– In this story –
Zaid* – Syrian man who lost a leg in an explosion while fulfilling compulsory military service, stuck in Syria because the government took his identification papers
Serena* – former devout Muslim woman married to Zaid’s brother, believed in Jesus after three dreams
Um and Abu Zaid* – couple who came to faith as refugees in Near East, travelled back to Syria to care for son
Ellie* - OM worker in the Near East Field who discipled the family during their faith journey
Their neatly wrapped headscarves stood out, identifying the Muslims mingling among the Arab Christians and expats gathered for Sunday service at a local church in the Near East. It was an unusual place for Ellie, an experienced worker living in the region, to meet Muslim seekers, but this family was unique.
Um Zaid, Abu Zaid and their family “were very interested in our faith, and somehow they got such a hunger that they started coming to church,” she described. Several times police questioned the family, even entering the church and taking them out. “But they were very stubborn, so they kept going back,” Ellie said.
After witnessing the family’s persistent desire to know more about Jesus, Ellie began visiting them at their home. She shared about Jesus with the extended family and gave an audio Bible to Um Zaid, who couldn’t read.
Every time she visited, Um and Abu Zaid wanted to know more about Jesus--“they were searching and seeking for truth”--but they weren’t ready to abandon their own religious tradition, Ellie noted. “It was like they were sitting in two chairs. They would believe in Islam, but they would also believe in Jesus, so they didn’t really make a choice.”
In the midst of learning about Jesus, Um and Abu Zaid worried relentlessly about their eldest son, Zaid, who had remained behind in Syria, caught up in the military conflict. He hadn’t wanted to be part of the war, but after his uncle, Um Zaid’s brother, was beheaded for refusing to fight in the army, Zaid joined the military to preserve his life.
Several months after Ellie met the Syrian family, they learned that Zaid had sustained substantial injuries. “He was in a massive explosion, which caused him to lose one of his legs. The other leg was screwed up…screws and plates and everything. Also, his intestines were outside of his body, so he could have died,” Ellie shared.
The medical facility there didn’t provide proper treatment or food, so Um and Abu Zaid began making plans to go back to Syria to take care of Zaid.
“I remember everyone was telling them, ‘Don’t go back to Syria. You’re never going to be able to come back to [the Near East] again because you’re on refugee status here,’” Ellie recounted.
But Um Zaid’s heart as a mother trumped the community’s caution. Loaded with food, clothes and blankets, Um and Abu Zaid left.
While the couple was out of the country, Ellie and other Christians continued to pray, not knowing where they were or what had happened in Syria.
Months later, “when they actually came back, their skin was burnt from the sun. Abu Zaid almost died because he had a heart attack on the road. It was just crazy,” Ellie explained. “They were travelling from one border to another by foot in the excruciating heat, sleeping in the open air, snakes, scorpions—it sounds like a movie, but it’s true.”
Um Zaid told Ellie what had happened in Syria. “We had to leave Zaid there, and we don’t know if he’s going to make it,” she confided. “When we were there, I had a cross with me. I went to my son, and I said, ‘Listen, you need to believe in Jesus. Jesus is going to heal you.’”
Then she gave Zaid the cross.
“I couldn’t believe it—a Muslim woman doing this!” Ellie exclaimed.
With the family back in the Near East, Ellie went to her home country for a season. “I kept praying for them, and I kept sharing about this family for a long time,” she remembered. When Ellie returned to the field, she caught up with the family.
Serena, married to Zaid’s brother, shared, “I was a very, very devoted Muslim. I was completely against any Christians, and I hated Christians. I didn’t want to see them, I didn’t want anything to do with them,” she admitted.
Having arrived in the Near East, however, she saw how the war had torn her family apart. What is this? Is this our religion? she wondered. For four months, Serena studied the Qu’ran. Then, since she was attending church with her family, she also procured a New Testament, the Injil.
“For months after studying the Qu’ran, she got so confused because she saw so many contradictions…so she started studying the Injil,” Ellie said. “She couldn’t eat. She couldn’t sleep. She was so depressed, she didn’t know what to do.”
“God, I want you to show me who you are!” Serena prayed. Then she had three dreams.
First, Serena dreamt that she and her young son were standing, holding hands, when Jesus came to them, took their hands and said, “I am the one you’ve been searching for.” In that dream, Serena began to feel incredible peace.
The next night, Serena dreamt that she was standing in a large field, wearing a white dress, surrounded by thousands of sheep. She addressed the multitude of sheep, saying, “Jesus is the Lord. Jesus is the Lord.” All the sheep began repeating her words: “Jesus is the Lord. Jesus is the Lord.”
After the second dream, Serena asked the pastor what it meant. He told her she would become an evangelist for masses of people, who would then believe in Jesus.
Finally, Serena dreamt of Jesus on the cross. “She sees the wounds, she sees the blood, she sees the love in His eyes, and then she woke up from the dream, and she’s like, ‘Yes Lord, I believe You are the Lord,’” Ellie recounted what Serena had told her.
Prior to Serena’s conversion, “she had always been in the conversations, but she didn’t say a lot,” Ellie remembered. Later, Ellie couldn’t believe the new things Serena expressed: “‘I was a slave, but now I am a child of God.’ And she would be like, ‘[in Islam] everything is the law, the law, the law. You have to do this, and this is haram (shameful), and this is haram, etc. But now I am free—it’s love.’”
When Serena told Ellie about her decision to follow Jesus, she also explained that the whole family had come to faith—“Um Zaid, Abu Zaid, Serena and her husband and the other brothers. One is leading worship in the church now,” Ellie said. “It’s so beautiful, but they’re like babies in their faith.”
Although she was out of country when the family decided to follow Jesus, Ellie subsequently stepped in to “make sure that the foundation is really solid going from Genesis, throughout the Old Testament until we arrive at Jesus. I feel my role is more discipleship and also encouraging them to share, encouraging them to reach out to others because they want to, but they don’t know how and they’re afraid,” she said.
In order to help the family grow in their knowledge of God and Scripture, Ellie began weekly Discovery Bible Studies (DBS) with the family, asking them to share the stories they learn with others.
“Serena feels so afraid to share, and she’s also not sure how to share,” Ellie said. “I told her, ‘It’s OK. God will show you, step by step. Just take the small step of obedience.’”
Meanwhile, Um Zaid reported that Zaid, still in Syria, had also become a believer. God had miraculously healed him and also provided a prosthesis for the leg he lost in the explosion. He learned to walk again and married a girl he had known since before the war started.
“I saw a little video clip of him dancing with his bride. It was so beautiful,” Ellie said. “They are very happy now, and he actually got a job…. It’s like a new life for him.
“God has the power to use terrible things…to reveal truth and [to stir] up hunger in their hearts, drawing them to Himself as well as revealing Himself through supernatural stuff like the dreams they received,” she explained.
There are still a few of the wider family members who haven’t come to faith, but those following Jesus continue to pray that God would also show them the truth.
Pray that the believers in the family would grow deeper in their faith. Ellie also wanted to invite one or two other Syrian believers to join the DBS group: “That’s our prayer for now, that it will really develop more and more into a house church.”
Nicole James is an international writer for OM, passionate about publishing stories of God’s work among the nations and telling people about the wonderful things He is doing around the world.