Miriam Finds PEACE
The decade of the ’90s was difficult in Algeria. The cancelled electionsin 1992 and resultant clashes between private and political representatives made life hard—even deadly for the Kabyle minority that was often targeted. In the midst of these trying times, I was often troubled by fear—for myself, for my brothers, for my friends. In an effort to find hope, I began to pray, but not as before; this time I prayed to Jesus, for protection and comfort, just like the man in the film I had recently seen.
Words that Comforted
Life in Algeria was frightening for me, and my entire family was feelingthe effects of the hardship causedby the political turmoil. The firstfamily member to “escape” was my uncle, who, in 1992, left Algeria forFrance with the intention of applyingfor asylum as a political refugee.With his departure from the house,I had access to his bedroom where Idiscovered a treasure trove of books,one in particular—the Bible! Amazedand thrilled by my discovery of theChristian scriptures, I began to readthem with wonder and expectation.What a coincidence, I thought, thatthe very same year I had become thefirst in my family to get serious aboutinvestigating the teachings of Islam,and to begin practicing the prayerritual common to the faith, I had alsofound a Bible!
I began reading first in the book of Genesis, but quickly got bogged-downin the unfamiliar stories. So I skippedto other parts of the Bible hoping tofind something more interesting. SoonI discovered the Psalms and Proverbs.The more I read of these, the more I felt a connection to their message. Over the following months, amidst the turmoil that raged in Algeria, and especially in the Kabyle region, I turned time and again to the words of the Psalms for comfort.
Words that Burned in My Heart
A year later, in 1993, my grandfather left for France to undergo an operation. While he was in the hospital, someone gave him a copy of the Jesus film in his native tongue—Kabyle. Overjoyed to finally have a copy of a film in his mother tongue—and as far as he knew, the ONLY film in Kabyle at the time, my grandfather longed to return to Algeria to show it to us all. As soon as his hospital stay was over, grandfather returned to Algeria with the film, excited by the possibility of showing it to the whole family. I still remember the day shortly after grandfather’s return when I along with all my brothers and sisters and cousins piled into grandfather’s bedroom to watch the Jesus film on the only videocassette player in the home.
I was deeply touched by the film and especially by the person of Jesus. At the end of the film, there is a scene in which a narrator appears and explains the purpose of Jesus’ life and death on the cross, and then leads in prayer. Hearing the prayer in Kabyle was deeply significant for me. I had never heard anyone pray like that in Kabyle before. I was riveted by the words which seemed to express the deepest feelings of my heart. For a long time afterwards, the memory of that prayer and those words burned in my heart.
As time passed I eventually made my way reading through the rest of the Old Testament. Eventually I found the New Testament and the Gospels. As I read, I couldn’t help but recall the events surrounding the life and person of Jesus—the Jesus that I had seen in the film. Reading the words took me back to the scenes of the film, and I could almost hear Jesus talking and see Him walking.
The Word Shared
One day while crossing through the center of our town, I saw an old friend from high school who, to my great surprise, was preaching the Christian message in the public square! I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t remember this guy to have been a Christian when we were in high school together. I wondered what had happened to him...and why he was putting himself in danger by speaking so openly about Jesus. Didn’t he realize that this was a Muslim country? I stood at a distance so that I could hear him but not be too close in case someone saw me listening. He must have recognized me, for afterwards he came running up to me calling out my name. We talked and he asked me what I thought about what he was preaching. I wasn’t sure how to respond. He seemed to be saying some of the same things I had heard in the movie and that I had read in the Bible. He handed me a copy of a book—a Gospel of John, part of the New Testament of the Christian scripture, he explained. Then he invited me to his church. A church? In my town? In Algeria?
Now my family was pretty “open”in the sense that my parents were not overly strict about clothing and Islamic rituals, but I knew that going to church with some guy from high school was not going to be possible! I had, however, an irresistible urge to go see what church was all about. I did read the Gospel of John that he gave me and again I was deeply touched by the life and words of Jesus.
