INDIA

Fortitude in the Face of Persecution

After husband’s stabbing, mother in India finds strength in Christ

Written by Lindy Lowry
Aug 22, 2019

Areefa* is a Christian from a Muslim background in her late 30s living in India. (In India, the majority religion is Hinduism, but it’s estimated that 172 million Muslims live in the world’s second-most populous country). She is also a widow—and a mother of two young children.

When you look at her, the first thing you notice is Areefa’s eyes: dark eyes that have seen deep tragedy. Somehow, they also emanate hope.

I notice these eyes as we embrace at her home. We can’t show you Areefa’s face or use her real name because she lives in rural India where becoming a Christian is seen as a betrayal to the family. And Hindu extremists who oppose any other religion besides Hinduism search out Christians.

She takes my hand. “I am so glad you came to meet me. I feel so blessed,” she says, smiling. 

Inside her small home is a manual sewing machine on one side and a pile of partially stitched clothes nearby. A single bed occupies most of the room. Attached to the main room is a tiny, modest kitchen. It is inside this small space that she has built a life for herself and her children from the rubble of grief.

Soon I meet her two children. Her son, 13-year-old Sameer* tells me he has a math test at school today.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I ask him. In India, the question is significant. Every student is inspired by their parents to study well and get a good job and a better wage—better than what their parents earn. Education is most parents’ only hope for a better life for their children. 

“I want to be an engineer and give a better life to my mother. She works very hard,” Sameer tells me.

Areefa enters the room carrying a tray full of coffee mugs.

“I want him to be a pastor, but he wants to be an engineer and earn for the family. We have always struggled financially; probably that’s why,” she says, her voice carrying emotion. 

We sit with our coffee and Areefa’s son and daughter. After the children leave, Areefa tells me her story. She starts at the beginning.

“When me and my husband started to grow in our [Christian] faith, everything improved,” she says. “God blessed our earnings, my husband stopped drinking, and we both worked very hard. We seemed to become more well-off than all of our relatives.”

But with these changes came a rising jealousy from their community. Soon their own family began threatening and bullying them.

“All of our relatives started asking us to leave church and prayers, saying that it was against our tradition and culture,” she says, looking down.

One of the relatives, her husband’s brother, began picking petty quarrels with them. He had no job and lived with Areefa and her husband at the time. He was also an alcoholic.

Her eyes grow moist, and then she tells me about the night that 10 years ago that upended her life and the lives of her children.

“One night, he started verbally abusing me for no reason,” Areefa remembers. “My husband had just arrived home from work and was tired. He defended me and scolded [his brother] for verbally abusing me.”

In a fit of rage, her brother-in-law picked up a knife and stabbed his brother in the chest. Areefa now speaks through tears.

“We thought it was a minor cut, but it didn’t take much time for the blood to ooze out, and soon he was breathing his last. We took him to the hospital, but we had already lost him.”

In the midst of loss and grief, God helped Areefa to stand up and walk. She has held on to Jesus through the loss of her husband and the abuse of her family. “Jesus has promised He’ll be with me always, even ’til the end of the world,” she says.

And she’s clung to this promise, even as persecution continued past her husband’s death. “After [he died], my brothers wanted me to come back home and leave my Christian faith. They wanted me to become a Muslim again and get married in the community. They said that they wouldn’t help me in any way if I didn’t leave Christianity.

“I denied everything, because I wanted to hold on to Jesus. My church members and leaders helped me and prayed with me all this time.” 

In the absence of her husband, Areefa discovered Christ’s strength to continue. She chose to continue to follow Jesus and look for ways to provide for her family without help from her family. Though illiterate, she’s used her skills and business savvy to support her children through sewing. She tells me about how God has helped her become a skilled tailor and how so many women in her community like her work and prefer her to stitch their clothes, even amidst so many tailoring shops in the area.

Despite lacking a formal education, Areefa found a way to provide for her family and build a life from loss. Through her courage, fortitude, and faith, her children are growing up with an education. More importantly, they are growing into the love of God, who has not and will not abandon them. 

Still, hate from her family is ever-present. “Even now my relatives hate me because I choose to hold on to my faith,” she says. “They never gave me any kind of support in bringing up my children.” 

“What makes you so courageous to follow your faith?” I ask her.

Her voice is surprisingly bold. “Jesus has promised He will be with me always, even ‘til the end of the world. He has promised to strengthen me. I can feel Him with me and I can feel His strength.”

 

*Names have been changed to protect individuals’ identities.

 

This story was first published on Open Doors, an organization that serves persecuted Christians around the world and one of Nations Media’s valued partners. You can read more stories from Open Doors here and read our interview with CEO David Curry here.

Photos by Kayla Mendez.

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