She Loves and Knows Him
By Anna Batyuto
In a police station, in front of a police officer, is a tiny young woman who looks almost like a child.
“Your mother wants to make the trip to Mecca but can’t do it because you are a Christian. Deny Christ!” The officer says these words again and again. This is not the first time Zulfiya has been in this place.
“You’ve told me that before,” she says, “and what was my answer then? It hasn’t changed.”
This woman’s incredible peace and the awareness of God being near her give her words and inner core a strength even the police officer can feel.
“Maybe I should take you to the basement and have some ‘fun’ with you,” he threatens.
“If my Father allows it to happen, do as you wish,” Zulfiya calmly responds.
How can this woman, who lives in a Muslim country where women are brought up in submission to men and to authorities, stand so firmly and fearlessly against this officer? This officer has no idea the only thing the woman is afraid of is to stop hearing her Lord’s voice!
Tavrinski Christian Institute (a Christian college located in the south of Ukraine) has been serving in Uzbekistan for more than 10 years. Although this wasn’t the first time the school staff has heard such stories about our students’ faithfulness to God, their faith always amazes and inspires us.
Since Christians in Uzbekistan are persecuted, TCI carries its ministry there underground. There are some officially registered churches in the capital and other cities of the country, but most of the small congregations are unregistered and cannot be registered. Therefore, believers are forced to meet secretly in small groups in homes. The whole congregation can come together only for weddings or similar occasions.
To put it clearly, to become a Christian for an Uzbek means to lose the respect of your family and society, to be doomed to penalties, calls from the police, and interrogations. Such a person doesn’t even have the right to be buried in an Uzbek cemetery. Despite this, the church in Uzbekistan is growing, and faith and love of those people impresses.
I do not know Zulfiya personally, but was able to “get to know” her by watching the video sent to me via a coded mail. The video was of a sermon she gave as part of a class assignment. Because the video was faulty, at first I heard only her voice. It was soft and friendly. I thought, Only a person whose heart is full of peace can speak and laugh like that.
Then Zulfiya’s image appeared—a pretty young woman. She was slim and tiny, no taller than a child. When she finished preaching and was walking off, I saw she had mobility issues. When she walked, she swayed from side to side.
The swaying, I learned, was caused by injection of an excessive dose of hydrocortisone when she was a child. She was almost scalded inside, causing her to spend five years in bed and all her school years in a wheelchair. I wondered about this tiny woman and what makes her faith so strong.
In 2001, after five years of treatment in an oncological hospital, Zulfiya’s cancer had metastasized throughout her whole body. She was expected to live no more than a few more months. But when the doctor looked at the results of her latest tests, he couldn’t believe his eyes. The tests showed no signs of cancer. Zulfiya told the doctor she had accepted Jesus Christ into her heart. She remembered the day, a week after her repentance, when she heard a soft voice say: “I want you to depend only on me, not on your medicine.”
At first her relatives wouldn’t let her stop the medicine, but Zulfiya’s stomach just couldn’t tolerate it anymore. Then the same voice told her, “I want you to depend only on me!” The doctor and Zulfiya’s mother didn’t take her words seriously, but they rejoiced for her recovery.
The difficulties began, however, when the girl started witnessing about her faith in Christ to everyone. People from the mosque began visiting her family and shaming her parents. Zulfiya was summoned to the police station to be questioned about her faith. She was beaten there, and she was fired from her job.
In the end, though they knew of Zulfiya’s love for them and had witnessed God’s miracles in her life, her family was forced to deny her and send her away from home. In all these circumstances, Zulfiya, though a new Christian, remained faithful to God.
Zulfiya had nowhere to go and nothing to live on, so she settled in the church. She became actively engaged in serving others. For the sake of the ministry, sometimes it was necessary to visit local or high-ranking officials. Zulfiya would make those visits. When she made requests, she often would be asked, “Where are you from? Whose daughter are you?” Kinship and family are very important in that country.
Zulfiya would smile and usually reply, “Let’s start with this,” and she would tell them about her heavenly Father. She believes that every knee will bow to the name of Jesus, and that her faith in God opens the doors of the highest-ranking officials. Moreover, these officials respect this little Christian woman, let her pray for them, and ask her about God’s message for their lives. They see in her the power of her God! Of course, some officials have a negative attitude toward Zulfiya, but only a few.
So, whenever there is a need, she continues to boldly go to the offices of officials, because she believes her God is going before her, and she testifies about his glory alone!
TCI professors met Zulfiya four years ago during the school’s fourth enrollment of students at its Uzbek educational center. Zulfiya was a freshman. At that time, she knew she needed more knowledge to better serve the people. She believed God would mold her through the training.
Over these last few years of study, Zulfiya has become more responsible and consistent in her prayer life. She has a wider and deeper understanding of Scripture, and she sacrifices more for God.
Zulfiya now leads two Bible study groups and a prayer group with codependent people. She also works with children from an orphanage.
One day, Zulfiya’s appendix burst, but she continued serving God for four more days until she fainted.
At the hospital, while being carried into the operating room, the doctor told her, “You are dying. You are already dead.”
“Thank God,” she replied. “I am going home to my Dad.” The doctor was puzzled. In his 25 years of practicing medicine, she had lived longer with a burst appendix than any person he had seen. Even after the eight-hour surgery, the doctor fully expected her to die. But she survived, although she spent three months in the hospital.
Again and again, the doctor witnessed what an extraordinary person Zulfiya is. Meantime, Zulfiya was praying for the doctor’s repentance.
Once while changing her dressing, he sat on her bed and said he couldn’t understand why his conscience had been tormenting him. Zulfiya knew it was the answer to her prayers. She told him how to reconcile with God, and her doctor accepted Jesus Christ.
They are friends to this day. And, by the way, he didn’t take any money from her for the medical treatment.
Zulfiya has a close, living, and deep relationship with God through Christ. She lives sacrificially for him, sometimes praying all night. She deprives herself for others who are in need.
And now, back at the police station, Zulfiya demonstrates she is willing to sacrifice her life rather than deny her Savior. She is severely beaten.
The police officer tries to force her to sign a paper denying Christ.
“You can shoot me, but I won’t sign it” Zulfiya answers. Her persistence is irritating and exasperating.
The tiny young woman raises her head, the same determination in her eyes.
Zulfiya’s bloody lips move, and the interrogator realizes his victim is praying for him.
In the end, though she still refuses to sign the paper, the officer releases Zulfiya.
“Jesus is the Lord!” Zulfiya exclaims as she leaves.
Anna Batyuto has been a TCI liaison in Ukraine for more than 10 years.