Sarah in North Africa was thrown out of her home because of her faith. Later, her husband threw her out of another home. In her country, as a woman, she is particularly vulnerable without the protection of her family. Around the world, millions of women from religious minorities face persecution for their faith and their gender. See Sarah. See change.
“You deserve to be dead.”
Those are the words Sarah* heard from her father. He had just discovered her secret Bible. In their strictly Muslim household in North Africa, owning a Bible is considered shameful enough – but Sarah had just told him something even more shocking. “I quit Islam and became a Christian.”
Sarah’s father beat her, then threw her out.
If she were a man, being forced to leave home would be devastating – but a man might be able to find a job, a home and safety. In Sarah’s country, as in many countries, a woman is incredibly vulnerable without the protection of her family. Women only leave the family home when they marry. By throwing her out, her father wasn’t just rejecting her. He was endangering her.
Like most North Africans, Sarah was raised as a Muslim. Her family are particularly devout, because her dad is an imam – a preacher in the local mosque. She believed in a God, but was only taught to obey him out of fear.
"I quit Islam and became a Christian" Sarah
“When I was a child, my parents used to tell me that God would torture and punish me in hell, because I was stubborn,” remembers Sarah. “I had more fear for God than love.”
And it wasn’t just the Muslim God that Sarah feared. She was also scared of her violent family.
“My family used to beat me, so that I would practise the rituals of Islam,” she says. “According to them, a woman who goes out in the streets without covering her hair brings shame and dishonour, and is considered a disgraceful and disreputable woman.”
Sarah continued to obey her parents, but stopped believing in the teachings of Islam. She didn’t have any plans to replace it with another religion. But, when she was 16, she walked into a church.
Sarah only expected to find foreigners in the church – she had been raised to believe that North Africans couldn’t be Christians. But there were others from her country who were worshipping Jesus. Sarah stayed for a service and, afterwards, was given a Bible to take home. Over the coming months, she also spoke with Christians on Facebook, who explained the faith to her. This social media discipleship was crucial.
Eventually Sarah made a huge decision: she became a Christian.
The moment Sarah made that choice, her life was transformed. She was filled with joy – but she also became even more vulnerable. Sarah already faced discrimination for being a woman, and now she also faced persecution for her faith.
What’s even harder is that Sarah, like so many Christian women and girls around the world, faced that persecution in her own home. That’s one of the reasons that the persecution of Christian women is often so hidden from the outside world.
Sarah had hidden her Bible under her bed, but her dad found it. That was the day she admitted that she had become a Christian – and suffered the beating and rejection that followed.
After Sarah was thrown out of her home, she was able to find help through her local church and Open Doors partners who, thanks to your prayers and support, provided essentials and somewhere to stay. She hoped that time away from home would mean a change of heart for her family – but the opposite happened. Sarah’s father started spreading lies about her, saying she had run off with a man.
“How can he destroy my reputation?” she says. “It is extremely painful to hear such things from your own father – almost unbearable.”
"How could my father destroy my reputation?" Sarah
Eva*, an Open Doors partner who oversees work with women in the Middle East and North Africa, says this is common. “In the region where I work, girls are raised to be a desirable bride and wife,” she says. “So, when girls and women face gender-specific religious persecution, it could mean being expelled from their families, slandered so as to lose marriage opportunities, forced marriage or sexual violence.” Religious persecution is ‘gender-specific’ when it takes a form intended to target the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the person’s gender, within their culture. For Sarah, as a woman, this meant the idea of shame and stigma.
But it’s complex. Sarah had been treated appallingly by her family, but she still loved them. She still wanted to see them. And they were willing – but on the condition that she got married. That, they told her, will ‘cleanse you from all your sins’.
Sarah knew she had already met the man who had cleansed her from her sins: Jesus. But when she met a man through mutual friends, she decided she did want to marry him. He seemed very tolerant of her faith, wanting to know more. Sarah believed that he would become a Christian himself, once he had learned more about the faith. But that isn’t what happened at all.
“After our marriage, he suddenly turned against me,” says Sarah. “He turned into someone else. I experienced physical abuse, disrespect, mistrust. He didn’t allow me to have a phone. He wouldn’t let me go shopping on my own. I had made a grave mistake.” One day, Sarah’s husband ordered her to leave the house. “You’re not useful anymore,” he said.
Sarah thought that marriage would be a form of rescue from the persecution she faced – but it was the opposite. A Christian woman or girl is often persecuted by those who are supposed to love her most: her father, her husband, her family.
In Sarah’s country, not everyone is shocked at this behaviour towards a wife. Sadly, even women often think this violence from a husband is acceptable. Sarah hoped her parents would accept her home again, but they told Sarah to go back to her husband.
Open Doors local partners were again able to be there for Sarah when her family refused, and are still helping her rebuild her life – including providing discipleship training and a job, so she can become financially independent. Sarah is beginning to see change in her life, and knows that God is the One to thank.
"I was so happy to get calls from believers who prayed for me" Sarah
“Deep inside, I knew He was going to find a way out [for me],” Sarah shares. “I feel that through people’s prayers, God is working in my life and changing me more every day.
“I was so happy to get calls from believers who prayed for me,” she adds. “I knew that so many others, whom I didn’t know in person, were praying for me. That brought me joy and made me feel that God was with me.
"Could you pray that every Christian woman in North Africa would be encouraged and strengthened by God?” Sarah adds. “So that she would know her identity as a daughter of the King, Jesus Christ, and stay safe from any danger. Pray for more change, for protection, enlightenment in Christ.”
Sarah’s story is far from an isolated case – and it’s not just North African women who need these prayers. Around the world, millions of Christian women face persecution for both their faith and their gender, and this persecution is often hidden, complex and violent.
Open Doors’ vision is that every woman who is persecuted for her faith and gender is seen, valued and empowered to reach her God-given potential. And that vision is being realised in programmes that help vulnerable believers understand gender-based persecution – and how different it is from what God intends.
"Once we are healed, we can help other sisters to heal." Christian woman who attended Open Doors training
“We’ve developed a framework for strengthening the resilience of the local church in this area,” says Eva, the Open Doors partner who coordinates this training. “When we open the Bible and start to read Genesis 1 and 2, searching out how God sees our identities, the stark contrast between the pattern of the world and God’s view of us becomes evident.”
This training doesn’t just help those who suffer persecution – it helps their Christian communities know how best to stand alongside them, ensuring that victims of persecution don’t suffer shame or stigma. “Participants see what a resilient community of Christ in the midst of persecution looks like,” says Eva.
“Many have been healed of bitterness, unforgiveness and hatred,” says one woman who participated. “Once we are healed, we can help other sisters to heal.”
Your gifts and prayers can help many women and girls around the world, like Sarah, heal, grow and rebuild their lives with a new understanding of how God sees them. It still isn’t widely understood that Christian women like Sarah are vulnerable for their faith and their gender.
We need to keep going with the See. Change. campaign – because a long-term problem needs a long-term solution. Courageous women like Sarah will only see change with the persevering support of Open Doors supporters like you. Thank you. Let’s keep going. Let’s see change.
*Names changed for security reasons
You can send a message of encouragement to Sarah – she would love to hear from her sisters and brothers around the world.
Every £25 could mean a persecuted woman receives visits from Open Doors partners, to help encourage and strengthen her in her faith
Every £30 could provide ten women with discipleship through social media
Every £56 could help provide a safe space for women to meet and receive extensive spiritual support and training
Your support helps persecuted Christians continue to courageously follow Jesus.
Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.