Story
28 February 2024

Sara’s dad said she was worthless. You can help her know her worth in God.

Sara in Iraq was rejected by her father and told she was worthless - all because she chose to become a Christian. You can help Sara - and women and girls like her - know their value.


Sara
In Iraq, Sara's father told her she was worthless when she became a Christian

What’s the most shameful thing a woman can do in Iraq?

In the eyes of the conservative Muslim-majority culture, eloping without your family’s permission is high on the list of disgraces. But when Sara* became a Christian, her father said eloping would have been better in his eyes. “I would have preferred if you ran away with a man to get married, and not done this,” he told her.

It’s hard for many of us to understand quite what a brutal statement this is. Sara’s dad was effectively disowning her – calling her worthless. It was terribly painful for a young woman who had always enjoyed a close and loving bond with her dad to hear. She says, “I felt very scared and shocked, as my father has always been kind to me.”


Sara’s life changed when she was given a Bible

Sara grew up in a Muslim home, but faith wasn’t discussed much. She hadn’t expected such a strong response, especially since her father didn’t regularly read the Quran or go to the local mosque. While only 0.4% of the current Iraqi population are Christians, Sara grew up in a neighbourhood with many Christian families – before conflict and Islamic extremist violence caused many believers to flee. And Sara has always been curious.

"I would have preferred if you ran away with a man to get married, and not done this." Sara's father

When Sara was 15, she decided to go to church with her Christian best friend – just to find out more. The security guard on the door wouldn’t let her in. Muslims weren’t allowed. In Iraq, anybody converting from Islam to Christianity is likely to face significant pressure – and anybody encouraging Muslims to convert is equally vulnerable. Sara’s presence in the church could have caused them danger. The security guard might even have worried it was a trap.

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But Sara’s curiosity wasn’t thwarted. Her friend gave her a Bible, and she eagerly read it. “I felt confused about what I read,” she remembers. “Many questions started building up in my head: how can God have a son? What does it mean that Jesus died for my sins?” She went to her father for answers – but he refused to discuss it. “Leave it, and don’t read it anymore,” he demanded. But she couldn’t stop.

Sara's father reacted with fury to her faith

Despite these obstacles, Sara continued to explore Christianity. Her friend taught her the Lord’s Prayer, and Sara started praying and worshipping. Eventually, she decided to give her life to Jesus. It was so transformative that she wanted to share her new faith. She was excited to tell her parents about Jesus. She took a chance during a family dinner.

"God loves you, and He wants you to come to Him." Sara

“God loves you, and He wants you to come to Him.” Those are the words she shared – and that’s when her dad first showed her his anger. He flipped the dinner table over. “All this time you are asking about Christianity, I thought it was just some teenage phase,” he shouted. “But apparently I did not raise you right!”

Sara was put under house arrest immediately. Her dad took her phone and locked her in her bedroom without food. “Let’s see how your God will get you out,” he taunted her. Sara wasn’t allowed out for ten days.

House arrest and forced marriage

This punishment sounds extraordinarily cruel to us. In Iraq, it might not have raised much attention. It’s common for women and girls to be under the control of their fathers in Iraqi culture, with decisions made for them and discipline meted out as the male relatives see fit. Sara’s father took things to extremes, but many people wouldn’t question a father’s right to force his daughter to stay at home. After ten days, Sara’s father told her something even more alarming: “Tomorrow you will marry your stepmother’s nephew. I did not raise you right – but maybe he will.”

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When women and girls have few rights, persecutors can use this as a weapon. The persecution of Christian women is complex, because the methods used are often part of the fabric of a culture. That can include house arrest, violence, forced marriage or even so-called ‘honour’ killings. This faith-based persecution is so blended into the culture’s everyday treatment of women that it’s unlikely anybody would protest Sara’s treatment. Nobody would do anything to rescue her.

Nobody except God.

Sara’s miraculous rescue

Though quite new in her faith, Sara wouldn’t budge in trusting the Lord. “Even though my situation seemed helpless and impossible, I still had hope and faith in Christ,” she says. “Every night, I dreamed I was in a dark place and there was someone reaching for my hand, taking me out to a very bright place.”

"Even though my situation seemed helpless and impossible, I still had hope and faith in Christ." Sara

On the morning that Sara was going to be forcibly married to her Muslim relative, the dream became a reality. “Someone came like a light, held my hand and dragged me out of the locked room,” she says. “I felt like I was in a trance; it was like a dream. He put me in a silver car. That morning, I woke up in a hotel room in a city in north Iraq, hours away from where I lived.” She later learned that security cameras at her home had stopped at exactly the time she was rescued.

