Dhea in South East Asia didn’t want the Bible that a missionary gave her. She tried to destroy it. But something stopped her – and when she started reading it, she chose to follow Jesus. As a Christian and as a woman, she has faced extreme persecution – but remains hopeful and active in ministry.
By any measure, Dhea has had a difficult life. Even before she became a Christian in her South East Asian country (which we can’t identify for security reasons), she faced intense persecution. Things only got harder for her when she chose to follow Jesus.
Dhea grew up in a Muslim community, as does almost everyone in her country. “From a very young age, I had the desire to please Allah,” she says. “As a small child, I would walk to the mosque at 4am for morning prayer. By the time I was 12, I knew the whole Quran by heart.”
None of this diligence protected Dhea from the shame and stigma directed at her when she was raped by a well-respected local man and became pregnant. As a girl, she was both vulnerable to sexual violence and to the community’s cruel response. Despite being raped, Dhea was convicted of a ‘crime’.
“They took me to the Islamic court, where I was tried,” remembers Dhea. “The judgement was a hundred lashes and two years of prison. First, a guard beat me with leather and iron as people stood by watching. They broke my legs so I could not stand but they dragged me to my feet anyway and gave me 100 lashes. After that they put me in prison.”
As Joseph said to his persecuting brothers in Genesis 50:20, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” God used the terrible things that had been done to Dhea to bring about the greatest change in her life.
While Dhea was imprisoned, she contracted malaria and was taken to hospital. While she was there, a man from another country started talking to her. He was particularly interested in why she was in prison.
“He seemed very curious about my presence there,” she says. “We had a conversation of only five to seven minutes, no more than that.”
Dhea later discovered that he was a Christian who had been called by God to go to her country. God had told him to share the gospel there, even though such a ministry is illegal and dangerous. As it was, he was only able to stay in her country for two weeks – during which time, God brought them together.
“If somebody had seen me with this Bible, I would have received even more punishment.”DHEA
He didn’t share the gospel with Dhea then, but he did manage to send her a Bible when Dhea was out of hospital and back in prison.
She was furious.
“I was so angry with this man. How could he send this to prison? If somebody had seen me with this book, I would have received even more punishment, and I was so worried,” says Dhea. She decided the best and safest thing to do would be to burn the Bible.
When Dhea had lit the match to burn the Bible, she paused. “I believed I was already a sinner going to hell, so I thought one more sin wouldn’t make any difference,” she says. “I decided to read it before I burnt it.”
The first words she saw were Psalm 139:16: “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
God spoke to Dhea through those words. Once she’d read them, she knew she couldn’t burn the Bible. It became her most treasured possession.
“For the next nine months, I read the book every day,” says Dhea. “I read things I had never heard before – about a God who was loving and forgiving. I read about the life of the Lord Jesus. All the things I read were new and, although there was nobody to explain anything to me, the Spirit was there and I understood that the Lord Jesus is my Saviour, my God.”
At the end of that nine months, Dhea was allowed to return to her family. Many believers in her country choose to keep their faith completely secret – but Dhea couldn’t help revealing her new relationship with Jesus.
“I read things I had never heard before – about a God who was loving and forgiving.”DHEA
“After I came back, I knew I should not be speaking about what was happening in my heart and in my life, but it was coming out in diverse ways,” she recalls. “I told them what was written in [the Bible], about God, about forgiveness – but they were outraged.”
Leaving Islam is considered a grave betrayal in Dhea’s country. “It’s more than being a traitor. A murderer is better than that. It is the worst thing that a person can do. The person does not deserve to live,” she explains. Her family disowned her, and the whole community turned against her. Before long, she was sent back to prison. “This time it was far worse. They would mock and say, ‘Jesus will come and save you.’”
In her life, Dhea has faced persecution for being a Christian, and because she is a woman. But her faith is still strong. She can no longer live safely in her country, and when she was released from prison she moved to a nearby country.
“People from my country come to me for medical treatment because there are no specialist hospitals at all in my country,” she says. “Most of the visitors are strangers. I open my house for them and provide free food. They all know that I am a follower of Jesus.”
Sometimes, the visitors refuse to sit and eat with her, because she is a Christian. But Dhea continues to show the love of Christ, and can share the gospel with fellow people from her country in a way that wouldn’t be possible if she were still at home. She’s even recently managed to share her faith with her family, after a long period where they wouldn’t communicate with her at all.
Your prayers and support help to make Dhea’s ministry possible. Open Doors local partners support her financially, as well as with spiritual support and encouragement, as she continues her valuable work. She says, “I have I been so encouraged by [Open Doors partners’] love and their heart for my people.”
Your support helps persecuted Christians continue to courageously follow Jesus. Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.