Over the past two years, I have traveled frequently to the Middle East and worked as an international missionary and humanitarian under my grandmother, Dr. Michelle Corral.
My eyes were opened and my cultural understanding was deepened.
I have gained a new understanding of people and a new sensitivity to social norms.
Although America is a melting pot of people from all nations, it is no secret that most of the people living here are Westernized, and American society makes it easy to mindlessly stereotype people of different cultures.
Being American and Christian, there are specific areas of the Middle East where I must be ultra-sensitive to how I behave as to not offend nor draw attention to myself.
Hostility towards Christians in the Middle East
There is an undeniable hostility to people of Western Culture and even more so- Christians of the West.
This is NOT just a stereotype, and is indeed a fact. I have learned and observed this firsthand.
During my most recent travels to the Middle East, I had a layover at an airport in Saudi Arabia, where I witnessed how radical ideology influences behavior.
“Christian persecution,” according to Open Doors USA, “is an ongoing and serious problem in Saudi Arabia.
The nation is built on Wahhabism, a purist and strict interpretation of Islam.” Christians are seen as second-class citizens, and apostasy is punishable by death.
Although I remained in the airport while in Saudi Arabia, the hand of radical Islamic ideology can be felt and seen, as most women are in full, head-to-toe black Niqab and Burka dress.
Admittedly, I allowed my knowledge of the persecution of Christians and experience of hostility toward Westerners to harden my view on this Islamic society.
My mind began generalizing and stereotyping. I felt the Holy Spirit dealing with me on this, and my heart became saddened.
I started wondering what the life of a Christian was like in this country. I imagined living life of secrecy and fear, and being unable to freely choose which religion to share and partake in.
Upon leaving Saudi Arabia to fly back to the United States, all passengers had to go through extra security measures.
Men went to one side to be checked, and women went to another separate room, where lady security guards thoroughly checked us to ensure we were not carrying anything illegal on the plane.
I waited in line, and the security personnel doing the checks was a young woman, fully clothed in head to toe black Niqab, with only her eyes showing.
As she ran her hands down the sides of the women, she was quite abrasive and shoved people along. (I am sure this was because of the long line of people she had to go through.)
“Something Incredible Happened”
When my turn came, she began her routine, and at first was kind of forceful–until she came across two necklaces that I had exposed on my neck.
One necklace was a colorized picture of Jesus, and the other was a gold medal of the mother of Jesus holding Him as an infant.
She stopped when she came to my necklaces, and instantly, her demeanor changed.
She picked up each necklace and stopped to really look at them. I began praying and asking the Lord to reveal Himself to her–asking Him to show her His love for her.
I had no idea what she was thinking, and I began praying that she wouldn’t be offended by them, but instead would see Jesus and Christianity for what it really is, which is love itself.
Then something incredible happened. She looked at me and softly said to me “Thank you, sister.”
I was stunned. What did she mean by this?
I didn’t know what to say. We looked at each other for a moment, and I smiled at her. We exchanged something I can’t quite explain.
It was a mutual understanding. She told me something with her eyes–she told me she was Christian. Then she showed me to the exit, and I went forward onto the plane.
That moment remains with me.
“I met Christ behind the Niqab.”
While I prayed that Jesus would reveal Himself to the young woman behind the Niqab, Jesus actually revealed Himself to me.
He seemed to tell me, “I am in the hiding. I am in the oppression. I am in the suffering.” The silent exchange between the girl and myself made me realize how deeply each of us is connected to one another.
It surpasses culture and heritage. It is too easy to forget that the Jesus who we worship in Church is the same Jesus being persecuted in parts of the Middle East and throughout the world.
The Jesus who revealed Himself to me when I was a young girl is the same Jesus who revealed Himself to me in Saudi Arabia through the young woman.
That experience was and continues to be a reminder of the mission of our Christian life, which is to love people–all people, regardless of race, culture, or religion.
It is a reminder that as much as Christ is in the Church and in the triumph, He is in the suffering, the persecution, in the hiding and in the secret places of the heart.
I met Christ behind the Niqab.