Still Smiling

One year ago, in the Fall 2016 issue of Witness, we featured a story called, “Always Smiling,” which documented the author’s encounter with a young woman in Central Asia from Muslim background who decided to follow Jesus. The article below, written by the same author after her most recent visit to Central Asia, is the amazing continuation of the young woman’s journey of faith in Jesus.

We waded out until the salty warm water reached our waist’s height before stopping to smile at each other. This was the moment we’d both been waiting for.

Since arriving night before, my friend had not stopped talking about how she wanted to be baptized. We’d been communicating online for months and sharing prayer requests back and forth since last summer when my friend had chosen to follow Jesus.

I had no idea I would see her this soon again, never mind standing with her as she publicly declared to the world her belief in the One had been pursuing her for years through dreams for years.

Standing together out in the water, I ask her, “Do you believe in Jesus, that he is God’s Son who came for you, who paid the price and bore your sins on the cross?”

“Yes, yes, yes, I believe!” she answered with a big smile.

“Based on the confession of your faith,” I continued, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” And under she went.

Both of us were crying as she came out of the water. Partly from the salt stinging our eyes, partly that neither of us could believe what God had done. My heart was full.

But it was not over.

I had flown to Central Asia a few days early to meet with this young woman in the town where she was currently studying. A year ago we had met at peace camp in another location where she had shared the details of her spiritual journey with me and had embraced Jesus as her Savior. This year, she shared more about what had happened after camp, how she had declared her allegiance with Jesus to her roommate. My friend had expected that her roommate, another young Muslim, might be shocked. But instead, the roommate demanded that my friend tell her everything she knew about Jesus. In response, the roommate declared that she too wanted to follow him.

God had clearly been working in the roommate’s heart as well.

Despite never having read the Bible or having ever talked to a Christian, the roommate had become drawn to the Jesus while studying Art History in university. Her Muslim professor had walked the class through the Gospels and showed how the different events surrounding Jesus was portrayed in ancient sculptures, paintings and tiles. Mary’s story impressed her, the apostles wowed her, but mostly, she was drawn by what she saw in Jesus. Later, she bought a cross necklace at a jewelry store in town and started wearing it, even though she wasn’t exactly sure what it meant. Finally, there was someone to answer all of her questions about Jesus.

The day of my friend’s baptism, as we returned from the beach, her roommate was waiting for us at the door. “Tomorrow, it is my turn”, she declared. “I cannot wait. There are no churches in this city. Actually, I think we are the only believers, so we are the church here.”

That weekend, we were the church together, in that small city, which I could barely find on Google maps and which I had never heard of before. We prayed together, talked through what baptism meant, and shared our stories. On my third night there, together on the balcony of their teeny apartment, my friend and I had the pleasure of baptizing her roommate. As we filled a large bucket full of water, she was dancing around the kitchen with anticipation. I had rarely seen someone so full of joy. Afterward, with her hair dripping wet, she allowed us to wrap our arms around her and pray over her. Then she asked me for a Bible and admitted that she had never actually opened the covers of one. In John 3, Nicodemus asked Jesus, “How can a man be reborn?” I asked myself, “How can these friends of mine in Central Asia meet Jesus without ever having attended a church service or an Alpha course, or never having read the Bible?”

Jesus responded to Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). The Spirit moves in mysterious ways. But I am thankful to be a part of it. I feel privileged to walk alongside my new friends, to support them in their new faith, and to connect them with local believers.

By a worker in a restricted area