By Sheri Webber
December in Northern Africa, like a bracing wind, greeted a young couple who were new Christian workers to the region in 2006. Having left everything they knew, and settling inside the task God had set before them, Ray and Sarah* embraced the culture. And to do so, they had to learn the language, quickly.
Ray and Sarah began looking for a local tutor for themselves and their four children. Aziya*, a young woman with a bubbly magnetism and stylish appearance, immediately won the affections of the family. She had majored in translating and teaching English and began to tutor the children three times a week.
Ray and Sarah used a different tutor at first, but soon switched to Aziya as well. Eventually, Aziya offered language training and translation to several other families. But these were no ordinary families. These families believed and hoped and relied upon the one true God. Those eight adults enjoyed Aziya’s positive spirit and tireless guidance, and so they began pouring back into her life — both tangibly and spiritually. She received translation projects, often involving Scripture, and was encouraged to study the Bible. Several years later, Aziya stepped into a new phase of life and married a local Muslim man.
If becoming a wife in the middle of the Arab Spring revolution was not difficult enough, Aziya also wrestled with questions of faith. She knew, deep inside, that her students-turned-friends had an unwavering, living faith that she desired. The emptiness she had felt, despite practicing cultural-religious traditions, kept thoughts of God’s mercy and salvation constantly on her mind. It was after Aziya’s first year of marriage and a difficult pregnancy that she grew increasingly restless about her faith. Sarah and her friends hosted a baby shower and continued to reach out with help and encouragement. Before long, however, Ray and Sarah moved to a town three hours away and lost touch with Aziya, who had divorced and begun working for a local school.
Ray and Sarah continued to pray constantly for Aziya, even though they rarely saw her. They believed God had plans to prosper and not to harm, plans to give Aziya hope and a future.
Sarah never forgot Aziya, nor did she stop praying. Every Tuesday since 2010, Sarah has prayed for the petite, young woman with a flair for Western fashion. Sarah’s prayer journal marks the days and many prayers.
Years of praying went by before Sarah heard the rest of Aziya’s story. One afternoon they reunited in a restaurant. Sharing tears and holding hands across the table, Aziya told Sarah about her life since they had been together. A girl who excelled at language and loved to giggle showed no doubt as she told Sarah how her life had changed when she heard God call her name. Aziya sat beside her daughter and Sarah, sharing what had happened since 2018.
That November, Aziya had felt a deep discontent that drew her to God. “I heard Him call my name, and the other problems never seemed the same again. God is God, and there is no other,” she told Sarah. Her answer to God was, “Yes, Lord. Here I am.”
A few months after her commitment to follow Jesus, Aziya was in an automobile accident. The other driver assaulted Aziya at the scene. He punched her in the face, breaking bones in her ear, then left her to live or die. Aziya survived but endured three months of partial deafness and blindness during her recovery. Daily, she faced the likelihood of losing her hearing altogether in one ear. She expressed how her slow, painful recovery was only possible to endure because Christ was with her in the darkness. Eventually, her hearing was fully restored though headaches lingered.
Over the past year, Sarah and Aziya have kept in close communication, even as the coronavirus became a global pandemic. Aziya and her school-age daughter were diagnosed with COVID-19, resulting in Aziya losing half her lung. During her illness she clung to the words her daughter often repeated at her bedside: “Mama, we can pray. God can hear us.”
Today, Sarah and Ray continually pray for Aziya and her family — for her daughter and her older sister who are growing in faith, and for her other siblings who are far from believing.
Will you join Sarah and Aziya in praying for those steeped in religious cultures apart from Christ? Will you pray for redemption, unexpected miracles, protection, personal revelations, and revival in every corner of the world? Will you pray for others, like Aziya, to hear God call them by name?
*Names changed for security reasons.
Sheri Webber is a contributing writer for the IMB.