My best friend, *Hama, had come to faith. On a mountain picnic overlooking the city, he had professed to me his love for Jesus, his brokenness over his own sin, and his desire to live and die for Jesus. Several months of Bible study in the book of Matthew, many long discussions, a near-death experience, and a dramatic answer to prayer had led him to this point. Really, it was more like decades of preparation as the Holy Spirit used even events in Hama’s childhood to make him ready for the gospel when he finally had a friend to explain it to him. An elderly ethnic Christian woman in his neighborhood had modeled a heartfelt love and respect. Italian Christians had sheltered him in a church when he was making his way through Europe as a desperate refugee. The Muslim taxi drivers in the UK had begun to unwittingly reveal to him his own hypocrisy in his professed Islamic faith.
It had been a long journey for Hama to be ready to give his life to Jesus. But, like many new believers, Hama immediately began aggressively sharing his faith with his family and friends as if they should be able to see the truth immediately. His passion was admirable. His methods, well, I often had to encourage him to talk about Jesus more and spend less time bashing Mohammad and Islam. He was in what he and his wife *Tara would later call the “attack helicopter” phase. He quickly got into heated arguments with his mother and sisters and he and his pregnant wife were kicked out of the family home. Work as a wedding musician was already slim for Hama and now they were practically homeless, heading into the hottest months of the summer.
Hama had a nephew who invited him to stay with him in his house. It’s not typical for young men to have their own house, but Hama’s nephew had been gifted one by a very powerful patron, the wife of the president. In a previous era this nephew’s father had served as a bodyguard for this powerful woman and had died in the line of duty – at the hand of Islamic extremists, if I remember correctly. Because of his father’s loyalty, Hama’s nephew was taken care of. He later went on to become a famous television personality who regularly got into trouble for taking shots at Islam while on air. He had a house, he was close to Hama, and he was no sympathizer with conservative Islam, so it made sense that Hama and Tara would end up staying with him. He was utterly confused by Hama’s new faith, in spite of our attempts to explain it to him. But it was a good temporary solution until Hama’s family cooled down and accepted his new identity, which they did, several months later.
Tara, however, felt as if her world were collapsing. Her first pregnancy had ended in a traumatic miscarriage. Her new husband had now apostatized. Midway through her second pregnancy, they had been kicked out of their home. She was terrified that God would punish them for Hama’s apostasy by causing the second child to die also. We began to pray specifically that God’s protection for this baby would soften Tara to the faith of her husband. I would still spend the night at their place once a week, often studying English and the Bible late into the night with Hama. Tara was still as respectful a hostess toward me as ever. But every time the Bibles came out, Tara would get agitated and leave the room. Hama insisted that we keep going because he noticed that sometimes she would do chores just close enough to be able to overhear our discussion.
This went on for the next couple months. Hama’s family refused to talk to them. Tara’s pregnancy got more uncomfortable. The summer heat reached its worst stretch. And Hama’s work almost completely dried up. It was 2008 and the financial crisis had brought the local economy to a standstill, leaving precious little money to spend on live wedding musicians like Hama. Tara’s stress and anxiety has reached the boiling point.
One evening she couldn’t take it anymore. After yelling and arguing with Hama about how all this had been his fault, she broke down in tears. Hama tried to comfort her and to help her calm down. In spite of everything, their love for one another was deep and strong, enduring the kind of season that has destroyed many other local marriages. When a little while had passed, Tara asked Hama how, in contrast to her, he could possibly have peace and joy in the midst of such a terrible season.
“It’s Jesus,” Hama had replied. “Jesus has filled me with such joy. Even though this is the hardest time of our lives, it is the best time of my life because I now know Him.”
Tara chewed on Hama’s response. Then she replied that whatever Hama had, she wanted it. From that point on she began sitting in on our Bible study together, listening intently. Hama soon began reading the scriptures to her when she had trouble getting to sleep because of pregnancy pain or fear. Soon she started devouring the Bible on her own, surpassing Hama in her passion for reading. Their suffering had brought Tara to a point of desperation. But it was Hama’s joy in the midst of suffering that had overcome her fear. She had seen that deep peace and joy in the midst of suffering were possible – and the power of that sight overcame her fear of studying the Bible. She was not yet a sister in the faith, but she was well on her way.
*names changed for security
Photo by Kristine Weilert on Unsplash
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