“If you are there God, show me”
Meet Tamar, a CMS local partner who helps people in the Arab world see God in new ways.
Tamar Dawood amplifies voices in the Arab world that are not often heard, helping people tell their stories of faith through short, powerful films.
As told to Naomi Rose Steinberg by Tamar Dawood
“I have so many stories I can share with you.”
This is one of the first things Tamar says to me as we connect over Zoom – she’s sitting in her office in Lebanon and I’m working from home in Oxford. I’m recovering from COVID-19 and feeling a bit low – I could really use some good news, so I ask Tamar to simply tell me some stories from her work among Muslim-background followers of Jesus.
“Well let me tell you about a woman I got to know well, from Syria – one day she started to suspect that her husband had joined ISIS,” Tamar begins.
“She noticed his behaviour was changing; he quit his job, started going out in the middle of the night and one day he came back with blood on his clothes. She tried to ask him what was going on and he hit her, badly. With her young daughter watching and her son asleep in the next room. She felt she had to run away, but when she went to tell her mother, her mother took her passport and hid it.
“The woman was scared and she started to pray, in a different way than she had before: ‘If you are there, God, show me. I don’t know what to do.’ She ended up, amazingly, getting a new passport – you wouldn’t believe how difficult this is.
“She felt God had heard her, yet she still expected to be turned away at the border. When the Syrian border guard saw her and her children, he asked where her husband was. She replied that she did not know. He told her to wait and while she was waiting she prayed again. He came back and let her through. She described it to me as a miracle that she and her children were allowed to come into Lebanon.”
Journey to Jesus
Once in Lebanon, the Syrian woman soon met some people from a church and they told her about Jesus. She decided to follow him.
“Why did she do that?” I ask Tamar.
“It’s a good question. She’d been a strict Muslim, yet when she read the Qur’an she had questions. But as a woman, she was discouraged from asking questions. When she got here, someone gave her a New Testament and when she started reading about Jesus, she saw he was kind, gentle, always there to help and love the poor. When she asked questions about what she read, people were willing to answer. She was attracted to the love of Jesus. Interestingly it wasn’t a miracle that attracted her. I have many stories I can share where people believed because they saw a miracle [and indeed, Tamar shares some of these stories while we talk, and they leave me astounded] but for her, it was the love of Jesus and the kindness of some of his followers.”
I tell Tamar that in the West we seem to hear more and more about Muslim people turning to Jesus either because they witness a miracle or see him in a dream or vision. “But it seems like it must be very difficult for them to stay with faith in Christ?” I ask.
“Some do leave,” she says. “Though it’s not usually because of persecution that someone walks away from God, I don’t think. In most cases persecution makes people turn to Jesus more, love Jesus more.”
“But you know,” she continues, “they need fellowship and they need people to journey with them, because life is hard. And I think that it should be Arab people who disciple Arab people. It’s so important to have Arab missionaries in Arab worlds. Because coming from Europe or America, you can’t really understand what it’s like living here. I’ve met well-meaning missionaries who come here and they tell people that Jesus loves them and will help and protect them. But they haven’t lived a fraction of what we experience: they have electricity, money, jobs. I am so thrilled to find churches who believe in supporting missionaries from their own origin.”
Tamar’s concern for struggling, marginalised people was kindled when she was very young. She shares that walking alongside people in their trials can leave her feeling drained or depressed. “I hear such hard stories every day and sometimes there is little we can do. I have to turn my eyes to Jesus and trust him.”
Her work involves amplifying voices in the Arab world that are not often heard, helping people tell their stories of faith through short, powerful films. The account she has shared with me of the Syrian woman is one she was particularly eager to film and share – but sadly the woman recently died from COVID-19. “Her children were orphaned, but amazingly, the woman’s mother is now here looking after them, and she has now turned to Jesus too, as have other family members because this one woman’s life was a witness and she prayed for them. And because church members visited her mother and helped her, too.”
In her film and media work with Lighthouse Arab World, Tamar, a CMS local partner, shares stories. She believes that stories of people who have faced great difficulties but still held onto Jesus can be a great encouragement for others. They certainly were for me that day we spoke on Zoom. Having travelled to the edges of faith with Tamar, I closed the conversation feeling more uplifted than I had in a while.