattered to me would likely be forfeited for the truth, the ultimate truth. I probably wasn’t fully aware how this might look like in practice for me. I could have been kicked out of my home, my family could have completely avoided talking with me or, in the worst case, I could have experienced violence.
Even though I was raised in a relatively secular home there was the chance that if things went very bad I could experience serious consequences. However, I was very serious about taking this step, so my friend told me that I needed to go home and be alone in my closet. He explained that I had to repent and invite the Lord Jesus Christ into my life to be my Lord and Savior. He told me if I did this and placed my faith in Jesus Christ, I would become a child of God. He emphasized that I had to give up on Islam because I could not follow two different ideologies. I did it and my life changed from that day forward!
Soon, friends began to quit their friendship with me and my broken relationship with family members broke far more. This was exactly what my friend had told me to expect when he was talking about the cost of following Christ. It was not acceptable to my friends and family for me to follow a different path and to believe differently than their beliefs. Before I accepted Christ, I knew that it might come at a cost but now the reality of losing everything was becoming a harsh reality.
Regardless of the cost, I knew I had started on a path that I could never abandon. Jesus had become my Savior and Lord, and I was determined to live for him regardless of the cost. The Bible became my constant companion and as I lost so many things that had been so very important to me, my Savior filled my life with His love and closeness. I could have only dreamed of the good things that the Lord Jesus begin to bring into my life.
Almost six months after my decision, my younger sister decided to follow the Lord Jesus as well. This only deepened the separation I had with family members who now started to accuse me of brainwashing her. My dad and older brother started to slowly and certainly distance themselves from me. God continued to show his kindness when, one year later, my mother decided to follow the Lord as well. Not only this, but within two years I also had the privilege of witnessing my schoolmate share the gospel with his parents and seeing them make a decision to follow Christ.
Praise be to the Lord who has blessed me so much since I made the decision to live for him. He rewarded my decision to give up everything for Him by giving me my mother and sister back to walk this path together. It is still not easy to follow Christ in my culture, but I am reminded of what He did for us and in comparison, my cost seems so small. The Lord did so much in my life and changed me radically and gave me all the answers I've been looking for. He is my peace, my strength, my answer for life and even beyond death.
Three years after my decision I was baptized along with my mom and sister. We symbolically died together and rose again as new creatures where we declared to the seen and unseen world that we follow Christ!
After all, I happily can say I truly found my identity in Christ. It doesn't matter who we are or what we are able to do. It matters who we are in Him!
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