“I’ve been married for three years and I don’t have any children,” Amina* told Sophie*, a long-term worker living in the Arabian Peninsula (AP). When Sophie didn’t respond, Amina repeated: “I’ve been married for three years, and I don’t have any children.”
Cautiously, not wanting to offend her friend, Sophie asked Amina why that mattered. “We can’t have children, and I am shamed and shunned by society,” Amina told her.
From that point on, nearly all of the two women’s conversations revolved around Amina’s desire—and inability—to conceive. Sophie would receive messages from Amina in the middle of the night, her friend devastated, again, by a family member’s cruel remark. Too, Amina remained bound by words an occultist spiritual advisor had spoken over her, shortly after she had married: “You will find it very difficult to ever have children.”
“She was believing this woman, the power she had over her, and she started getting very depressed,” Sophie described. Amina desperately needed to hear a different message.
Since Sophie and her husband had announced they were Christians at the beginning of their time in the AP, they could continue to be up front about their faith with neighbours and friends, including Amina.
“Most of my conversations with her are about encouraging her to have hope,” Sophie said.
Later on in their friendship, Amina discovered she had a cyst and needed an operation. But she was scared to seek medical attention in her own country, anxious the doctors wouldn’t take seriously her desire to have children. Sophie suggested a treatment center she knew in Western Europe. Amina applied, and, soon, the clinic accepted her.
Needing the operation, Amina nonetheless worried about travelling abroad to a country she didn’t know with a language she didn’t speak. While she spoke excellent English, her husband, accompanying her on the trip, could barely communicate outside their native Arabic.
Ahead of the impending travel, Sophie sent a message to her friend Karen*, an Arabic speaker living in the city where the treatment center was located. Sophie wanted to know if Karen could help Amina and her husband, but she didn’t ask for much.
“Could you just meet up with her for coffee?” she wrote.
Karen’s reply was simple. “Sure, I’ll help,” she told Sophie.
“I thought it would be kind of easy,” Karen admitted. “It turned out to be a lot of work and a lot of time, but also very nice.”
Having recently spent half a year in the Near East and North Africa—as well as having lived overseas as a child, immersed in Arab culture—Karen knew that Arabic hospitality vastly differed from her Western European norms. Thinking about the arrival of Sophie’s friends, “I knew they probably had different expectations, especially that I would take care [of them] and do more for them,” she said.
In the Arab world, people “overwhelm you with their hospitality and what they do for you. I really appreciated that so, so much when I was there. I knew that’s not my culture, it’s not something that’s natural for me, but I wanted to try to do some part of that.”
So she picked up Amina and her husband from the airport, showed the hospital, the hotel, and toured them around the city. That was only the beginning.
“Basically, time is not measured the same way with Arabs and Europeans, so with them, you can spend a whole afternoon, and still it’s not enough. So I ended up spending the whole week with them,” she explained.
Sometimes, they sat in cafés. Sometimes they strolled along city streets. Often they talked. When Amina was in the hospital, Karen visited regularly. The time was “very touching,” Karen remembered. “I thought it was going to be just some organising, but it was a kind of friendship at the end.”
“She’s my age,” Karen continued. “It was really nice, but…she was really heavy laden… She lives in a culture where her worth as a woman is defined by your husband and your children, and that’s all. That’s your identity.”
Although Amina’s husband has been supportive so far, if she doesn’t fulfill her duty to bear him children, he could “go and get another wife,” Karen added. Once, when the trio sat together at a city café, Amina didn’t talk but simply wept.
“I tried to talk with her about it, to try and speak truth into her life, that she has worth,” Karen said. “It’s normal to talk about God with Arabic people, so I did that a lot. I think she noticed the way I talked about God was different. I just really encouraged her that He loves her. No matter…if she gets children or not…He still loves her immeasurably.”
When Amina and her husband returned to the AP, 99 per cent sure the operation had been successful but still plagued by the one per cent chance of failure, they told Sophie they would not have survived the experience without Karen.
“I hope they noticed that this is not normal—their friendship with Sophie and how this hospitality was—and that it’s not our love, it’s God’s love,” Karen said. “I hope that by speaking their language of hospitality, they would see that love.”
According to Karen, Arab women can believe extensive lies about themselves, their worth, their identities and their abilities.
“It binds you up, and you’re not free to be who God made you to be. We can pray that she gets free of those bondages and lies,” along with other women.
Most weekends, when Sophie’s family is home in the AP, Amina and her husband find a reason to stop by.
“They keep saying that when they come to our house, they feel freedom,” Sophie noted. “We’re ultimately praying that God would give her a baby, but that she will see it’s in the power and in the name of Jesus.”
Please pray that Amina and other Arab women would find the truth in Jesus. Pray that God would continue to use workers across the region to speak His light, His life and His love into their lives.
Nicole James is a freelance journalist, ESL teacher and adventurer. A writer for OM Middle East North Africa, she’s passionate about publishing the stories of God’s works among the nations, telling people about the wonderful things He is doing in the world.
Published: Friday, 11 December 2015
Credit: Nicole James