Words that Troubled and Attracted
In 2000, I made my own way to France in an effort to leave the difficult circumstances of Algeria behind. Without papers and without a stable living situation, life was hard. One afternoon I was invited to the apartment of an aunt who lived in Paris. Thrilled to be included, I accepted the invitation and was glad to meet a number of her neighbors and friends. At one point in the afternoon, one of the ladies, Elaine, bowed her head and appeared to pray before she ate. I was surprised, for we never do anything like that in Islam! I watched her for a time, and finally rustled up the courage to ask her if she was a Christian. She said she was, and then asked me the same thing. I fumbled, stuttered, and, not wanting to appear rude, told her that I believed in Jesus! When I looked over in the direction of my aunt who must have overheard our conversation, I saw her face screwed up in an expression of shock!
To avoid making a scene, I motioned for this lady to follow me into the hallway. I showed her the copy of the Gospel of John that I always carried with me since the day my high-school friend had given it to me. Elaine was very pleased and invited me to come with her to church the following Sunday.
Some months later was the beginning of Ramadan—the month of prescribed Islamic fasting. I had by now been to the church several times with my new friend Elaine. I was still reading the Gospel of John that I carried with me everywhere I went, and still turning to the Psalms and praying in Jesus’ name when I felt afraid. But for some reason I began feeling troubled, overwhelmed by doubts with regard to the Christian things I had been reading and to which I was feeling increasingly attracted. In my confusion, I decided to follow the fasting regimen of Ramadan.
The Word that Invited Me In
The Sunday following the beginning of my Ramadan fast, I was in church. The tradition of the church was to share a meal together after the service. Because I was keeping the fast, I tried to slip quietly out the back, hoping no one would notice me. But just as I was going out the door, Elaine caught me by the arm and asked why I wasn’t staying to eat with everyone. I didn’t want to hide anything—least of all from Elaine—so I admitted that I was feeling unsure about all this Christian “stuff” and that I had begun to follow Ramadan. I guess I was expecting Elaine to react in some way and perhaps tell me how bad I was or how bad Islam was. But she didn’t. It’s like she wasn’t even surprised. And Instead of the shock and rebuke that I expected from her, Elaine encouraged me to pray and ask the God of Creation to reveal Himself to me. Surprised and encouraged by Elaine’s kind and wise response, I spent each of the next three evenings on my knees praying to the God of Creation, asking Him to reveal Himself to me.
On the third night, after praying, I fell asleep and had a dream. In my dream, I found myself in the midst of a huge room—like a stadium with a covered roof. The stadium was filled with people of every race and of every age: adults, children, babies, and grandparents. As I looked around and tried to take in the sights and sounds of the crowd, I felt alone and a little lost. After a few minutes an older woman came up to me and said, “You look like you’re a little lost.” I replied that indeed I was. And then I asked the older women who she was, who all these people were, and what was happening. As the woman talked, I noticed in the center of the room a line of people that led to a person standing in front of a large desk, dressed in what looked like the robes of a judge. As I watched the judge, from time to time he would open a door and the person in front of him would go through it and leave the stadium. Other times the judge would gesture to the person in front of him to leave. Puzzled by this, I asked the
woman what was happening with the people in the line. The woman replied, “If you want to find out, you have to get in line.” So, I did.
I waited patiently for my turn to face the judge. When I finally did so, Inoticed indeed that he was standing in front of a large and beautiful desk. Behind the desk was a huge bookshelf full of beautifully bound books, the titles of which were written in gold letters. On the desk in front of me I noticed three large books. On one was written “Holy Bible” and on another “Holy Koran.” The third book I did not recognize. Seeing the Koran I remarked to the judge, “I see that you have the Koran.” And the Judge replied, “I have respect for true Muslims.” And then he added that it was up to me to choose one of the books. I at first felt myself drawn to the Koran as it reminded me of Algeria and the faith that I had become familiar with as a teenager. But suddenly and inexplicably I picked up the Bible instead. At that moment the Judge said, “I am proud of your choice. Now you can enter by the door.” With these words, the Judge turned and opened the door. As He did so, I was struck by an overwhelming scene full of
warmth and brightness that filled the space beyond the door to which I was inexplicably drawn. The next thing I remember was waking up from my dream with a great sense of joy and peace knowing that I had made the right choice.
Convinced by the dream that the Bible and its message is true, I stopped following Ramadan. The next Sunday I went again to church, this time with renewed energy and expectation. I found my friend Elaine and excitedly told her about my dream—the stadium filled with people, the judge and the books, the door and my choice...and the joy and peace that I felt. Elaine was thrilled. She helped me understand the significance of the symbols in the dream. And I prayed, this time asking Jesus to forgive my sins and fill my life