Bless This House
by Anna Brown
My life began several years before the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. As a citizen of one of the states in the former Soviet Union, I grew up knowing very little of the freedom and affluence experienced in Western nations. Islam was the dominant religion in my country, and my family followed the way of our ancestors in practicing folk Islam—a type of Islam that has beliefs and practices of other religions mixed in. My parents tried to please God. They led our family to read aloud the Koran on holy days, and remembered the souls of dead holy people whom they believed would bless or protect us. As I grew up, I practiced these things.
For Want of a House
I was the youngest of three children, born to parents who were educated people. One of the hardships my parents faced was not having a house of their own to live in. Once for three months my parents, older brother and sister, and I lived in a tent, and for several years we lived in a metal wagon. During this time I went to a pre-school from Monday until Saturday, where I slept every night. This school was for children whose parents could not take care of them—either because of alcohol or drug abuse or other problems. I stayed in this school from age two to six, missing out on the love and attention I needed from my parents.
In order to get a house for our family to live in my parents moved to the countryside and started to literally build their own house. Because the salary from their jobs was not enough, they would take things to Russia to sell, staying there for months, hoping to make a profit and return with enough money to complete building the house. Most times when my parents went to Russia, they came back with no money—either the mafia would steal what they had or the fruits and vegetables they took to sell would go bad on the way. When my parents were gone, my older sister and brother took care of me like they were my parents. As a little child, I did everything I could to help build the house, carrying bricks and pieces of metal needed for the construction.
During these years, basic provision of food was a challenge for everyone. Once when I was eight years old, I fainted from weakness due to poor nutrition in my diet. My mother became very upset, and my father took some of our family’s precious money and went out and bought a chicken. It was a big treat for all of us!
Typically, families in my country have close relationships, but none of our relatives came to look after us when my parents were gone to Russia. This was mainly because there was extreme tension in my father’s family. Actually, my father, born right after WWII, was given away by his birth mother and grew up as practically a slave in a wealthy family’s home. He was, however, given a good education. He was sent to the best university and became a scientist. Later he began teaching at a university and that is where he met my mother.
Customarily when a son got married, the new bride would move in with her husband’s family. My father and mother and their two children, born in the first years of marriage, lived with my father’s adoptive parents for seven nightmarish years. When my mom would try to cook a little food for her children, my dad’s stepsister would make it impossible by removing parts of the stove to stop the gas from flowing. Or if my sister and brother played with a ball, she would cut the ball up, saying they were making too much noise. Because of this tension, when my mom had me, my parents decided they had to move to another place. They left everything behind, taking nothing with them, and started their life over again. This step of independence brought condemnation from the rest of the family who accused them of being bad parents and not giving their children a good future. So it was no surprise that when we were destitute, none of my dad’s relatives came to see us.
When I was nine years old, I began to seek after God. I attended a neighborhood Koran study for girls where we learned how to read Arabic, how to read the Koran and how to please God. I got to know stories of heaven and hell, stories about Mohammad, how handsome he was and how he is the best prophet—the best and the last. My motive for seeking God was to get him to bless my family. Because of the family’s financial problems, there was no peace. My mom would complain that there was no money to feed the kids. My dad would sometimes scream at her. One day he threw potatoes at her, and she had a big bruise. Seeing my mom crying was heartbreaking for me. She was my best friend and I loved her. In order to earn God’s favor, I tried to do good deeds as the Koran said I should. I was ready to give up school, to pray five times a day, and wear a scarf as Moslem women do. My heart’s cry was, “Oh God, if you could, please bless my parents, bless our house, bless our family!”
My prayers, however, came back empty. The house was getting harder for my parents to finish. They were almost always off in Russian working, my brother was studying in the city, and we hardly saw each other as a family. Life was very difficult!
When I was 13 years old, I started going to school in a different part of the city—far away from where we lived in the countryside. My mom’s sister offered us an apartment she owned as a place my sister and I could stay. We soon found out that our neighbors in this apartment building were Americans. Meeting Americans was a great event for us, and they were definitely people like we had never met before. They were very kind and helpful, inviting us often to have dinner with them because we had very little food. They told us that the day they met us was an answer to their prayers. They had prayed for someone who could speak English with them. My mom had learned English at the university and was able to help them shop for food and understand how things were done in my country.
