Jesus Gave Me My Miracle!!

When you start a new ministry there’s an initial rush of excitement. There’s passion and energy around the endeavor. But sometimes you wonder, “are we doing the right thing? Are we actually having an impact? Are we really watering people’s faith so that they can water their world?

Then you get word from a friend and listener about what God is up to, how he is using our podcast to change the perspective of people listening and to draw others to himself. Here’s Cindy’s 1 story:

It’s amazing how God prepares us for what he has in store for us. My neighbor’s house was up for sale. The market was crazy—at least 10 people had been through the house that day. I was working from home and listening to the podcast episode with Audrey Frank who had ministered to Muslim women in the Middle East. She was explaining the realities of honor-shame cultures and how women are the “shame bearers” in those cultures. I had no idea how important that idea was to become for my life.

At one point I looked out the window to see a Middle Eastern family coming out of the house and felt God telling me, “Those are your new neighbors.” Talk about preparing me! I decided to introduce myself. They were Iraqi and had been living in a major city on the west coast. Somehow the wife and I hit it off and we exchanged numbers.

Long story short, God wasn’t kidding, they are our new neighbors. They went back to the west coast for about a month and a half getting things settled for the move. We kept in touch, mostly by text. In the meantime, God was using more episodes of the podcast to prepare us, especially the interviews with Nik Ripkin which really helped to understand what hospitality is and why it is so significant for middle eastern cultures.

While they were out west, the wife asked about preschools, so I told her about a good one close by, and made sure to add, “but it’s Christian and I think you might be Muslim and I’m not sure what you are looking for.” Over the next few weeks, I learned that they weren’t Muslim but a part of a small ethnic-religious minority. Still, many of the cultural issues that Nik Ripken talked about were still very much in play.

Through the interviews with Audrey and then Nik Ripken, we came to understand just how important hospitality is, that it is the key to connection and sharing our faith, especially with people from Middle Eastern cultures. We made a decision to show them as much hospitality as we could. We helped clean their house before they moved in, brought over apples and spent time with them. They were not a family like we Westerners think of family—mom, dad and a couple of kids. This was a mom and dad, their two married sons, two granddaughters, and an unmarried daughter. Seven adults and two preschool grandchildren all in the same house. They were Iraqi immigrants by way of Syria and had been in the U.S. for a while now, but there were still lots of hurdles and difficulties—English, figuring out American culture, simple logistical things that we mostly don’t think about.

I got to know the daughter; we’ll call her Aliyah. Closer to 30 than 20, she was desperate to get out of the house and not just because of the amount of people in it. A few years ago, she was in a terrible car accident that completely upended her life. The accident was her fault, she was uninsured and people were hurt and she was being sued for an amount she could never even hope to repay. To top it off, she was in the hospital for three months. From the outside, she had been an immigrant success story—a good job, made decent money, had her own apartment. Now she had to declare bankruptcy and move back in with her family.

One Saturday she came over to our house an absolute wreck. Tensions at home are high. She is in the middle of bankruptcy, sharing a house with six adults, 2 little kids, 2 dogs, and she is trying to fill out a visa application for her fiancé who lives in Europe. There’s a deadline that is coming up fast and if she misses it the window is closed, he can’t come, so there’s time pressure on top of everything else. The weight is crashing down on her. Can I please help her fill this application out?

I said yes, but honestly, I wasn’t sure of what I was doing myself. “What happens if I do this wrong and his case is rejected because of me?” I felt in over my head, so I stopped and said, “I am a Christian, can we pray and ask God for help?” She’s like, “Yeah, ok.” After we prayed the floodgates came open. She began sharing her life story—there is so much more going on than I realized. As we unpack it, I learn that she has been mistreated for her entire life—it was heartbreaking.

Marriages are arranged in her culture, and Aliyah had married a cousin when she was 14. He divorced her after 2 months. The whole experience was devastating to her, and as Audrey talked about, she became the shame-bearer for the family. Living in the same house hasn’t helped. Her family doesn’t respect her privacy. In fact, culturally, as an unmarried daughter, she doesn’t have any expectation of privacy. Her failed marriage makes it worse, even though she was little more than a child herself. I am really seeing what Audrey meant by women being the “shame-bearer”. What really amazed me through all of this was Aliyah’s attitude toward her parents, her family. After everything that had happened to her, she still wanted to honor them.

Aliyah’s family tried to arrange marriages four more times, but she kept saying no. In college she met and fell in love, but he’s a Muslim. She met him out of the country, and he now lives in Europe. For twelve years she has waited for her parents to give their blessing to marry him. Finally, they said yes, but if she does, they do not want to live in the same state as her because it compounds shame for her to marry outside their faith.

I took Aliyah to meet a friend who ministers to abused women. We shared, prayed with her, and she told us, “I don’t accept my family’s religion. It’s not mine. But I don’t want to be Muslim like my fiancé either.” This is a God-sized problem, but it is also a God-sized opportunity. I am reminded that Nik Ripken said something like hospitality is being a witness to what God is doing. It’s not hard, but it is time consuming. It is work, real work but it is important and rewarding.

It turned out that the mother of another friend from my small group had an apartment that might be available. I asked if she was looking for income or if she might be open to using the apartment for ministry. Her response: “We are just open.” The very next day I took Aliyah to meet my friend’s mom and to see the place. It’s going to take some work after the last tenant, but it’s a 3-bedroom place with a yard and a garage for a third of the going rate. Aliyah walked out with the keys and she had not signed anything. This is a miracle!

The very next night I went to see how she is doing. She literally ran to me, glowing. “This is so amazing. I was telling Abbas (her fiancée) about everything that happened. I told him that I am changing my religion.” He asked, “To Muslim?” She said, “No, Christian. Because Jesus did this for me. This is my Jesus’ miracle.” I am in tears and am praising God.

The next time I see her, she is still glowing, joy is streaming out of her eyes. She said, “God has given me a second chance. I am going to succeed. I am going to make it.” She had talked to her new landlord and said, “You don’t worry about a thing. I will be a good tenant. I will take care of this place, I will not dishonor Cindy. I will not shame Cindy, she helped me get this place.

Aliyah is thinking about shaming me?! This whole shame-honor thing has become so clear. It is absolutely the central piece of all of this. And I got it, through hospitality piece of Nik Ripken, saying you witness what God has already done, you show hospitality, then you come, serve, and bring it forward. You take the next steps. Building up what God has done. But first you show what God has already done. You just show hospitality, but it just takes time. I was exhausted and stressed. It took my entire weekend and I am busy, but it is so worth it.

Aliyah is coming to church with me soon. She needs to be discipled. And then there is her family. I am still helping them too. I have spent time talking, reading books, and helping the sisters-in-law with job applications. I want to show the entire family honor. The last thing I want is for them to think that I am showing honor to the shame-bearer of the family but dishonoring them. God put them all in our neighborhood. None of their neighbors out west ever interacted with them. Here, there are lots of people on our block going out of their way to help them, they think that our neighborhood is so cool, the people are so kind! They don’t realize it yet, but it’s because we are Christians (many of us go to the same church).

Obviously, the story is not done. This is just the beginning. I have realized that without Jesus there is NO solution for shame. Mankind is in a hopeless and helpless situation without Christ. Your podcast has helped me to approach this entire situation, these people who are now my friends, from a heart of God’s love not judgment. I can’t wait to see what God has in store next. What a joy! The Lord used Apollos Watered in a mighty way to be part of this story! You are challenging me to be sharing my faith. Thank you!

1 The names involved have been changed and a few details have been streamlined in order to protect the identities of the people involved. The reasons will become clear as you read the story.

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