Nawal*, a mother of one, is forced to keep her faith a secret. Completely isolated from other Christians and now married to a Muslim man, she is lonely and afraid.
Nawal* grew up in a Muslim family in Saudi Arabia but after years of feeling like a second rate citizen she began to search for more meaning to her life. Soon she discovered the online teachings of a foreign preacher - a Christian and a woman. This pastor spoke of a loving appreciative God who accepted and cared for all.
Thanks to an online follow up network supported by Open Doors, Nawal* got in touch with other Christian believers. They encouraged her with prayers over WhatsApp, sent her discipleship materials and guided her towards an online Bible. She still remembers the sheer joy and peace she felt the day she gave her life to Christ. But it didn't last long.
Nawal*'s mother quickly discovered her new faith. The family was so afraid that she'd connect with other believers that they stopped her from leaving her house and cut her off from her social life leaving her with only her phone to connect her to other Christians.
She was forced to marry a Muslim man, arranged by her parents. This meant she could escape her imprisonment. But it also brought new fears. According to Saudi law, if her husband discovered her faith he could beat her, divorce her or even kill her. Nobody would come to her rescue.
On her wedding day, afraid of being exposed as a believer, Nawal* said goodbye to her Christian network. She sent a final message, “I will delete your contact information and I may not respond anymore for my own safety. But please know that I will read whatever you send me.” Scared that her new husband might browse her search history, Nawal* even stopped reading the online Bible.
Now in her late twenties, married with a daughter of her own, Nawal* must behave like a proper Muslim, at least on the outside. She goes through the motions of prayer when others are around while on the inside she prays constantly to Jesus asking for the strength to carry on.
Every so often her phone pings with a WhatsApp message from an unknown number. Even though it's a neutral message saying nothing of faith or God, she knows it's one of her fellow believers writing to encourage her. She'll write back in the same casual way, then hurriedly delete the conversation. The Christians messaging her can only guess at how she is really doing living in isolation with the constant fear of being exposed.
Woman using mobile phone
Saudi Arabia is number 14 on the 2017 Open Doors World Watch List. All Saudis are considered to be Muslims, and the legal system is based on Sharia (Islamic law). There are no church buildings at all in Saudi Arabia and Christian services take place in secret. Believers from Muslim backgrounds keep their faith hidden.
*Name changed for security reasons
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Open Doors UK & Ireland is part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians in over 60 countries for over 60 years. Last year it raised approximately $70 million to provide practical support to persecuted Christians such as food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources. Open Doors UK & Ireland raised over £11 million.
Every year Open Doors publishes the World Watch List - a ranking of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. This is produced using detailed information provided by Open Doors co-workers in more than 60 countries, as well as independent experts. Data is gathered on five spheres of life - private, family, community, national and church life - plus a sixth sphere measuring the degree of violence impacting Christians. Persecution in each country is recorded by Open Doors using a point system. Open Doors' research methods and results have been independently audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom. The 2017 World Watch List accounts for the 12 months ending 31 October 2016.