At semester's end, one of my students (whom I will call A.) inadvertently provided some Advent uplift by telling me her mother's story. The details are spare, in virtue of the circumstances under which the essay was written, but sufficient to the purpose, and I offer it here, including occasional use of A.'s own words, with her permission.
Her mother was born of teenage parents into a very poor family. She was the oldest of thirteen brothers and sisters. Her own mother, A's grandmother, was married at the age of twelve to an eighteen year old boy, an occurrence, says A., which was "supposedly a normal thing to do in Singapore at the time." A's mother spent all her time taking care of her siblings and "selling food to the neighbors" to help make ends meet. She did manage to stay in school through 10th grade while all of her brothers and sisters dropped out sooner, by middle school at the latest. At the age of seventeen, she met an older man, twenty-eight years older to be exact: he was forty-five. He was also a Christian. It was this, and not his age, that incurred her family's severe disapproval. He converted to Islam so that he could marry the girl. A's older brother was born of this union which, though the husband provided "a wonderful life," didn't last. She doesn't say for how long it did last, or how old her mother was when she met A's father.
This new husband was also a Christian, and an American. He would not convert, for which the woman's family hated him. He was not himself very serious about religion, but liked his Christian background and was determined to stick by it. Her family's wrath notwithstanding, A's mother loved the man too much to leave him, married him in the end, and ultimately moved with him to America, ending up in Hawaii. (My student spells it Hawai'i). A was their first child, later supplemented by two brothers. Her dad, she says, "wanted the best for me," so he enrolled her in a private Christian school, against his wife's vehement opposition. Now, although the mother was not particularly attached to her own religion (nor the father to his; says A, "religion was only important to their families"), she "hated Jesus Christ and Christianity," a loathing no doubt absorbed from the culture in which she was raised. (I am making a presumption here.) But there was another side to her character: "she loved helping others, especially if it had to with cooking." So she volunteered at the school's church "to cook and give out food to the homeless people in Honolulu." The course of her duties required sitting through the Bible study lessons that accompanied the meals, and gradually her mind began to open concerning "this whole Christianity thing."
One night she had a dream. In it, Jesus and Allah were in two different buildings. Allah seemed to her like a shadow, while Jesus was vividly and concretely "there," so she went into Jesus' building, whereupon he "pointed his finger at her," which she took to mean that he wanted her to be with him. So she went to him and then woke up. The next day she knew she would have to convert to Christianity, in consequence "accepting Jesus as her Lord and Savior."
That was seven years ago. A's mother's dedication to God in the person of Jesus Christ has apparently inspired her father at last to start taking his religion seriously. "This whole process," says A, "is the best thing that has happened to our family." However, her mother still hasn't told her family about her conversion, in fear that their hatred will deepen, and that she will be disowned. They think she is still Muslim. She plans on telling them eventually, but it is a daily struggle. She reads frequently, to herself and sometimes aloud, the bible verse which cautions that "if you deny me before men, I will deny you before my Father in heaven."
A. obviously loves her mother very much, convinced that "she is a very gifted woman, and that God will use her talents to glorify Himself." She concludes on a note I don't see much in evidence among the young: "I do not deserve the love she pours out on me."
Well, I think you do.
cross-posted at W4.