She will never forget the first time she heard his name. She was 12 years old, and had seen on the news that the Americans were celebrating his birthday. They all looked so joyful and she became immediately curious as to why this man’s birthday was so important. It took her weeks, but she finally gained enough courage to bring it up to her father.
“Papa, who is Jesus?”
“Silence, my child. Where did you hear of that name?”
“I saw it on the news, Papa.”
“My dear girl, you are to never watch the news. It is breaking the Islamic code for a young lady to poison her mind that way. The Americans are ignorant. That is all you are to understand about them.”
“I know, Papa. I’m sorry.” She felt a desperate urge to try one more time, “But, who is he?”
“He is a prophet that we are to honor. Nothing more. Nothing less. Now, be quiet and go help your mother.”
A prophet that we are to honor. Nothing more. Nothing less. Dilek had always trusted everything that her father told her, but she couldn’t help but wonder why she had never heard of Jesus. If he was nothing more than a prophet, she should have learned about him in her study of the Quran like she had of Harun, Ibrahim, and Adam.
She is a little girl again. Her hijab is hanging in her bedroom, and she is free. A song is playing that she has never heard before, “Silent night, Holy night, All is calm, All is bright…”
As the music fills the room, she lies on her stomach staring at a dazzling light, like a star. The star is blotted out by the shape of a cross. It casts a shadow on the porcelain figurines below. There is a small baby in a manger and a woman in blue standing above him. A man is standing next to the woman reaching down toward the baby.
She awoke to the sound of gunfire in the distance. She looked out her bedroom window, which faced south, and saw flashes of light. When she listened intently, she thought she could hear the sound of hatred being hurled back and forth between the Americans and the rebels of her own country.
Her eyes settled closed once again and she tried desperately, yet unsuccessfully, to recreate her dream in her subconscious.
As Dilek neared adulthood, she was becoming more and more conscious of her loneliness, her emptiness. Every morning when she would dress in hijab, it felt like crawling into a cocoon that nothing and no one could penetrate. She would talk with her mother and sisters throughout the day, and sometimes her girlfriends would come over to visit, but what no one could see was that she never smiled. She was pretty sure her mother had also found rest in perpetual sorrow.
Each day, she would watch her mother’s eyes very intently as they worked endlessly on chores, attempting to detect a smile. Sometimes, to test it, she would even tell her mother a joke. She waited for the corners to twist upward, pulling her mother’s naturally round eyes into a tighter oval shape, but she never saw it.
No one ever smiled. Except her sisters, who seemed to be oblivious of all emotion. She constantly fought a thought she knew was like a malignant cancer to her faith. Perhaps, the women were forced to wear hijab so everyone could ignore the fact that they were miserable.
As Dilek walked to the market the morning after the dream, she could not erase it from her mind. It wasn’t the strangeness of the magnificent figurines or the unfamiliar music that had struck her hardest, however. It was the appearance of her face in the dream. It had such a ridiculous smile plastered to it, that Dilek, now quite distant from the dream, wasn’t even sure if it was her face.
With a sigh, her mother clatters the dishes into the sink with significant exaggeration. “Yes? What is it?” Her mother had always been a brusque woman.
“Um…Have you ever heard of Jesus?”
Fear immediately replaced irritation in her mother’s eyes as she rushed toward her daughter, grabbing her by the shoulders.
“Sh, my child, you must hush. Why on earth are you asking me such questions?”
“I just… I was wondering why I have never been taught anything about him.”
“You are a woman, Dilek. Your duty is to your father and then to your husband. You are in no position to wonder.”
“Enough. We will speak no more of this. Jesus is nothing.”
Her mother hastened from the room like she were afraid of catching something contagious, as if curiosity could kill.
Dilek walked to the market every morning. She was the best at getting the most for the small portion of money her parents were able to set aside each day for the evening meal.
Crossing the path of American soldiers on her journey was so commonplace that she barely noticed them anymore. The hatred and disgust flowing from them was so oppressive that she never even bothered to look up when she would see camouflage approaching.
It had been months since the dream, and thoughts of Jesus had been pushed to the back of her memory. She considered bringing him up to her best friend for awhile, but the way her parents reacted to her, made her scared.
