Though the real story behind the legend is murky, Saint Valentine is remembered as a priest in third century Rome who was martyred for supporting persecuted Christians and for performing secret weddings. To celebrate Valentine’s Day, Open Doors is sharing a story of love amid suffering from the persecuted church.
When Aaina* was fifteen, she was looking for a new book to read on her family’s bookshelves. At the back of the shelf, hidden by stacks of other books, she found a leather bound Bible. Even though she knew the Bible was forbidden in Muslim homes like hers, she began to read it.
She had encountered Jesus in the Koran but never like this. Aaina was captivated, so she hid the Bible in her bedroom and whenever it was safe she would read it.
Aaina was brought up in a respectable Muslim family in the Middle East. They were not devout, she was not expected to pray five times a day or attend the mosque regularly. But her family quickly saw that she was taking too much interest in Christianity. “My whole family was against me, especially my mother,” Aaina said. Her mother asked her why she was throwing her life away and told her that she must soon marry a respected Muslim.
“I suffered a lot,” Aaina said. “But still I kept reading the Bible in secret. Jesus kept drawing me closer to Him.”
Aaina moved out of her parent’s home and to a new town to begin university. Much to her disbelief her university roommate, despite having a Muslim name, was also a secret Christian. Through this friendship Aaina attended a church and many of her questions about faith and the Bible were answered. Her faith grew but her joy was short lived.
Her parents had found her a Muslim man to marry.
Despite her protests, Aaina's parents insisted that she should get to know the man better. “Every now and then, I went for a walk with him,” she said. “It was not easy for me. Of course, he started to want more. To go to a restaurant and so on. He wanted us to get engaged. But I couldn't take that step, and so one day I told him that I had become a Christian. He was so angry.” When her family found out they imprisoned her in their house in solitary confinement for three months.
Sometime later, Aaina met a Christian man called Mark*. “We prayed about our future and decided to marry,” she said. Like Saint Valentine, her church pastor agreed to marry them in secret: “This had to be done in secret, because my husband is a Christian by birth. According to the law in our country, he's not permitted to enter into marriage with a Muslim. If he wanted to marry me, officially, he would first have to convert to Islam. We didn't want that. So we met together with a few friends and the pastor in a small hall in the church. The pastor pronounced a blessing and that was that. Within twenty minutes, we were outside again.”
In the eyes of the law of Aaina’s conservative Middle Eastern country, she was not married. She was unable to live with her husband and only a handful of people knew about their relationship.
Aaina’s family were still searching for a Muslim man for her to marry. When she refused her uncle’s match, Aaina knew that he was intent on killing her.
Aaina rushed to the airport and fled her country that very day. Her pastor arranged somewhere for Aaina to stay with one of his contacts in another country.
“My husband was to follow, but he was not granted permission to settle in the country I had fled to,” Aaina said. “Our only hope was to apply for asylum in a Western country. If I'm admitted, my husband can join me.”
Due to the cost of international calling Aaina couldn’t even speak to her husband Mark regularly. Instead they called each other and after one ring they would hang up, “We're not able to call often. It's too expensive. So this is what we do to say that we love each other.”
As an asylum seekers, Aaina was not allowed to work or become part of society. She could only fill in forms, attend interviews and wait. Open Doors raised money to help her cover her expenses and supporters wrote letters of encouragement to help raise her spirits as she waited.
If Aaina had reconverted back to Islam, she would have been welcomed home with open arms. But although she missed her family, her life back home – and most of all – Mark, Aaina decided to remain faithful to God. “I felt like Peter getting out of the boat. Around me it is dark and the wind is blowing hard. Behind me are the other disciples in the boat, but I can't go back. It's cold and wet. But as long as I look ahead of me, to the bright light that's shining there, to Jesus Christ Himself, I will not sink.”
Over eight years after Mark and Aaina first got married, they were both granted permission to live in a new country. It was finally legal for them to live as Christian husband and wife and begin their life together. “God is good,” Aaina said.
*Name changed for security reasons