Joanna discovers freedom from fear and judgement in Jesus Christ
As a Muslim born in Lebanon, Joanna grew up understanding that her many Christian friends were destined for hell for the blasphemous belief that Isa (Jesus) is God’s son, because God is one and never married.
She learned that Isa was a prophet: he healed and raised people from the dead, lived a sinless life, and miraculously created a live bird from clay. But he was a man, not God.
Independent minded, she considered herself a moderate Muslim, but felt uncomfortable with many aspects of Islam, especially the position of women in society and the fear that accompanied it. She couldn’t bear the headscarf, and opting not to wear it in public led to her being judged and sometimes harassed.
‘You live in fear of God, and you’re never sure if he is happy with you,’ Joanna says. ‘According to Islam, if a man looks at a woman lustfully, the fault lies with the woman. So it is like you are in a prison. God is aloof, a master that loves only those who believe in him and follow his commands.’
She moved to the UK and was successful in study and later in work, until a bitter family break-up led her into depression and suicidal thoughts.
She confided in a friend, who very calmly and with great confidence would counsel: ‘Pray, throw your trouble on God and he will take care of you. Tell him: put your foot before mine, please Lord lead the way.’
Her words and strong faith touched Joanna. Her friend deeply loved God and felt loved by God. But her loving God was Jesus, not Allah. Joanna wondered how an infidel could have so much faith and trust in a false God, and how this false God could bestow so much peace upon her heart.
Then four girls moved in next door, all of them Christians. As Joanna got to know them she told herself that she’d do anything to bring up her daughter to be like them.
When one of them invited her to church, she readily accepted. At church everybody was welcoming, and when they started to sing the hymns she was deeply touched. She sang, ‘Here I am to worship’ and cried like a baby.
She heard more about Jesus and grew to love him, but couldn't get herself to sing ‘You’re my God’.
She was so afraid of committing blasphemy and that Allah would be angry. And she feared he was angry with her being in church in the first place. So she endured conflicting feelings: loving going to church, but petrified at the same time.
She told God her confusion, telling him, ‘I am not defying you, I am trying to find you.’
Not long after offering up this prayer, she met London City Mission worker, Jackie, who handed a leaflet about a mother and toddler group taking place at the Paget Centre just around the corner from where she lived.
They started talking. Joanna felt honoured that Jackie visited her at home. She offered to pray, and Joanna was happy to accept. Joanna recalls that though Jackie did not know her well, the things she prayed for were exactly what was needed.
For the first time she felt a release from fear. Jackie assured her that God does love her, she told her that she was worthy.
Soon Joanna started coming to church at Paget every Sunday, studying the gospel with another missionary, Aaron, and his wife. She learned that Jesus Christ is the truth and the only way.
And the more she learnt of the faith, the more she felt that the Qur’an did not seem to understand the Christian faith at all.
‘I felt like I was blind and my eyes were opened. I was in the dark and suddenly I was in the light. And I believed. I repented of my sins and I was able to say that Jesus is my God and it felt good indeed.
‘Jesus is everything Allah is not,’ she says. ‘It was difficult in the beginning to understand that God just loves me, that there was nothing I could do to make him love me. He just loves me’.
‘Since meeting Jesus, it's been like a weight lifted from my shoulders,’ Joanna says. Before, she would worry about doing things for fear of provoking God’s anger. Now her obedience springs from love of Jesus and being pleased to please him.
Fear has gone and it has been replaced by an element of comfort. ‘I don’t have to worry that I am not worthy of his love. It’s just an overwhelming feeling of peace you have with Jesus.’