Open Doors' See. Change. campaign has a vision that every woman who is persecuted for both her faith and gender is seen, heard and empowered to reach her God-given potential. Here are two women's stories, and how you can stand with your persecuted sisters.
Sozan’s community thought it would be more ‘honourable’ to kill her than to let her live.
In her Muslim neighbourhood in Syria, the fact that she had become a Christian was considered deeply shameful – not just for her but for her family. Locals told Sozan’s father that she had disgraced him.
“Some Muslim men came to our father, saying that we, as his daughters, were bad,” remembers 22-year-old Sozan. “They said we had a bad reputation and that we should be killed. Our father should take care that this shame would be washed away.” Thankfully, he refused to do this so-called ‘honour’ killing.
Similar stories happen all around the world. Christian women are persecuted for their gender and for their faith, as Open Doors’ See. Change. campaign has highlighted for the past two years. The vision of the campaign is that every woman who is persecuted for both her faith and gender is seen, heard and empowered to reach her God-given potential. Thanks to your prayers, gifts and speaking out, your sisters are starting to see change – but it is slow and much more needs to be done.
In Sozan’s family, it was actually her brother, Hussam, who became a Christian first. He shared the good news of Jesus with Sozan and their sisters, Maria and Doaa, and encouraged Sozan to read the Bible with him.
“I read this verse in Matthew 11:28: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ Jesus touched my heart with that verse,” says Sozan. “I saw that there was no other solution for me than Jesus. The Holy Spirit started to work in me.” Sozan decided to follow Christ, and so did her sisters. But this exciting decision also came with terrifying consequences.
"We were afraid, both of us were crying. We were so afraid to be killed.” Sozan
“People in the neighbourhood started talking negatively about us, as we were open about our conversion,” she says. Only six weeks after Sozan became a Christian, that talk became something worse. “I was out with my sister Maria. A group of men came to hurt us, to persecute us. We were afraid, both of us were crying. We were so afraid to be killed.”
But Jesus didn’t leave them unprotected. She saw the words of Matthew 11:28 in action. Sozan remembers: “But then Jesus appeared to me. He said to me: ‘Don’t be afraid.’ Then the people all suddenly disappeared – they even apologised! That can only be God’s work.”
Sozan was protected from that attack, but the community still rejected her. Another time, two of their cousins tried to kill her sister Doaa when she was hospitalised: “They paid and put pressure on one of the doctors there to poison her. The doctor agreed with the cousins, but in the end he didn’t do it. Jesus didn’t allow that to happen.”
A church run by Open Doors partners in Syria has been able to provide practical and spiritual support, thanks to you and Open Doors supporters like you: “We really were in a poor situation,” says Sozan. “We are so thankful for the help we got – and also, in persecution, the church stood with us. We received relief items, we got shelter when we faced persecution. God told His children to help others like us. Through that, we feel that God is with us, that He is not leaving us at all.”
And more than that, Sozan has been empowered to see the role she can play in the church. She dedicates a lot of time to serving, particularly with young children: “I love to teach the children. I do that work together with the wife of the pastor. Working with children is so beautiful.”
Being able to take an active part in the life of the church has brought restoration to Sozan – going from being rejected and attacked by her old community to being loved, supported and valued by her new one. Empowering Sozan has helped her to empower the church – and beyond.
Sozan and her sisters faced rejection, attack and even the threat of death. As Christian women from a Muslim background, they are not only vulnerable to attacks from Islamic militants – but also from their own families, vulnerable for both their faith and gender. Their courageous faith is extraordinary – and is mirrored by Christian women in other countries and continents.
In many places, even if women aren’t the ones being attacked or killed, they still suffer terrible consequences. Often extremist militants target men because they know it will destabilise families and communities – removing the breadwinner leaves the remaining family members desperate for income and food, and stigmatised by their communities and even their in-laws. That’s Peninah’s story, in Kenya.
"I struggled because I was alone. Even food was a challenge to get." Peninah
Peninah was only 24 when her husband, Paul, was murdered by al-Shabaab, a violent jihadist group based in East Africa. Paul was on a work trip when his truck was ambushed near the border with Somalia. The men were lined up, and the attackers demanded they recite the Islamic creed. As a Christian, Paul didn’t know it. He told them, “If you want to kill me, I will remain in Jesus – and if you let me go, I would still remain in Jesus.” They shot him.
Peninah fell into deep grief, but things got even worse. Her in-laws refused to support her, and she was left to care for 2-year-old Steve alone, with no means of earning an income: “Life became hard. I struggled because I was alone. Even food was a challenge to get.” In Kenya, as with much of sub-Saharan Africa, widows are at the bottom of the hierarchy.
But, again, your gifts and prayers empowered Peninah and transformed her life. Thanks to Open Doors supporters, she was able to enrol in an Open Doors course in dressmaking – as well as attending a trauma workshop.
“The training helped me to heal my wounds, to share my suffering and accept the Lord’s leading in my life,” says Peninah. “Talking to people restored my joy and helped my faith grow. My faith would have collapsed because not everyone gave me hope, but the seminars and Open Doors partners encouraged me a lot.”
Open Doors partners were even able to give Peninah a sewing machine, so she could embark on a career in dressmaking. Lockdowns have temporarily halted her work, so Peninah and Steve are among the 1,200 families in Kenya receiving vital Covid-19 food and relief aid from Open Doors partners.
“I would like to say thank you wherever you are,” says Peninah, to Open Doors supporters. “You have played a great role in my life.”
Through your support and prayers, thousands of Christian women can be empowered to overcome persecution and be resilient voices of hope within their churches and communities. Transforming their lives equips these women to transform the world around them.
God sees women like Sozan and Peninah, and does not forget them. And you can show that you see them too.
You can help persecuted Christian women around the world See. Change.
Your support helps persecuted Christians continue to courageously follow Jesus.
Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.