Beautiful Encounters with Jesus

Shireen M.

I was raised in Saudi Arabia, where it is illegal to have a church or own a Bible.

My family is Greek Orthodox so, at a few months of age, my parents took me to Syria to be baptized. I was fully immersed into the water three times at a convent. If you were to witness this event, you would hear the baby desperately gasping for breath between each dunk. It’s quite thrilling and terrifying at the same time for the parents. Yet it’s the biggest milestone in a baby’s life in this culture – bigger than a first birthday. You invite everyone and people literally travel from other countries to witness this event. It’s usually followed by a huge party; like a wedding.

Yet I want to point out that, even though this event is a huge celebration, the meaning of it can easily be lost. My parents who raised me in Saudi Arabia never taught me anything about Jesus. I didn’t even know we were Christians or who Jesus was. I remember being asked at school if I was a Muslim or a Christian and I didn’t know the answer.

“I didn’t even know we were Christians or who Jesus was.”

The seed was first planted when we moved to Florida when I was 10, back in 1990. I remember a handful of young Gideon people entered my classroom and distributed the Gideons New Testament with the Psalms and Proverbs. I knew there was something special about it, so kept it in my treasure box. I didn’t open the book till I was 13, when we moved back to Saudi Arabia. There was no church; nobody to give me any spiritual direction. Yet I had the most beautiful encounters with Jesus, just by spending time with his Word. It was then that I developed a relationship with the real Jesus, outside of religion. It was a beautiful demonstration of how God’s Word nurtured me.

Looking back, this was a real demonstration of Isaiah 55:10-11: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

Two years ago, on my 40th birthday, I took the decision myself to be baptized. It wasn’t my parents’ choice on my behalf. In my journey with God, I have experienced healing, friendship, love, arguments, doubts, and revelations I never imagined I would.

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” – John 1:12

When I look back at my life, I have seen this truth unfold, “With your mouth you have promised and with your hand you have fulfilled.” 1 Kings 8:24. I have found that true peace is the overriding assurance of God’s loving presence through all circumstances. It doesn’t depend on physical healing, happy endings, promotions, or any material things. I also learned that a relationship with God is not something you inherit, or a birthright. It’s an adoption – a choice where I respond to his invitation every day because the King has adopted me as his own daughter, and I can live as such in His kingdom.

In taking the step to place my faith in Jesus, it is not because I am a better person. I am still the weak, predictable, unwise person I have been. I often say the wrong things and lose focus on the important things in life. On the other hand, God is constant, faithful, kind, loving and trustworthy. He doesn’t wait till I am good before he takes me in. He invites me into His abundant life just as I am. For me, the life-changing moment was when I received God’s word in the Bible from The Gideons; it has been a transforming journey from the start.

“For me, the life-changing moment was when I received God’s word in the Bible from The Gideons; it has been a transforming journey from the start.”