Mariama Part 1 – Following God when Faith Costs You Everything
*This is a true story, but names have been changed and places have been kept very vague. The people in this story live in a part of the world where Christians are persecuted for their faith. Telling their story puts them in danger, but they want people to know what God is doing. God is using these brave believers in mighty ways, but they need our help. They need our prayers, and they need our support.
Ephesians 6:18 – Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.
Romans 12:10-13 – Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.
We sat around a table in the outdoor screened in dining room. It was early afternoon and the day was just starting to get hot from the blazing West African sun. There was a contented calm in the air as the hum of the ceiling fan mingled with the nearby sounds of children playing. I sipped my ice-water and watched the vibrant flowers that spilled over the top of the wall surrounding our sister’s home as they danced in the breeze. It was fascinating to listen as John and Elizabeth chatted enthusiastically in French with the tall, beautiful woman who had come to visit. Mariama Abimbola was a good friend and colleague and they were pleased by this opportunity to catch up. She had been in town for a Missionary Conference and John had asked her to stop by and meet us so that she could share her testimony. Their conversation slowly died down and she turned to us. Moments before she had been animated, bubbly; but now a solemn quiet came over her. She sat for a moment and lowered her head, tears escaping the corners of her eyes. John looked concerned. A minute later she raised her eyes to mine and began to speak. Although I couldn’t interpret the words, tears welled in my eyes as our spirits joined in understanding. A moment later she paused and John began to translate. For the next hour we sat captivated as Mariama opened her heart and shared her story. I share it with you now with the prayer that it will resonate deep in your soul, as it did ours and spur us all to action.
“I am having a very difficult time sharing my story today. My heart is very discouraged.” She began very slowly as tears streamed down her face. She paused for several minutes trying to regain her composure. John told us later he has seen her share her testimony many times, but had never seen her like this. I wanted to reach across the table and comfort her, but after a few moments she began again,
“I was born into a prominent Muslim family. My father was well known and respected by all. He had a great deal of influence and raised me as a child of privilege. I didn’t have to learn to cook or clean in order to help run the household like other children I knew. We had hired help to take care of all those things. Instead, I was given a first class education which began with extensive study of the Koran followed by formal education. I was proud of my family and wanted to earn an honorable reputation so I studied diligently. When it was time for me to marry, my father had no problem finding a place for me as the wife of Ibrahim Senghor, another well known, respected, and wealthy Muslim man.
During my first pregnancy I returned for a short period of time to my father’s home so that my mother could assist me in childbirth. While I was there, a group of childhood friends came by and invited me to come hear a missionary lady who was going to be speaking and showing a Billy Graham film in town that night. We were all very curious, but I knew right away it was a bad idea and turned them down; but later that evening my curiosity got the best of me, and I snuck out to see what it was all about. I remember listening intently to the film as Billy Graham read from Acts 4
‘…he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene…There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved!‘
I was furious when I heard this. How could this man say that salvation could come from no one other than Jesus? I had studied, and knew the Koran, so I knew this wasn’t true. The video finished and men began to hand out cards asking if anyone would like a missionary to visit and answer questions and tell them more about Jesus. I grabbed a card and wrote in giant bold letters, ‘NEVER’ and went home. But a few days later my friends came to me again,
‘Mariama,’ they said, ‘you must come with us to hear the missionary lady. She has been giving talks and we’ve been listening. She’s saying many things that aren’t right, but we don’t know enough to argue with her. You know the Koran very well. You must come and tell her what’s true.’
How could I say no? Someone had to defend the truth. So I began attending the talks and speaking out to Rachael, the missionary lady. I was so disturbed to hear the stories I had learned about Abraham, Moses, and Isaac being told in such different ways. I would never accept this Bible, or its false God. Allah was my god. I would continue to defend him so that no one would be confused by Rachael’s strange teachings.
Then one night, as I was sleeping, I had a dream. I saw Jesus standing with His arms open to me. He looked at me and said, ‘Don’t be afraid, come to Me.’ In the dream I felt such peace, but when I woke up I was disturbed. What did it mean? I decided I must keep the dream to myself and ignore it, but over the next few weeks I had the dream again and again. Jesus was calling me to Himself. ‘Don’t be afraid, Mariama, Come to Me!’ Finally, I went to talk to Rachael about my dreams. She told me how I could turn from my sin and accept the gift of salvation that God offered through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. As I prayed I felt the Holy Spirit fill my whole body and immediately realized that a giant weight I never even knew I felt had been lifted. It was as if I had been yoked to my sin and to all the false teachings of Islam. The instant I prayed to God that yoke had been lifted and I was set free! I felt so light and happy. I would never forget that moment.
I went home and told my mother what had happened to me. She looked very concerned and told me to keep it to myself; to never speak of it again. Before long it was time for me to take my new baby boy, Ahmadou, and return home to my husband. This meant I could no longer attend Rachael’s Bible study, but she had given me a Bible and I took it with me and read it every day. Ibrahim wasn’t pleased with my new-found faith, but he thought it was just a silly phase and kept quiet about it for a while. A few years later we had another baby, this one a girl. By that time, I had begun to speak often to my husband about the things I was learning in the Bible. He finally lost his patience and became very angry. He beat me and told me he would not be married to a Christian. He divorced me quickly, forcing me to take our two young children and return to my father’s home.
Only a short time later I returned home one day after running some errands to find the children were gone. I looked and looked for them all over town. I asked everyone I could find if they had seen my children, but everyone acted very strange and told me no, they hadn’t seen them. Finally one kind lady took pity on me and timidly whispered, ‘I think their father came and took them.’
