*This is a true story about a woman who is following God, even though the price of faith for her has been more than we can imagine. 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. May we be faithful in our prayers for them!
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.
The Story of a Woman Who is Following God
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 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.
The Price of Faith
“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
Acts 4:12 – 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. The price of faith was great and it was as if I had been robbed of part of myself! I was devastated.
Following God Even through Persecution
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. I had the Bread of Life and Living Water to sustain me. I had 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 became 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.
God is Faithful
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. The price of faith had been great. I had lost my family because I was following 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.”
The Joys of Following God
It had been almost an hour since we first sat down across the table from Mariama, but we had been so mesmerized by her story that it seemed like only minutes. We hung on every word, barely noticing the patience it required to wait on John to translate after each pause. I was intrigued by each detail, wishing I could communicate on my own so that I could ask questions, but knowing that even then I wouldn’t want to interrupt her captivating narrative.
Mariama was a gifted communicator and despite the language barrier we found ourselves rising and falling with the emotions of her story. How my heart ached trying to imagine myself in her situation. The price of faith for me had been so small. A life separated from my children seemed unbearable. How could someone remain so devoted to God when the path He had asked her to walk seemed so hopelessly difficult?
My pain and heartache paled in comparison and I found myself thanking God for my many blessings. Yet, how we rejoiced too as she shared the victories – the mighty miracles of God. At one point my love (who is a very reserved person) even clapped and cheered! This woman was our sister in Christ, the bond between us strong, so as she spoke of her prayer for her children’s salvation my heart sank. It seemed so impossible, but there was a glimmer in her eye, and I leaned in as she continued,
“One day a strange man came to my door. He worked for Ibrahim, my ex-husband, and he wanted to know if Ahmadou, our son, was with me. I said that I hadn’t seen him in over 15 years, and asked what was wrong. Why didn’t they know where he was?
The man explained that things had been tense between Ibrahim and Ahmadou for some time. Ahmadou had grown bitter that he had been kept from his mother for so many years and wanted to find her. When he had come of age, he had left home to go search for her, and they hadn’t seen or heard from him since.
I was overjoyed by this news, but also quite concerned knowing he was out there somewhere looking for me, and no one knew what had become of him. I set out on my own to search for him, praying that God would help me. God led me to a hospital where I found that he had been admitted after getting very sick as a result of the terrible conditions he had been living in on the streets as he searched for me.
It was truly a miracle that I had been able to find him before Ibrahim with his many contacts. I took my son home with me and we spent the next few months getting to know one another. There was a constant edge, though, knowing that Ibrahim or one of his goons could show up at any time and take Ahmadou back to his father. Then we received news that Ibrahim had died. We were safe.
The tension subsided and Ahmadou got to know the other missionaries on my team, he went to church with me, and he watched as I ministered in the villages. In time, Ahmadou, my precious son, accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior! God was answering my prayers and giving me the deepest desires of my heart.
My ministry continued to grow, but there were many challenges. The villages in which I held the Bible Studies for woman were many miles outside the town where I lived. I had to take a horse cart taxi early in the morning and travel for hours through the dessert to reach the villages. It was dangerous, and hot, and dirty, but this was all I could afford.
By the time I would reach the village I would be filthy and sweaty and I would have to find someone who was willing to let me use their home to freshen up so that I could be presentable in order to conduct the Bible Studies. As the women grew in their faith they were eager to learn and full of questions, wanting me to stay longer and longer each week. But the longer I stayed the more dangerous it became for me to return home on the horse cart taxis in the dark.
The team of missionaries that worked alongside me in the town decided to work together to raise money to buy me a motorized four wheeler so I would be able to travel faster and more easily to the villages. Each of them went to their home base of supporters and told my story, asking for donations.
God moved many people to give generously and the team was able to raise enough to buy, not only the four wheeler, but a house for me as well! I was so excited! These things would open so many doors in ministry. God blessed all of my efforts and I was able to start even more Bible studies for women in my home, and even some programs for children too!
Last Christmas over 250 kids showed up to the program we put on in my home and each of them heard the gospel before they left.”
When the Body of Christ is Not Following God
Suddenly Mariama stopped. The big smile on her face vanished in an instant replaced by a dark sadness. Tears immediately began to well up in her eyes once again and she dropped her head.
We looked over at John with concern. What had happened? There sat our big, strong brother-in-law with tears spilling from his eyes as well. He and Elizabeth sat silently watching their dear hurting friend struggle to find the words to go on.
The silence was deafening. Steve and I still didn’t know what had happened, but we were so a part of her story by now that we found ourselves fighting back tears too as we waited.
“Unfortunately,” she choked out, “one man on the team began to cause trouble.”
There was another long pause, accompanied by many tears. When she started to speak again it was very strained. She would get out a few sentences and pause again, each time she continued her words were more broken.
