Young couple escapes persecution, finds home in Croatia
Even though Mahdi* was young, experiencing persecution for his faith was nothing new to him. He and Amira* had just married. Although from different countries in the Middle East, they shared a common faith in Christ. Mahdi and Amira lived and ministered in her home country of Syria in an area that was originally relatively safe.
In 2015, they made a trip to Mahdi’s country to visit family. On the way home, their crowded passenger bus was pulled over and boarded by armed men. This was not a random military check, but a kidnapping. The driver and passengers were forced to drive for several hours on back roads to a predetermined destination. As they unloaded, the men and women were separated.
Though treated roughly and locked into one small room together, the women were not abused. However, throughout the night, they could hear the tortured cries of the men in the next room. In the early hours of the next morning, the captors grew tired and the beatings stopped. Amira had no idea if Mahdi was alive or dead, but prayed without ceasing that God would somehow deliver both of them.
Soon after the sun rose, the door of the women’s room scraped open, and a captor called out her name. With a shaking hand, she acknowledged her name, silently praying for strength and deliverance. Rough hands dragged her through the door and threw her at ragged feet. When she lifted her head, she saw her husband. Mahdi grabbed Amira’s arm, and they began to limp into the landscape toward freedom.
She was hardly able to register what was happening as her husband pulled her painfully forward. Although Mahdi had been beaten throughout the long night, Amira was thankful he was alive. Cold, hungry, and wounded, they walked for hours. They refused to stop, frightened that at any moment their captors would come for them. As the day wore on and the distance grew, they felt a burgeoning sense of safety. Eventually, they stopped in a village, where they asked for help.
Many months later, Amira told her story while gathered with a group from various nationalities, all sipping tea in a home in Croatia, where she and Mahdi landed after fleeing from Syria. Amira sighed and her shoulders drooped.
“We have no idea what happened to the rest of the passengers on the bus, nor do we know why they let us go,” she said.
The kidnapping was the event that catapulted the couple into escaping Syria in the fall of 2015. Unlike many other refugees who were also beginning the journey to Western Europe to flee violence and persecution, Mahdi and Amira determined to make Croatia their destination.
When they arrived, they joined a refugee community housed in temporary living situations and attended free English classes in their dormitory. After realizing that their English teachers were Christians, the couple became eager to join in on worship gatherings. They later began to find many others within the refugee community who were hungry to know more about Christ.
Opportunities for them to speak about the Lord were suddenly all around them. Through their English teacher, Amira and Mahdi connected with a local church in their new city. Their story took another exciting turn one Sunday morning when Amira noticed the Nazarene logo being displayed on a video. She was acquainted with a Nazarene pastor back home, and she knew the denomination. Neither she nor Mahdi had realized that the English teacher, the pastor, and the congregation were part of the Church of the Nazarene until that moment.
Soon after, the couple received word that their three-year resident visas had been approved by the Croatian government. That meant that they could call this country, this congregation, and this community home. With stability for the future settled, Mahdi and Amira approached the church leaders who had been such a long part of their journey to ask if they could volunteer officially to help other refugees the way they had been helped. Mahdi also indicated a desire to fulfill his call as a pastor through the Church of the Nazarene.
Today, Mahdi and Amira are learning the language and culture of their new host country, and Mahdi is working his way toward ordination. They have found community through the church in Croatia.
*Names have been changed for protection and security.
--Republished with permission from the Summer 2017 edition of NCM Magazine