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    Secret Believers: Glimpse of Another World

    January 28, 2008 by Brandy Vencel

    Rarely do I read a book that I wish to recommend to everyone. Usually, I read books that I would recommend to certain people, or perhaps to no one at all {not because I do not like them but because the mere mention of their title or subject matter causes the eyes of people around me to begin to glaze over}. I admit I am interested in more subjects–more ideas–than most people I meet.

    But Secret Believers is different. If you are a Christian, I highly suggest this book. It is perhaps the most encouraging book I have ever read.

    I don’t think I realized how jaded I was concerning the Muslim issue until reading this book. I see myself in its pages, right there with the Christians who forgot {and forget} that Muslims really can be converted to Christianity. This is what I mean when I say the book is encouraging: it revealed to me that there are true conversions in the Middle East, and those true conversions give me great hope.

    But today, I think I will focus a bit on suffering. It is easy to forget what the Church in the Middle East goes through every day. It isn’t just the overt persecution that got to me–there is ongoing, unrelenting social pressure from all sides. They are truly a second class, and they need our prayers.

    Today, I will give quotes from the narrative portion of Secret Believers. I edited a couple of them to better explain the context. As you read these quotes, I encourage you to pray for our brothers and sisters living in the heart of the Muslim world.

    Under the philosophy of dhimmitude, Christians were permitted to exist, but they were penalized by extra taxes and second-class status. {p 17}

    “When it rains, we put bowls and basins on the pews and floor. Now, look at the walls.” They walked over to the nearest wall and Butros observed the cracks and peeling paint. “You see, yes?”

    Butros nodded. He understood the problem. Any church that wanted to make repairs needed to get permission from government authorities. And permission was almost never granted.

    “Do you know how many years we’ve tried to fix the roof or the bathroom? I can’t remember the first time we filed for a permit. And yet look outside.” The priest grabbed Butros by the arm and led him out the door of the sanctuary and pointed to the building abutting the church. “Anyone can get permission to build a mosque. They built that four years ago, even though there is another mosque two blocks away. Look at those loudspeakers pointed right at us. Sometimes during our services, they turn on the speakers and try to drown us out with their noise.”

    Butros sighed. He’d heard similar complaints throughout the country. The condition of church buildings was deplorable. {p 30}

    The Islamic texts taught that Christians should either pay the jizya, a special tax levied on Jews and Christians, or embrace Islam. Or they should be killed. {p 35}

    “At one time, this area was a larged walled compound with a school, a hospital, and homes for the missionaries,” Butros explained as he parked behind the church building. “The government nationalized the school and hospital many years ago and expelled the mission organization that ran it. All that remains today is the church, and we are very grateful for its presence in the heart of the capital city.” {p 57}

    “In some Muslim countries there is no church, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia to name two. At least here, you have an established church where you can meet legally.”

    “Legally maybe, but under their control,” Butros answered. “They certainly do not want to give us the freedom to develop, to flourish, to grow.”

    “So you are under the eye of government authorities?” Andrew asked for clarification.

    “Worse than that. We live under constant societal pressure,” Yusef answered. “We are always aware that we are being watched, and that someone wants to prevent us from doing ministry.” {p 58}

    He was shocked to learn that the Christians were not allowed by the Muslim majority to draw water from the village well. The only water available to Christians was from a small well in the church compound, but it was not enough. {p 60}

    “The situation in Suq al Khamis is tense right now. Muslim fundamentalism is on the rise. Young men are calling for a greater commitment to Islam. They are demanding that the government repeal Western-style laws and submit only to Sharia law. The government is concerned about their influence. In some nearby villages there have been attacks against churches and Christians businesses.”

    Father Alexander spoke and Butros translated: “If we let Muslims [{who claim to have converted to Christianity}] into our church, we endanger the whole congregation. The police can close down the church. The extremists could gather a mob and burn the church down, and also our homes. It has happened. And the police will not stop them.” {p 63}

    “Muslims who become followers of Christ pay a high price…[E]ven the genuine converts, they are considered infidels according to Islamic law. By helping them, the church commits a criminal act in the eyes of Islam. If it’s discovered that a pastor baptized a former Muslim, that is considered deserving of death.” {p 64}

    This was the first of what Butros knew would be several long days waiting in government offices so bureaucrats could tell him he needed to fill out another form or provide them with another document. Sometimes the process was legitimate. More often the official wanted bakshish, a bribe to speed the process along. {pp 74-75}

    “When my father came home, he and my brother searched my room. They found a Bible and a couple of other books about Christianity, and with the correspondence course, they burned them in the backyard and made me watch. They tore the Bible apart page by page and threw it in the first. ‘This is what we think of Christianity,’ my brother said as he tore the pages and burned them. ‘We don’t want this in our house. This is vulgar, immoral.'”

