Growing up in rural Egypt, Marta* found that she was on the lowest rung of society – looked down upon both because she was not Muslim, and because she was not male.
"You could say that girls here are buried alive," she says. "A girl doesn’t know her rights. She is considered to be worth less than a boy. She doesn’t have the right to speak or to take a decision or to state her opinion freely."
Fear is a rational response for young Christian women in Egypt. 'The worst country in the Arab world to be a woman' – that’s how a Thompson’s Reuters study labelled Egypt in 2013. And Christian women might be the worst off in this society. And, because of their perceived lower status, they are victims of an enormous amount of (often sexual) harassments, including cases of kidnapping.
VALUABLE IN GOD'S EYES
Even within the Christian community, women can be perceived to be worth less than men. But then Marta heard about a girls’ ministry run by a local partner of Open Doors.
"We were in the first year of high school. We were getting together with a few girls and we were talking about the church. They told me about sister Christine* and said that she ran a course for girls. They gave me the number of sister Christine and I called her up. She came to our church and I got the girls together for her. She talked to the girls and got to know people. We agreed that she would come down to us once a month."
The girls' programme covers different aspects of growing up and the pressures that girls face, and it aims to improve their mental, emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing.
They learn how they can take care of themselves and stand up for their rights. But, most importantly, they are able to explore the love that God has for them. "The teacher taught us to believe how valuable we are in the eyes of God. That we are worth no less than boys," Marta says, her eyes lighting up. "She taught us how to have a relationship with God, how to share our lives with Him, and how to receive emotional healing."
A YOUNG WOMAN ON FIRE FOR GOD
Marta used to have a warped understanding of both God, and her value in His eyes. "I was mentally destroyed," she shares. "I saw God as an unjust person. Why did He bring us into such difficult circumstances, circumstances we didn’t deserve?"
But now, she has become a teacher of the women’s programme herself. Thanks to the ministry she received, she is no longer a broken believer, but has become a young woman on fire for God. She is a strong asset in her local church, teaching other girls about the Bible. And, like Marta, many girls are being set on fire for God when they find their true value and strength in Him. Marta says, "Whatever happens, even if the whole world is against me, if I am in a relationship with the Lord, I will have no fear."
As a leader in women’s ministry, Marta hears a lot of stories from the girls in the community about sexual abuse – stories that are often not listened to. Speaking up about abuse in or outside the community seems useless, according to her. "A girl's accusation isn’t often believed. Instead, she will be scolded for saying bad things about other people. The abuse and pressure we face causes a lot of stress, and many of us have low self-esteem."
Marta explains how that low self-esteem impacts the girls. "When girls don’t find love at home, they try to find it elsewhere. Some are starting a relationship with a Muslim and convert to his religion. Those relationships are not going to satisfy the hearts of those girls, only Christ can do that," she says.
*Names have been changed for security reasons
Stand with your persecuted sisters
Thanks to your prayers and support, Marta is a young woman who is seen, known and valued, and she is passing that love on to many other girls and women in her community. But there are millions of persecuted Christian women around the world whose suffering is invisible, doubly vulnerable to persecution because they are Christian, and because they are women.
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. That’s why we’ve launched the new See. Change. campaign, to restore the hope, dignity and identity of women who pay twice the price for following Jesus.
Will you see these women – and change their reality?