She lowered her eyes to their usual position as she approached some American soldiers. The rocks below her bounced to the rhythm of her step.
“Excuse me, ma’am?”
The blood rushed to her head and her hands began to shake as she slowly lifted her eyes from the ground. A blonde-haired, blue-eyed soldier was standing before her holding a pice.
“I think you dropped this, miss.”
Oh, Dilek, move. Move your hand. Take the coin. Walk away. Move, Dilek. Move.
“Um…. Th-th-thank you.”
“You’re welcome. God bless you and may Jesus keep you safe.”
As he turned away, she finally gained enough courage to look at him directly. A piece of silver hung around his neck and it tossed a glimpse of light back toward her, the shape of it was unmistakable, a cross.
God bless you and may Jesus keep you safe. God bless you and may Jesus keep you safe.
The words had been a constant echo in her mind for some time now. Everywhere she went, she looked for the blonde-haired, blue-eyed soldier. She knew he would tell her of Jesus. She just knew it.
She had ruthlessly battled vicious thoughts against her Islamic faith for what seemed like an eternity. If her parents found out the things she was thinking, she would most surely be shunned, maybe even killed, if the Taliban heard of it. She thought if she could just satisfy her curiosity, things would be better.
Today, she would rush through the market in order to have time to go to the local library. She made sure to wear her most respectable looking hijab, so no one would suspect her of wrongdoing. Women were not supposed to read, or wonder. Her father, however, had taught her to read when she was very young, before the Taliban. “A book can take you away from here, my darling,” he had said with tears in his eyes, causing her to wonder what could be so bad.
She knew she would find Jesus in the Holy Bible. People reacted to this book in the same way they reacted to Jesus’ name, with terror. The clerk eyed her intently when she brought it to the counter to check out; she was so thankful the librarian was a woman, one of the few that still worked outside the home.
As she handed it back over the counter, the librarian whispered, “Be careful,” and held the book for a second longer than was necessary.
“Yes, ma’am” Dilek responded as she rushed out of the building.
On her way home, she kept checking behind her, convinced she had heard the footsteps of the Taliban on her heels.
She read. All day and all night she read about the man named Jesus. She read of his life, his death, his resurrection. She even read of his return–despite the storm of fear that it created inside of her.
She had to read beneath her blanket using a flashlight she had borrowed from a friend, being careful not wake her siblings, but for three nights, she never blinked, she never questioned, she never tired. The words of Christ were feeding her thirsty soul and slowly filling up the emptiness she had grown used to.
She made sure to continue in her sorrow during the day, so no one would sense the joy that was growing inside of her.
On the fourth night, she cried. Her tears poured out of her from a place much deeper than her emotions; they came from a place she was unaware of until this Holy Bible worked its way into her hands.
“Jesus, I-I can’t. Help me. Please. I’m Muslim. Allah is my king. Please. Jesus. Don’t take me away from Allah.”
As the sun peeked over the horizon, Dilek had quieted herself enough to think reasonably and all she thought of was John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son so that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.”
Dilek had lived in fear all her life–fear of failure, fear of suicide bombers, fear of death. The Islamic life she lead was a prison with guards who forget to feed the prisoners; she was starving for freedom. She knew all that mattered was Jesus. With Jesus, she would welcome the death that was sure to follow.
She could hear her mother moving around in the kitchen when she finally whispered, “Jesus, I love you. I’m yours. You have saved my life. Please, be my Christ forever.”
As she walked to the market that morning, she no longer looked over her shoulder, and when the American soldiers approached, she walked boldly passed them, checking each of them top to bottom for a silver cross.
The Savior of the world loves her. The Savior of the world will come for her. She has nothing to fear. She was so grateful that Jesus had pursued her heart, tormenting her until she finally succumbed to her curiosity.
With an elusive smile on her face, she was weeding through the fruit at the front of the store when it hit her. First, she smelled it, like smoldering meat; the flash of light that came next was so intense it knocked her from her feet; the sound deafened her instantly, transporting her to another world, one of total silence. Finally, the pain overtook her, startling her, even though she had been expecting it. As her life ebbed away, peace enveloped her and her grimace slowly altered into a smile because of what she now knew to be true: Jesus was coming.