    Salima started to cry again, and Nadira pulled a couple of tissues from the box and placed them in the girl’s hand. Salima went on to tell about the terrible months that followed. Her father beat her. Her brother removed the television, stereo, and books from her room, and for many weeks she was locked in her room, not permitted to leave. {p 80}

    The wife worked at a hospital. She said, “I was denied a promotion because of my husband’s conversion. They threatened to have him arrested if I protested.”

    Another man held his son on his lap as he told how he had been a Christian for three years. “My wife is still a Muslim and her parents are putting pressure on her to leave me and take the children and go back home.” {p 89}

    “The police surely knew [the crimes we committed], but they left us alone. The Christians have no rights. What can they do?” {p 92}

    “Before they are baptized, they could go back to Islam. After baptism there is no going back. It’s a death sentence. Any Muslim can kill them.” {p 94}

    “What possible charges could they face?”

    Butros blew out a puff of air, then stopped and looked up at the sky that was turning red in the east. “They could be accused of insulting a heavenly religion. It’s illegal to put down any religion, though it’s interesting that the law is only enforced when Islam is the religion attacked. They could be accused of threatening national security. They could be accused of blaspheming the Prophet. They could be accused of desecrating the Quran.”

    “Obviously they haven’t done any of those things.”

    “It doesn’t matter. All it takes is one angry Muslim to make the accusation, to say he saw them tear pages out of a Quran or something like that. Or they could be accused of proselytizing, trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. They could be accused of holding an illegal meeting. Or they could just hold them without charges.”

    “How long can they hold them without charges?”

    “Sixty days. But sometimes they extend the incarceration for another sixty days. And then another. They may or may not ever appear in court. And you can be sure they’ll be tortured. That’s common practice.”

    “Are their lives in danger?”

    “Could they be killed while in prison? Yes. It has happened.” {p 118}

    It didn’t matter that his country had signed the charter of the United Nations that says all citizens enjoy freedom of religion. The laws of Islam superseded all other legal systems. Not only did these officials not respect his freedom to choose what he believed, they treated him as subhuman because of his decision. {p 120}

    “[T]here have been other parts of the country where Christian girls were kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam. Sometimes they are kept as slaves to the family. Someitmes they are given to a man as a wife and also forced to do slave labor. {p 133}

    Carefully the priest explained the challenges that the two would face if they married. “In the eyes of the government, you are both Muslims. Neither of you have changed your identity cards, have you?” Both shook their heads. “Of course not. It is almost impossible to do–unless you are a Christian and become a Muslim. The good news is that means you won’t have problems getting a marriage license. It’s a lot harder if you have different religions on your cards.

    “There is another problem.” Both looked up at him. “I don’t know if this is the right time to bring it up, but you should think about this before you marry. Your children will be considered Muslims. You need to think about how you will handle that.”

    They were silent as they thought about this; then Ahmed said, “I want our children to grow up as Christians. This is very important.”

    “In your home, fine, your children will be Christians. But what about when they go to school? If they have Christian names but their ID cards say Muslim, teachers will ask questions. And how will they relate to fellow students?” {pp 152-153}

    As a minority consisting of only 5 percent of the population, it was expected that Christians would be repressed by the Muslim majority. But lately the threats had become more overt. Imams were preaching more provocative sermons, calling Christians infidels and the West enemies of Islam. Local cells of the Muslim Brotherhood were taking a higher profile, and though the government publicly advocated a moerate position, allowing the Christians had historically always been part of the region, local police authorities were generally letting the radicals have their way. Fundamentalists were insisting that women cover their heads, closing down theaters and stores that sold alcohol and pork, and in some cases attacking churches. Young women seemed to face the greatest danger–there were increasing incidents of kidnapping and forced conversions to Islam. There were also cases, especially in larger cities, of inducements to convert to Islam–promises of a better job or a free apartment were attractive incentives to a poor Christian man. {p 170}

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    2 Comments

  • Reply Brandy January 28, 2008 at 6:50 pm

    Absolutely! I want Si to read it, but right now he is immersed in his copy of Colson’s The Faith (which he says is great). I am sure you have plenty of time to read it before he is ready! I heard an Internet rumor about how fast you read. 🙂

    I wish I could have heard your speaker. A talk like that would be a wonderful companion to this book…

  • Reply Mrs. Mpl January 28, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    Brandy,
    Can I borrow that from you sometime? It sounds really good!

    We had a speaker at church (from Iran) who was talking about the dangers facing us in relation to Islam. When someone asked what we can do in regard to radical Islam, he reminded us that Christ is the answer for Muslims as much as He is for anyone else. In other words, Love Your Neighbor.

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