I went straight to my parents and asked, ‘Did Ibrahim take the children?’
‘Yes.’ They finally answered truthfully.
I went, as fast as I could to Ibrahim’s home to get the children back, but he wouldn’t allow it. He told me he wouldn’t allow his children to be raised by a Christian. I knew I had a right to my children, so I went straight to the courts and pleaded my case before the local judge. He was very upset by what had happened to me and quickly sent for Ibrahim to appear before him. ‘Why have you taken this woman’s children from her?’ He asked.
‘Don’t you know what this woman has done?’ Ibrahim asked the judge, ‘She has become a Christian! I won’t allow my children to be raised by a Christian!’
‘Is this true?’ The judge asked. My heart sank as I realized I’d already lost the case, but I answered honestly. The judge ruled in favor of my husband and I wasn’t allowed to see my children anymore. It was as if I had been robbed of part of myself! I was devastated.
When I returned to my parents, they were furious. I had disgraced the family name and my father insisted I deny my new faith, renounce the name of Jesus, and return to Islam. When I refused he had me beaten. For quite some time my family tried everything they could to get me to turn away from Christianity. They wouldn’t feed me, and they would have me beaten. One day I went to the community garden to try and find some food because I was so hungry. I knew I couldn’t go on like this, it would kill me. I was so weak and discouraged and ready to give up, so I pulled out my Bible and began reading in Genesis. Out of nowhere, a distinguished elderly man walked up to me. ‘What are you reading about?’ the man asked. This was very strange for many reasons, but mostly because everyone in the town knew better than to speak to me. I told him that I had been studying the story of Abraham. ‘What you are doing is good.’ The old man said, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep studying the Bible.’ I don’t know why, but I felt so encouraged at that moment. As I’ve looked back on that encounter over the years I’ve often wondered if that man was just another person that God sent to give me hope, or if he was an angel. Why didn’t I know who he was? I knew everyone in the town. Why was he even in the garden to begin with, and why would he have told me to keep reading the Bible? Whoever he was, God used him to strengthen my resolve and encourage me to keep going.
Before long my father had me isolated in a room and I was given nothing to eat or drink. I was told that I must stay there until I agreed to forsake Christianity and each time I refused I was badly beaten. Many of my teeth had been knocked out by then, and I was bruised and broken. There is still a hole in the back of my skull from those beatings. I don’t know what I would have done if it weren’t for my Bible. My parents believed they had isolated me; left me completely alone with no bread or water. What they didn’t know was that I would never be alone because Jesus was always with me, and I had the Bread of Life and Living Water to sustain me. I had hours and hours every day to read my Bible again and again and God used that time to teach me so much. Finally my parents told me I had to leave. I was no longer part of the Abimbola family. I was never to speak to them, or associate with them in any way again. I had been disowned.
I didn’t know what to do. I’d never needed to provide for myself. I didn’t even know where to start. No one in our small town would hire me for fear of my father, so I moved to the big city about 2 hours away in search of work. I was able to find a job with a family as a house girl, but I didn’t really know anything about how to clean. I worked hard and learned quickly, but then one day the family told me I would have to find another job. They offered no reason why. Once again I searched and quickly found another job with another family, this time working in the kitchen. I would have to learn how to cook. Again, I knew nothing about how to do the job, but I worked hard and learned quickly. Yet again, out of nowhere, the family dismissed me. I learned that my father had used his notoriety and influence to find me and to threaten the families so that they were afraid to keep me on. This happened over and over until finally it become impossible for me to even find work. No one dared to hire me. I didn’t know what I would do. My faith had grown so much, but I didn’t know how I would be able to survive this life as long as I remained a Christian.
In spite of the difficulties I faced, God remained faithful. One day, as I was walking the streets of the city looking for work I became so discouraged that I decided I was going to give up. I couldn’t continue like this. Just then, I happened to look up and right in front of me was Rachael, the missionary lady who had led me to the Lord. She had gone back to America shortly after my son was born, and had been gone for years. She had just returned to the country to continue her missionary work and God put her right in my path at just the right time. We sat down together and I told her my story. Rachael took me back to her house and gave me a place to stay for a little while. She also introduced me to the other missionaries on her team. One family, the Nelsons hired me to work in their home and since they weren’t a part of the Muslim community my parents had no influence to get me dismissed. I also began to attend church with Rachael and the Nelsons and got to know many other believers who encouraged me, and strengthened me in my faith. As I worked with and got to know these new friends, I felt God calling me to be a missionary too.
I partnered with the missions organization the Nelsons worked with and started my new ministry. I moved to a smaller town about an hour away from the big city. From there, I would travel to all the villages surrounding this town and teach the Bible to groups of women who would show up to my meetings. Before long these groups began to grow. More and more women wanted to learn about the Bible. The men of the villages began to take notice and through the miraculous work of God, they appreciated what I was teaching their wives. They even encouraged the women to attend the Bible studies. Soon, the women began repeating the Bible stories back to me. It was so exciting. The family of God was growing and He was using me. I was so thankful. I had lost my family because I had chosen to follow God, but He had adopted me into His family and given me many brothers and sisters. I was filled with joy, but I did still long to see my children again, and I prayed every day that they would come to know Jesus. If He had saved me out of my situation, He could save them too.”
*Come back next week to read the rest of Mariama’s story. There is much heartache still to come for her, but God is always faithful. He might even want to use you to encourage her and enable her to bring the gospel to even more of the lost people in West Africa. Find out how next Monday right here.