A secret disciple
The risks of losing job, family and community mean that some choose to keep faith a secret.
For followers of Jesus from a Muslim background, isolation is a huge challenge, especially if their faith is secret. Basma longed for Christian community for many years, but recently met some CMS mission partners…
When she was a child, Basma (name changed) in North Africa was drawn to Jesus, even though she was born into a Muslim family. She had met Christians in her town and wanted to be like the Christian girls – though she wasn’t really sure why.
She learned the Lord’s Prayer and would say it sometimes. Like many other believers in Jesus from a Muslim background (MBBs), she had dreams about Jesus. And as she grew from childhood to adulthood, she gave her life to Christ.
Basma’s new faith was a secret, not shared even with those closest to her. She married a Muslim man, the marriage arranged by her family. Basma and her husband had two sons. Yet this marriage fell apart and the couple separated.
The separation released Basma to explore and live out her faith in Jesus at home, though not in public. And that meant that while she could read the Bible and pray alone, she couldn’t meet with other Christians.
Basma has a good job to support herself and her sons, who now live with her, and the boys still see their father weekly. Basma is comfortable with continuing to wear a hijab and her family don’t know that she follows Jesus. She seeks to bring her sons up in the Christian faith, though she must be careful – their father could remove the children from her and bring them up himself.
Over the last 10 to 15 years, since first coming to faith in Jesus, the main place Basma has been able to grow in her faith has been through discipleship online. Yet Basma longs for community with other Christians and for the opportunity to discuss the Bible, and to connect with other MBBs like her to pray together.
CMS mission partners who know Basma comment, “She’s desperate… to talk about her faith and to be who she feels she is, rather than to hide.” But within that is a great tension – Basma needs to protect her children and is keen to keep relationships with her family.
Facing real risks
Secret believers like Basma risk losing their jobs, family life and connections with community, and in some places there are legal risks too. This makes MBBs whose faith is not publicly known reluctant to meet together.
The experiences of another MBB in Basma’s town, whose faith is not a secret, clearly illustrate those risks. This woman comes from another North African country, which she fled after she was beaten up and arrested for her faith, and her family disowned her. She had to begin life afresh with no connections in a new land, and still painfully misses the place and people she left behind.
Basma does know some Christians through her workplace, and they helped her to connect with someone who travels around her region meeting with MBBs and discipling them. Yet there was a challenge in finding a safe place for Basma to meet with this man, where she could go without suspicion and meet him with another woman present.
This is where the CMS mission partner couple stepped in – they offered their home as a safe place to meet. This couple speak Arabic fluently, and are able to welcome Basma and discuss the Bible and other issues with her, as well as hosting her discipleship meetings.
Basma and the man who disciples her arrive separately, and much of their time together is taken up with Basma’s questions about what she has read in the Bible. Recently she read through 1 Samuel, and had many questions about why God had done things and why people reacted in particular ways.
One of the CMS mission partners observes, “Basma’s hunger for the Bible is inspiring. She absolutely devours Scripture and wants to discuss everything. She wants to understand everything in a way that lots of Christians don’t. That challenges me – when I’m following daily prayer and reading long chunks of the Old Testament, sometimes I just fly through it, I don’t think about it, but she is questioning everything she’s reading. She still really wants to learn and press in.”
Such is Basma’s desire to meet with other Christians to discuss the Bible that she will now come to see the mission partner couple even if the man leading discipleship cannot come too.
As their relationship with Basma has deepened, from time to time they have been able to take bread and wine together, at Basma’s request – hugely valuable to Basma, as she is unable to attend church.
While Basma’s friends and family don’t know about her faith, her mum does sense there is something about Basma and asks questions, such as “Where do you get your wisdom from?” Basma and her mission partner friends continue to pray for her mum, that doors will open up for Basma to speak about her faith.