“At the hotel, a security officer told me, ‘Usually, a girl leaves home because she runs away from her father out of fear, or runs away with a man. What’s your story?’

“‘Yes, I ran away with someone,’ I said to the officer.

“‘Who is he and why isn’t he here?’ the officer asked.

“At that moment, I got courage and said to him, ‘He is here with me. He is always with me.’

“‘Who is he?’ he asked.

“‘God.’”

The God who broke Peter out of prison in Acts 12 is the same God who helped Sara escape from her father’s prison! After two days, her dad came to get her from the hotel. “All this happened because you challenged God,” Sara told him. “You said, ‘Let your God get you out of here’ – and He did!”

Help in despair

Sara’s father went back to their home, but Sara stayed where she was. As an unmarried, unprotected woman in Iraq, she faced continual harassment from men who wanted to exploit her – including sexual harassment. It’s not always possible to disentangle the persecution a Christian woman faces for her gender and the persecution she faces for her faith, as they are often tightly intertwined. This makes Christian women even more vulnerable.

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“I felt very lonely and hopeless – but I kept my faith and kept praying to God,” she says. Every time she was a targeted by a man, God intervened to help her, enabling her to move to a new job or a new living situation. He never failed to protect His daughter.

One desperate evening, she shared her story with a local restaurant owner. It turned out that God was guiding her yet again. “You came to the right place,” the man told her. “I’m a Christian – from today on, you are my daughter and I will help you.”

“When he said this to me, I felt like it was God talking to me through him,” Sara says. He found her a house and paid her rent, and also got her a job. God showed Sara how much He valued her.

Sara knows God’s Fatherly love

Throughout all her ordeals, Sara never stopped believing God would support and comfort her. He has been her true Father, when her earthly father disowned her. She even found out that her father had erased her name from the family record. Losing her family continues to be extraordinarily painful for Sara, but she still knows that choosing to follow Jesus was and is the right decision.

"After I found Christ, my life transformed completely. I started to know love." Sara

“Before knowing Christ, my life was empty,” she says. “I didn’t have the joy and peace that I have now in my heart. Yes, in my old life all material things were provided. But I had no real stability.

“After I found Christ, my life transformed completely. I started to know love.” Despite what she’s experienced, Sara praises God. “I am grateful for all the bad things and experiences I’ve been through. I got to know Him better, and I was transformed into His image. I have never regretted the decision I made.”

Open Doors support

Converting from Islam to Christianity is dangerous for anybody in Iraq – but it’s particularly risky for women. Without the support and protection of her family, Sara is extremely vulnerable. Thanks to God, and how He uses the gifts and prayers of Open Doors supporters like you, women and girls like Sara can find help at Centres of Hope. These are run at Iraqi churches by local Open Doors partners and offer women livelihood support, various kinds of training, and biblical teaching – as well as emergency food and aid, where needed.

EVERY £45
could help train a woman to know her value in Christ and strengthen other women in her community.
My gift

Sara is thriving on a discipleship course for women, and is grateful for the many ministries provided at the Centre of Hope. “My ministry is to taxi drivers,” she says. “I talk with them about God and distribute Kurdish Bibles to them.” Her prayer is that she’ll be able to change her legal status – a very difficult barrier in Iraq: “My hope and dream is that I get an identity card that says I am a Christian; that I belong to Him in my ID as well.”

Show Sara she’s valued today

Sara’s future can look more hopeful, thanks to the ongoing support of people like you. She now has a new family – at the Centre of Hope, but also Open Doors supporters around the world. There are countless other women and girls in Iraq and many other countries who need the same help.

People told Sara that she was worthless. There will always be persecutors to tell Christian women that they’re worthless. Today, will you show women like Sara that they are valued? Your gifts and prayers can do exactly that.

*Name changed for security reasons


Please pray
  • For Sara’s prayers for a new ID card declaring her a Christian to be answered
  • That each persecuted Christian woman around the world would be seen, valued and empowered to reach her God-given potential
  • That local Open Doors partners would find strength, joy and wisdom as they offer themselves as Jesus’s hands and feet.
Please give
  • Every £20 could give four women biblical literature to help nurture their faith
  • Every £30 could help a persecuted woman start a small business, giving her long-term financial security
  • Every £45 could help train a woman to know her value in Christ and strengthen other women in her community..

 

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