This woman had shared an unimaginably difficult story with us over the past hour and she had done it with strength. She hadn’t teared up once after she got going but had, instead, spoken with fire and passion. The broken woman who sat in front of us now, weeping and dejected hardly seemed like the same person.
Eventually John began to ask questions and fill in some of the details that they already knew. We asked questions too. As we listened to what has been happening to her over the last year or two we became angry, heartbroken, and frustrated. We were desperate to find some way to encourage her; some way to help her. What’s happening is unacceptable, and I believe it’s the responsibility of the church – the body of Christ – to right this wrong.
Mariama has come under attack from another believer. Another missionary! A brother in Christ and a team-mate in sharing the gospel with the lost people of western Africa. It’s a tragedy like no other tragedy she’s experienced, and it has broken her. The enemy is gaining a foothold.
It was very difficult to get the details of the story because Mariama was so hesitant to share anything negative about this man. She would tell us about her pain, but didn’t want to tell us about what caused it.
Tragically, she has lost her four-wheeler and her home as a result of this situation. Long story short, they weren’t put in her name and have become pawns used against her in the game this man is playing. In addition to that, the rest of her teammates have moved their ministries to other areas of western Africa leaving her relatively alone in this struggle. The ministry has suffered greatly.
Through tears Mariama choked out at one point, “I don’t understand why God is allowing this. I’ve already lost my home. I’ve already been kicked out of my family; first by my husband, and then by my parents. Now I’ve lost my home again and feel like I’m being kicked out of my family all over. I’ve already lost my own children, forbidden to see them or help them grow, and now I feel like I’m losing my spiritual children in the same way.”
My dear friends, this nonsense has to stop! We can’t continue to allow the enemy to divide us. We’re all members of the same family – His dearly loved daughters and sons. We have to start building each other up, and refuse to tear down!
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.
Overcoming the Price of Faith and Following God Together as the Body of Christ
Like Mariama, I don’t know why God allows some of us to be hurt over and over again by the same kinds of betrayals. I don’t understand why He allows men like that other missionary to remain in a position where they can hurt the Kingdom with such intensity. But I do know that He is God and we are not. I know that He has called us to be obedient no matter what others do.
I can’t make this man stop it. I can’t remove him from his ministry. But I can do everything within my power to build up my sister. I can pray for her every day – every time she comes to mind. I can pray that God will protect her and bless her and that He will remove this man. I can write notes of encouragement to Mariama and send her Scripture passages to build her up. (She’ll find someone to interpret them.) And I can do my best to raise the funds to replace what has been taken from her.
****UPDATED – In 2017, when this post was written, we set up a fund for Mariama. We believed that she needed a vehicle – a four wheel drive small SUV this time. She was getting too old to ride a four-wheeler around the desert. It needed to be four wheel drive to get through the terrain, and we wanted it to be big enough for her to be able to take others with her.
Her ministry had reached a point where the women she was discipling wanted to be able to work alongside her. She had never had the means to transport them from one village to another before.
That was the first goal, but what we really wanted to see was for enough money to be raised to buy her a house too. A house she would use to further the Kingdom of God here on earth. She had asked only for prayer, but we knew it would be an encouragement to her to find out that believers from all over the world joined together to stand beside her and say,
“We’re family, following God together. God is the Father of us all and the Holy Spirit indwells each one. We will all spend eternity together worshiping the Lord God Almighty whom we all serve. We will not sit by and let our precious sister be torn down. We will join together and sacrifice with the same willingness that she has had; sacrificing EVERYTHING for the cause of Christ. We won’t let the enemy win this battle! We won’t watch her walk away from such a thriving ministry when we could do something to stop it.”
Several awesome readers of this blog donated to a GoFundMe we set up. Many in our church also gave generously. Within a few months we were able to purchase a car for Mariama!
But that’s not all! Mariama’s story has gone out in other places too. Many have donated. She has saved her own money too, and purchased a piece of property on which she hopes to build as new home that will accommodate some big plans she has for her ministry. You can read more about her story in recent years here.
***UPDATE #2 – As of the summer of 2021 Mariama’s new house was almost complete! She had moved in, and our church was able to raise the last little bit of money she needed to finish the bathrooms. Her house is hub for the women of the surrounding villages. During the pandemic of 2020 she was able to raise funds to provide food to many of those villagers who would have starved to death without her help.
God is working! The price of faith was great for Mariama, but the rewards have been great too. God is faithful.
This is what I ask of you – Will you spend some time praying for Mariama and her ministry? (The Lord knows her real name) Pray that God will bless her efforts and give her a rich harvest of people who give their lives to Jesus as a result of her ministry. Pray for protection for her and her teammates. She is still in a Muslim country, and her life is still in danger. Finally, would you pray for Mariama’s children? I know that her deepest desire is to spend eternity with them, and as far as I know, her daughter still does not know Jesus.
God bless you all. May we each have the courage and faith to live as Mariama has – surrendered to the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies, following God no matter the price of faith!