It was winter in her Central Asian home city 19 years ago, when Nora*, a doctor, faced overwhelming discouragement in her family and career. Her country was still finding its way as a recently independent nation, paralleling her personal struggle.
Bilingual in the trade language as well as her country’s native language, Nora had just accepted work as a teacher in a language learning center operated by a group of Jesus followers. She traveled on small city buses in the cold rain between her new students’ homes, helping them learn basic phrases then progressing further into reading and speaking her language.
Seasons passed and Nora acquired more students. As students’ conversational abilities grew, several asked for help learning to read the Bible and talking about Jesus. Nora, raised a nominal Muslim, was politely uninterested in Jesus. In fact, the more she heard about Jesus, the more she felt she should be trying harder to seek God instead. She turned to the Koran and began seriously practicing the Muslim faith embraced by almost everyone in her country. She prayed regularly and tried harder to please God.
Nora began to pray, telling Jesus that she chose to believe in him!
At first, Nora felt pleased with herself, at peace that she was trying to follow God. But she kept teaching students and hearing about Jesus. Sometimes she would gently debate with them, but as she got to know them better, she experienced something previously unknown.
These students became her friends, showing her a new kind of love. They genuinely wanted to know and care for her — they planned surprise birthday celebrations, gave her gifts and prayed with and for her. Nora’s respect for Jesus as a good teacher and prophet grew. She sometimes attended church gatherings and listened to her Christian friends.
Through her students, Nora connected with a Christian medical professionals group and was invited to a conference in Europe. She spoke little English and found herself alone after the conference, in an airport in a foreign country where she knew no one and understood nothing. After hours of waiting for a contact who never arrived and whom she did not know, she prayed in desperation, “Jesus, if you’re real, would you get me out of here? If you do, I’ll believe in you.”
The more she heard about Jesus, the more she felt she should be trying harder to seek God instead.
A few minutes later, Nora approached an information desk where a man spoke to her. Somehow, she understood him, even though she sensed his language wasn’t hers. He asked what was wrong, called her contact and arranged transportation to her lodging. Later that evening, while lying in bed as a stranger’s house guest, Nora realized the only explanation was that Jesus had made it possible for her to get there. Remembering her earlier promise, Nora began to pray, telling Jesus that she chose to believe in him!
When back home, Nora shared her experience with a few people. She often attended house church meetings, so some of her student friends soon realized the depth of transformation that had begun. Over the next few years, Nora faithfully gathered with other believers and soaked in every opportunity for growing in her new faith.
She understood Jesus was not just a good teacher or prophet, but the Son of God, and what that could mean for others.
In a country where men see themselves as culture defenders and are often slow to hear Jesus’ call, Nora usually met with groups of women. They were mostly unmarried or widowed or had been abused or abandoned by their husbands. A local leader was eventually needed for the group, and the mission team sensed it was time to ask Nora to lead it.
Nora was uncertain at first. But she was studying God’s Word, learning to depend on prayer and willing to serve. She looked for opportunities to grow as a leader. Missionaries partnered with local leaders to offer training seminars for new church leaders on the Bible, leading groups and the meaning of church. Nora attended and grew in the wisdom and maturity of faith the Lord had already given her.
Today, several years later, Nora continues to grow in her faith in Jesus. As I drank tea with her in my living room before leaving the country for a new assignment, I was amazed at her depth of wisdom as she spoke about caring for and discipling the wounded women in her group.
Nora has discovered a spiritual gift of evangelism and loves working with the elderly, even seeing her mother come to faith in Jesus in her final months — something nearly unheard of in a culture so bound by Islamic traditions. Nora loves sharing her journey, meets with other house church leaders for prayer and fellowship and gently challenges people to understand Jesus’ love.
In May 2019, Nora attended the International Conference of The Wesleyan Church (ICWC) in Barbados. For the first time, she met men and women who serve in leadership roles around the globe and was encouraged to hear their stories and learn what God is doing in their churches. Nora publicly shared her story there, thanking those who had helped make her faith journey possible. She closed her testimony with these words:
“There is less than one percent of people in my country who are following Jesus. So, we are the first generation of Christians … We have a great need for missionaries, for workers. I know that it’s because of missionaries that were sent to us that I am before you … God orchestrated all of that.
“But it was because people were sent to me that I am here. I want to say thank you to all of those who were sending these people, because you have a great role in this. You sent these people to us …
“Even though I’m a leader now, I still have a great need. We haven’t grown up in Christianity; we don’t have that Christian culture, and we need examples of what it looks like to follow Jesus.”