In 2017 we met a refugee couple from the Middle East, Dariya and Hesam, who at the time were leaders of several underground churches in countries where following Jesus is illegal. Both Dariya and Hesam became Christians through profound, miraculous encounters; but because of severe religious persecution and imprisonment, they had to flee their country as refugees.
Since their former government could no longer pursue them, the government began pursuing Dariya’s father Muhammed, who was raised Muslim. An avid reader, Muhammed was one day searching for books in the marketplace. At the bottom of a pile, he found a very thin book that caught his attention. As he began reading, he thought, “This book is speaking the truth! This book is from God!” That book was the book of Matthew. Muhammed helped to bring his wife and daughter to faith through other miracles that happened in his life and theirs. After his wife had passed, he lived on a small pension with his son, Narin, who battles chronic illness and cannot work. His daughter had married a pastor and were able to leave the country; however, they were raising their children on indigent pay, leaving Muhammed living on a meager income.
Because of the profound impact that his daughter and son-in-law have had in planting online churches in the Middle East, Muhammad’s government charged him with the crime of being a Christian. Muhammed had never hidden his faith. On government ID’s, the people must state their religion. If they put “Muslim,” then no one bothers them. But if they put “Christian,” they risk imprisonment, persecution, and even death. The prisons in Muhammed’s country are not like those here in the U.S. Rooms are small and packed with people, who are often beaten, tortured, and sick from the food. Officials have even broken the feet of Christians so that even if they are released from prison, they have no hope of ever working or returning to a normal life. Out of fear, many Christians state that they are “Muslim” on their ID’s; but from the beginning, Muhammed openly changed his status to “Christian.”
At the age of Muhammad’s retirement, he was sentenced to seven years in prison. If sentenced, Narin would be left destitute. When Muhammed went before the judge, the judge ordered him to pay the bail, leave the country, or go directly to prison. The bail was almost 500 times what Muhammed had in his bank account. Two of Muhammed’s Muslim friends stepped forward and put-up security for his bail. Muslims do not do this type of charity for each other, and especially not a Christian. But Muhammed was such a light of Christ to everyone he knew that even the Muslims stood up for him in court!
Because of God’s provision, Muhammed was let go, but he only had ten days to leave the country before the officials could come to his house and take him to prison. Even then, if Muhammed tried to leave the country with a passport stating that he is a Christian, his name would be found on a list of people sentenced to prison, and he would then be arrested at the airport. And even if he was able to flee the country miraculously, he could only enter one other nearby country because of COVID restrictions at that time. Even then, in his new country as a refugee, he would never be allowed to work a normal job, only jobs that typically require hard labor, and he would receive little, if any, government aid. He would lose his pension, and he and his son would be destitute.
When we learned about Muhammed’s situation, we prayed with Dariya and Hesam and asked our church’s prayer team to pray for Jesus to make a way. Through prayer, God brought donations and an agency to help Muhammed to get their first year of living expenses in Turkey and plane tickets to get them out of the country. But when Dariya presented the plan to Muhammed and Narin, Narin didn’t want to leave. He feared that they would have no future: they’d be dependent on others, they could get COVID from the flight, and they had no personal friends in the new country where they were going. Days were going by, and every day that went by, the officials could knock on the door. But Dariya and Hesam kept praying, and finally, Narin said “Yes.” They set the day that within five days, they would leave.
Twenty-five days after Muhammed was sentenced to prison, they finally made it to the airport. That night, while they were at the airport, we got together with Dariya, Hesam, and another missionary and started praying. We prayed that the Holy Spirit would put a covering over the eyes of the security officers who could arrest Muhammed so that the officers wouldn’t see him, stop him, or see that he was a Christian on his passport. There were two gates and another officer that Muhammed had to pass to get onto the plane.
At the first gate, the attendant stopped him and said, “You only have A one-way ticket. You must have a round-trip ticket. No one leaves the country with a one-way ticket – that’s the law.” Lines were forming and people were already boarding. So Muhammed called Dariya to tell her the problem. Muhammed and Hesam tried to reason with the attendant, but she wouldn’t budge. In the meantime, the gates were closing. Quickly, Dariya bought a second ticket online, but the attendant couldn’t see the ticket on her screen. Muhammed pleaded with her, “They’re closing the gates! I’m going to miss my flight!” So Dariya and Hesam started praying. At that moment, without knowing what was happening, we were on a Zoom call with some faithful friends gathering to pray for them. At the moment we were praying, the attendant saw the ticket on her screen and let Muhammed and Narin through the first gate. The attendant also requested that the plane be delayed so that the two could make it onto the flight. The next step was the officer. But, just as we had prayed, the officer got distracted, didn’t see them passing by, and didn’t stop them from heading toward the gate. God had covered them! They had one more stop, but again the security officer did not stop them. They got onto the plane and made it safely across the border into another country.
Within just a short time, Narin found peace, and the joy that Muhammed felt over what Jesus had done for them was inexpressible. Today, Muhammed feels that he has a new life and is exploding with ideas of ways that he can serve God freely. He even wants to get a theology degree so that he can grow in the knowledge of the Word and minister more powerfully back into his country. Within one year, Dariya and Hasam received full funding from a local church and support from an international mission’s agency to continue their work for the Lord.
What we see from Muhammed’s story is that the Holy Spirit moves in the most miraculous ways when we pray together with other believers over specific names and situations. It’s through the details of our prayers and through faith in the power of Jesus’s name that we recognize how powerfully our Father listens and moves on our behalf. We praise God for his goodness!