Karema - faith exile serves war exiles
After being forced to leave her home country because of her new faith, Karema has become an ambassador for Christ to Syrians made homeless by war. Karema shared with us her journey to Christ from a Muslim background and how God has led her to new ministries while studying theology and training in Lebanon.
Science graduate Karema was working in a technical company in Cairo, Egypt, when her longing for a meaningful relationship with God took her down a surprising path.
“I was a normal Muslim, [often] thinking about God but I always felt we had barriers between me and God.” Karema says, “I thought he would never hear my voice because I am nothing. I was God-fearing more than loving him.”
"I thought [God] would never hear my voice because I am nothing."
The picture of God Karema was being given didn’t ring true for her. As a result, she says, “I started to lose my faith, and my belief in any religion. I thought these religions are all human constructions. I spent two years not believing in God.”
It was a visit to a church with a friend that rekindled her spiritual thirst. “I saw a woman there praying to God in front of [an image of] Mary and Jesus and I started wondering: ‘Is God listening?’ I asked God, ‘If you are there, will you reveal yourself to me?’.
“And he did that,” Karema says, her voice brightening with emotion. “He started to reveal himself as Jesus Christ, not by dreams but by logic.” Karema began reading Christian books and was especially impacted by one entitled We Believe in one God, which explained the meaning of the Trinity.
One of us
The wonder of God humbling himself and coming to the world as a man jumped out for her. “That was very important for me, that God felt with us, that he can feel the pain,” she explains.
A friend then recommended a church in Cairo where Karema could find answers to more of her questions. “They use illustrations from the Bible all the time,” Karema says. “Gradually I started to believe in Christianity and I decided to join the body of Christ and was baptised. I began ministry to the poor with the church.”
It was about a year after she had believed in Christ, that Karema’s family realised what had happened. While she says her mother tried to protect her, Kareema, nevertheless, learned that her life was in danger, and she fled her country to Lebanon.
There, she quickly saw that God was still guiding her when a dream opportunity presented itself. When she had first become a believer, Karema had a longing to study theology and had, at one point, applied to do this in the USA. To her surprise, she was accepted by a colleage in Lebanon and saw this as a clear sign of God’s calling.
From social outreach to deprived communities in Cairo, Karema became involved in Lebanon in ministry to Syrian refugees who had settled in the Bekaa Valley. Based every weekend at a nearby church, she helped with distributions of food, blankets and other supplies and then “began a spiritual programme to take care of their spiritual life”.
“They asked ‘Why are you so kind to us, what is behind this?’"
Karema says, “They asked ‘Why are you so kind to us, what is behind this?’ so we explained how Jesus had put in our hearts to go and help the strangers.”
In her second year, she was based full- time in Beirut where she started several small groups for Syrian refugees. Now, in her final year, with a new Egyptian husband who is a fellow student, she has become involved with different Syrian refugee groups back in the Bekaa.
The local people there who are reaching out to the new arrivals have a remarkable “hunger for the Word”, Karema says. “Every week they ring me to make sure we are coming, they love for us to come, and stay the night with them.”
Now, Karema, her husband and four others travel there each week to teach the Scriptures to these local people and interested Syrians in the community leader’s home.
At the end of this year, Karema will graduate while her husband will have one more year of training to complete. She is grateful for the opportunities they have had to serve God together.
Previously, her husband has had long experience in ministering to people with learning difficulties, helping them grow in independence and integrating them into church life. “Since coming to Lebanon,” Karema says, “he has become involved in ministry with refugee children in the camps and he is doing an amazing job. He really loves kids and is very effective.”
Karema is thrilled with the training she has received. “My understanding of ministry and the mission of God has changed,” she says.
Since moving to Lebanon, Karema has been reconciled to her family, though, for various reasons, she does not know when she will return to her country. She remains hopeful: “I know there are thousands in Egypt who have come to believe in Christ especially after the revolution and after the Muslim Brotherhood rule came to an end. I think in the future our society will change… maybe our Christian faith will affect our politics. But up to now everyone is hiding and keeping their faith underground because it is a crime to change your religion.”