The Cost of Conversion
Where Peace Is Everything, What Happens to Those Who Leave their Religion?
When someone comes to Christ in a West African culture committed to another religion, like the one Julie, a Pioneer, now calls home, word spreads fast. First they lose their housing; family members kick them out. Any money they get from their families is gone. Young men may be beaten. Women may be harassed, neglected, or abandoned. Any of them may lose their jobs, or if they’re not employed, their opportunities to find jobs.
“They lose community. They lose relationships. They are ostracized in a culture where relationships are everything. The [local] motto or core value translates, ‘peace is everything,’ and so you maintain peace in all your relationships. That’s the most important thing. And so [following Jesus] is like the worst thing you could do in a relationship. It shatters peace and usually the people have to leave town,” Julie explains.
“Especially at the beginning, it’s like being shunned. People don’t sell them things in the market. Taxis won’t pick them up. If a public transport driver knows they’ve come to Christ, they won’t let them on the bus,” says Julie. “We’re seeing this last anywhere from five to seven years.”
“We’re seeing this last anywhere from five to seven years.”
If, however, someone is faithfully following Jesus through that time, the story may take a more positive turn. Their family begins to see that they are sincere and that their lives are actually changed for the better. Little by little, the family may allow them back in, even if a wall of separation remains. Some new believers cannot stand the pressure and isolation long enough, but Julie has seen persecution fortify the faith of others, who cling to Jesus all the more.
Where following Christ comes at such a cost, Julie is thankful to be working alongside local believers who have walked the road. Believers like Sana who was rejected by his family but made a point of moving back to the neighborhood, setting up a home just a few minutes’ walk from where his family lived.
“For the longest time they wouldn’t come to his house. They had to walk by it to get out of the neighborhood, but they wouldn’t stop. They let him visit, though. And little by little through the years they watched and saw that he was sincere. He became a respected member of the community again, and the family took him back. When his father passed away, of all the children Sana was chosen to be the one to divide the inheritance and make the arrangements because he was the one who was most just.”
Can Outsiders Understand?
As someone who grew up in another culture, Julie has come to recognize the limits of her ability to relate to the experience of persecuted West African believers. This helps her appreciate her partnership with local Christians like Sana. “I can show them from God’s Word what He says to be true, but I’ve never been a Muslim. I’ve never been rejected by my family. All these things we’re talking about, I have not experienced them firsthand,” she explains, “but I have experienced the life transformation of Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection, and that’s what I can share.”
Names in this article have been changed.
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