Natalia's Story

Foreword by Jared Wilkins, pastor at Willow Creek

 

At Willow Creek, we are blessed to have a BIG FAMILY, with people who are from all over the world, who believe in the power of Jesus Christ!  Just like my family of 6 has different personalities, our Church family has that plus different cultures, ages, races, languages, perspectives, and the list could go on! I have the privilege of leading Mosaic, a ministry that is devoted to learning from the diversity of our congregation and moving the conversation forward on reconciliation. A fundamental way to practice this is through Listening, Learning, and Loving.


During May, we celebrate Asian-American and Pacific Islander month, and we will have an opportunity to Learn from a few members of our family.  I invite you to Listen, Learn, Love, and allow these compelling stories to shape your perspective as our hearts grow together.

 


 

Written by Natalia, part of the Willow family

I was born and raised in Pakistan, where being female has its challenges and being a minority woman is even worse. She has no voice, no stand, and no respect in the male-dominated society.

Life is different and difficult in developing countries like Pakistan. I grew up being constantly ridiculed and made fun of because of my faith. According to my critics, I believed in three gods. I was called an infidel. So not only was I shamed for being female—I was berated as a Christian female.

Amongst my most popular names was chora, toilet scavenger. If I drink water from a public fountain in Pakistan, no one else can drink from it since it’s unclean now; an untouchable drank from it.

I often wondered why I was different, why I couldn’t just fit in and be like the others. I wished I knew how to recite the Muslim prayers because when it was prayer time, everyone would leave what they were doing to go and recite prayers together. I was left to sit alone and ashamed, wondering how I would be taunted that day. People asked me, “Why didn’t you go and say your prayers?” I explained I am a Christian and say my own prayers. Immediately I was called kafir, which means infidel.

College was a gloomy place for me. I was told if I didn’t start covering my head, my hair would be shaved off, which is meant to be the utmost embarrassment. A typical comment I heard was, “Christian girls are fit for rape.” I started wearing a head covering so that the constant threats would hopefully end.

As the years passed, I graduated from college and started working. My boss started suggesting he could help me by marrying and converting me. It made me uncomfortable, but being a woman, it’s hard to complain against a man. No one would ever believe a girl who accused a man of inappropriate behavior—let alone a minority girl.

One day while I was at home with my mother, we got a call from my grandparents’ neighbor who said my grandfather was being condemned for an act of blasphemy and that we must come there. My mother told me there was nothing we could do since we are just women, so we started calling their neighbors and friends who lived close by to find out the details. After countless calls, we finally managed to talk to the shopkeeper near their home who said there was an angry mob surrounding my grandparents’ home and that no one knew what was happening. Their neighbors were shocked because my grandparents had lived in the same house for more than 30 years, and everyone knew they would never be intolerant or disrespectful to any other religion.

It was a panicked and a painful situation for us as a family. We didn’t know where to go or what to do. That same night, we got a call from the maulvi (religious cleric/priest) who told us that my grandmother converted, and we were invited to join her. If we wanted to live a peaceful life, we must follow our family’s patriarch religion, which was now Islam.

After a few days, we learned that my grandfather was being held in a cell where they keep the most dangerous criminals. The reports were out in all newspapers and local TV channels. It was hard for me to go to work since my boss continuously offered to make me his second wife to save me from my family’s disgrace. [1]

A week after my grandfather was taken, my grandmother passed away. She was a healthy lady with no medical conditions, so her death shocked us all. What’s worse is she had a non-Christian burial, and even now, we don’t know where is she buried. My grandparents had bought two burial plots together, but now she couldn’t use it. My grandmother waited a long time to marry, to find a Christian man and build a life with him, yet she will not be laid to rest next to him.

The man who plotted this scheme against our family confiscated our ancestral property, business, and wealth, and our bank accounts were frozen. It was a dark time for my family. We were looked at as evil people who did this heinous crime. But the truth was my grandfather was innocent. He did nothing. It was a plot to shame him, kill him, and take over everything we had. We were told we had no right to live in a country that didn’t belong to us. It was an Islamic state exclusively for Muslims.

In that difficult and dark period, my relationship with God began to grow. I had no one else to depend on. I was scared to death. I’d been threatened by the maulvi that if I wouldn’t get married to a Muslim, I would be abducted. Already I knew the repercussions. We saw a friend who had her face disfigured and nearly lost her life after she refused a Muslim man’s advances and he threw acid on her in retaliation. [2] [3]

We were put on house arrest for our supposed crime, and I left my job out of fear and shame. During that time, I grew closer in my walk with Christ. Psalms of David spoke to me. He talks about his enemies coming from many directions. His enemies are countless, but God saves him. I could relate to those verses.

And just as God helped David, he helped us. We were able to come to the United States through asylum and although we were forced to leave our country without money or anything else, we were welcomed here and embraced by loving people.

I have a hard story, and some might think that would make me angry toward Muslims. But I know not all Muslims are hateful fanatics. I understand the religion of Islam because I learned and read it. Some of my close friends today are Muslims, and I hope that through prayer and demonstration of Christlike love, they may come to know the truth in Christ. It is my goal to be an ambassador of hope and peace, bridging the gap between our two communities on the basis of love.

“Love thy neighbor as thyself….

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