These Americans said they were Christians. They would tell us that God loves us and he has a special plan for our life. In all my life, I had never heard of this! I had learned what the Koran said—that God created man to test him, and if he perseveres and does well, he MIGHT go to heaven after this life. That is what I believed. As much as I liked the Americans, it worried me that they had a Bible in my language, and they believed it was a holy book, and they believed in Jesus. I had been taught that Jesus was a foreign God, and I was loyal to my religion. For two years, these kind neighbors told us about Jesus and his love, though they never tried to argue or prove it. They just showed it with their lives.
A Major Fire Escape
One day when I was 15 years old, in the middle of the night, my sister and I woke up suddenly and found a huge fire in our living room. Some blankets and wooden furniture were in flames. Smoke was everywhere. We got a bucket and started throwing water on the fire. After many hours of battling, we somehow quenched the fire. What remained of our apartment in every room was all black. Every wall was black. It was terrifying! I just stood in the middle of the room with my sister and cried. The next morning the Americans came running to our apartment, and they could not believe what had happened. They told us to leave everything as it was and come to live with them. I remember washing my hair in their bathroom and seeing the black filth come off. It was a wonder we survived, breathing in all that smoke.
My sister and I worried a lot about our mom coming back and seeing the apartment all burned up. We cried a lot…and I kept asking God, “Why, God, why don’t you want to bless us?” The family we were now staying with would read verses from the Bible to us which gave us incredible peace and hope. They showed us a movie about Jesus and I was completely overwhelmed. At the end of the movie Jesus invited people to “Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest.” I felt God was speaking to me—I was the one who was tired and hungry. I prayed, “Jesus if you are who you said you are—if you are really God, I am coming to you. Please take my burden and give me rest.”
The House that God Blessed
Over the next few months, changes did begin to happen in my life. My mother came from Moscow and my sister and I told her that we had become Christians. At this point she was pretty much a broken person, and she was Though I grew up in brokenness and hardship, Jesus found me and invited me to come to him and know his love. Today I serve him with all my heart. He is my reason for living. I still don’t understand the why’s behind everything that happened to my family, but I have seen Jesus change my life and the life of my family. I have learned that I can trust him. I have felt his love and peace in my heart. He has heard and answered my prayers, blessed my family and given me a life that I had always hoped for. He is a good God—and I am forever grateful to Him for loving me and for having a wonderful plan for my life. willing to wait and see if the Christian God would make any difference in our lives. I began to have many of my prayers for my family answered. Doors of blessing began to open. My dad started toearn good money in Moscow. He earned more money in one year than he had ever earned in his whole life. Imagine that—more money in one year than any other time before in all his working years! Our greatest need was financial, so it was amazing that God provided in this way.
My heart began to be filled with peace and joy. I had a sense of belonging to a good God—and that our family had a hope for the future. I had assurance of my eternity, of being with God both now and after I die. Seeing the changes God was making in my sister and me and how he was blessing and answering prayers, my mother put her faith in Jesus too. Within one year, all my aunts became believers, and even my 65-year-old grandmother gave her heart to Jesus. My brother who had been a strong Moslem resisted Jesus until one night he was drugged and left in the middle of the street by his Moslem friends. Strangers found him and brought him to our house. When he woke up, he cried out, “Jesus, forgive me!” He confessed that he knew Jesus was real and he wanted to know him. So my brother, too, became a follower of Jesus.
Though I grew up in brokenness and hardship, Jesus found me and invited me to come to him and know his love. Today I serve him with all my heart. He is my reason for living. I still don’t understand the why’s behind everything that happened to my family, but I have seen Jesus change my life and the life of my family. I have learned that I can trust him. I have felt his love and peace in my heart. He has heard and answered my prayers, blessed my family and given me a life that I had always hoped for. He is a good God—and I am forever grateful to Him for loving me and for having a wonderful plan for my life.