Translating the Faith

06/28/2018 .
Saddleback Storytelling Ministry  .  Storytelling Intern

The worship team began the service, but Ali and Fatma didn’t understand the words and stood silently, watching the others sing. Next, the sermon started. They weren’t able to follow along with the message, either. They had been invited to this church and felt a warm welcome from the smiles and abundant hugs, but they didn’t understand what was going on or anything that was being taught.

Ali and Fatma, a married couple, both grew up in strict Muslim families. They fled the Middle East and ended up in Berlin, Germany, seeking political asylum. They left their homeland because of serious oppression and hardship they faced on a daily basis. Fatma’s family put a lot of pressure on her to dress and act a certain way, and they frequently mistreated her. Ali’s home life wasn’t much better.

“There was no freedom,” Ali said. “The religious laws put people under extreme pressure.”

In addition to their own two children, Fatma brought her sister’s children with them to Berlin. They became the foster parents for their niece and nephew when Fatma’s sister could no longer care for them.

Once in Germany, they met a man named Cem who told them about Jesus and invited them to Saddleback Church Berlin. Cem, a former Muslim from the Middle East, converted to Christianity after moving to Berlin and joined Saddleback Church. He had already invited several other immigrants to the church and was helping them get connected. Cem invited Ali and Fatma to join their growing community.

During services, Cem, Ali, Fatma, and the others would sit in one section, listening to the music and staring at the screen during the message. None of them spoke English. So Cem listened to the message and took notes. After the service, the whole group would stay, and Cem would preach the sermon to them in their own language.

Ali and Fatma became a regular part of the group and learned about Jesus from Cem’s teaching. “We have spent time with brother Cem. We have studied the Word and learned from the Bible,” Fatma said.

After a few weeks of listening to Cem, the couple made the decision to place their faith in Christ. But that decision didn’t come without complications.

“We always understood Jesus as a prophet,” Ali said. “Then we read in the Bible that Jesus is the Son of God. And Jesus is God also. That was not easy for us to understand.”

“While I was growing up, I was always terrified that God would punish me if I made a mistake,” Fatma said. “This was a major fear. And then I accepted Jesus into my heart as my Savior. This was very, very difficult for me at first. I was terrified. But slowly, Jesus helped me.”

Fatma said that her family, who were already very upset when she married Ali — a moderate Muslim at the time — became even angrier when she became a Christian. “They have always criticized me … They attack me with phone calls and letters. There are a lot of problems. Many relatives have lost contact,” Fatma said with tears in her eyes.

Despite their challenges, the couple decided to take their next step and get baptized. Cem and Pastor Dave baptized the couple and their niece and nephew after a weekend service.

“My heart was so happy before the baptism. That was like when you learn about Christianity,” Fatma said. “This was life, this was so different. With brother Cem, we learned the Christian life. Through the Christian characteristics in the Bible, I understood that I wanted to be baptized. We took that step of faith together.”

Ali and Fatma believe that placing their faith in Christ was the most important decision of their lives. “When I invite people to Saddleback Church, I always share that there are very diverse individuals — many nationalities, many nations,” Ali said. “The people at Saddleback are very international, but they serve one God, one Lord and one Spirit. And so there is a unity which you can experience.”

Fatma said that she loves Saddleback’s welcoming atmosphere. “When we joined, we were never asked if we are Christians. They just showed us their love,” Fatma said. “We were not judged or compared. They just embraced us. This church is just wonderful — I feel that love is at the center of everything we do.”

Click HERE to learn more about Saddleback Berlin.