Romina* is from a country in the Middle East – a country where it is not easy to be a Christian. It’s not an easy place to be female either. Combine the two, and many young girls are pretty vulnerable to all sorts of dangers. A new threat comes from the grooming and kidnapping of teenage girls by extremist Islamic groups who pressure girls to leave their faith in Jesus.
Romina’s story is not uncommon.
When Romina was young she went to church with her family. But when she reached high school her family decided she should stop going.
“When there was a church service, there would always be groups of Muslim boys in the neighbourhood waiting for us girls,” Romina said. “They made dirty remarks and were trying to hook up. My family didn’t like that and decided I should no longer be exposed to these boys.”
“My older brother always had friends around. Because I was a girl my brother felt entitled to humiliate me in front of his friends.”
One person she could always go to was Ahmed*, her Muslim friend. Sweet and understanding, he was always willing to listen to her problems.
One night, her brother lashed out and hit her. Crying, Romina called Ahmed to hear a friendly voice. “Wait there,” he said. “I’m picking you up. You shouldn’t go back inside that house.”
Looking back, Romina sees how Ahmed had been grooming her carefully. But she had fallen in love with him. When Ahmed suggested Romina run away with him, she said yes wholeheartedly, unaware of the shame she was bringing on her family.
Rather than running away together, Ahmed took Romina to his family house where they were immediately separated. Romina was sent to Ahmed’s uncle, a fundamentalist Islamic Sheik (both a religious and a tribal leader) who was a specialist in converting Christian girls to Islam.
The uncle confiscated Romina’s phone, gave her a headscarf to wear and locked her in the house. “He told me repeatedly, ‘Your family will not accept you anymore, they will probably kill you. You can’t go home. The only way out for you now is to convert to Islam. Then we will be able to protect you, then you will be safe.’” Romina said.
Romina was held captive for six weeks under constant pressure to convert to Islam. Gradually, she started to give into them. “I now see that they tried to brainwash me. When I talked back to them, they would make my life horrible; when I showed interest, they were nice and friendly.”
The day police officers came to rescue her was a strange experience for Romina. Instead of arresting Ahmed and his uncle on charges of kidnapping and forced conversion, they put Romina in jail. “I was not officially arrested, but I was not free to go; according to the law this was for my own safety. Only if a male family member came to take responsibility for me would they let me go.” Romina said.
Her relatives, Khalil* and his wife – both committed Christians – came to pick her up. By doing this, Khalil kept Romina’s father and brother from having to bear the public shame of taking in their daughter who’d run away with a Muslim man.
Staying with Khalil and his family was a turning point for Romina. “He didn’t lock me up, I was free to go. But I didn’t want to, because I experienced real love with them,” she said. “They talked a lot with me, sometimes until deep into the night, about myself, about God, about Islam, about Jesus. They told me time and time again – about the freedom there is in Christ, about not having to feel ashamed.”
Romina was still thinking about converting to Islam, but gradually her relatives’ words, prayers and the loving atmosphere they created in the house changed her mind. “They took me to church. I started going to praise and prayer meetings; I started to read the Bible and to follow devotions,” Romina said. “And when it was God’s time, I decided to live for the Lord.
“It’s not that my problems magically went away after accepting Christ. But something far more important is defining who I am now. I still can’t find words to describe how grateful I am for what He did for me.”
The shame of what Romina had done was still heavy upon her family. The only thing that would lift it was marriage. Her family offered to pay men vast sums of money if they’d be willing to enter into an arranged marriage with her. But none were willing.
Then came Farid – a humble, Christian man who had been secretly in love with her for years. They started going to church together. A few months later they got married. A year later they had a baby boy.
Romina’s family still haven’t accepted her; most of the time they completely ignore her. Without their support, life is not easy for the young family. But Farid isn’t ashamed, “I have known this girl my entire life. I know she has done nothing wrong. I love her,” he said. In this masculine society, this is an exceptionally open and vulnerable declaration of love.
Looking back, Romina clearly sees the hand of God. “It is Christ who got me out. He did so many miracles in my life. I live in freedom now. All the darkness went away when Christ appeared. Now it is just Him.”
Romina is just one of many vulnerable Christian girls in the Arab world who are deliberately targeted by Muslim men in an attempt to convert them to Islam.
Often, just as in Romina’s case, a ‘friendly’ Muslim boy plays a key role in what eventually ends up a forced conversion and marriage with a much older Muslim man, usually as his second or third wife.
Romina says that if she had been aware of her identity in Christ at a younger age, she might have been less susceptible to Ahmed’s efforts to lure her away from her family. That’s why Open Doors supports Christians in in the Middle East with Bible studies, fellowship programs and prayer and worship resources which build young Christians’ identity in God.
We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.