Here in Lebanon and in all of the Middle East, your religion is considered as more of a family or genetic characteristic. The mindset is that you are born a Muslim or a Christian. You can’t or shouldn’t change that just as much as you can’t or shouldn’t change your race or your family. This comes from the Koran which states that the son of a Muslim father is a Muslim.
Your religion is a legal matter here…it determines who and where you can marry and where you can own property and do business. It is listed as one of the characteristics on your driver’s license or government ID.
So…when you put baptism in the equation as a sacrament of the church that is a confirmation in most churches that you are indeed a Christian and a public statement that you are a part of the Church-body as a whole and even the local body of believers….it has not just the spiritual ramifications that it has for us in the US but here it has real political, legal and social ramifications. (Interestingly enough, quite like the early church.) The main resistance to conversion when ministering to Muslims here is not saying the sinner’s prayer or confessing Jesus….it is church membership and baptism because this is what would change their life in terms of their family, legal status and social status.
Ruth is a young woman who came to the church about a year and a half ago. She is Jordanian and a year before coming, really escaping, to Lebanon, she accepted Christ through a Christian television program. For a year she lived as secret Christian. About half way through that year, her husband discovered her secret and began to beat her everyday and make her say Muslim prayers. Finally, as she realized her life was in danger, she fled her home for Lebanon. She was forced by her husband to leave behind her 3-year-old son.
Upon arriving in Lebanon, she came to the church seeking refuge. One of the first things she did was remove her headscarf and ask where she could throw it away. The main thing she desired was to know more about the word and to be baptized. During her year as a secret Christian, she said that she would literally have dreams of being baptized. She said that she read about it in the Word and longed for the day when she could publicly and boldly show her love for the Lord in this way. She knew that for her culture this would be an undeniable way of identifying with Christ and it would be a sign from which she could not turn back.
She was so excited on the day of her baptism…the time had finally come. She shared her story with the congregation and was baptized during the service. Ruth said that it was such a great fulfillment of her dreams from when she first became a Christian and that she felt a new level of boldness in her relationship with Christ and her authority in Christ. She was now known as a Christian publicly with all of the joys and risks that entails as a converted Muslim.
Shortly after being baptized, Ruth was sent to jail as her husband sent word from Jordan that she had converted and was running from him. Through the help of Christians here and favor with the government she has been released. She has now applied for asylum and we believe she is being relocated by the United Nations. She is no longer able to contact us at the church as the procedure is to give her a new identity and passport documents because her life is endangered. (Similar to a witness protection program)
It is so easy for us in the United States to take baptism for granted. We don’t have the threat of jail, persecution or death. But Ruth’s story is just one of thousands, where Christian converts risk their lives to follow in obedience the command of the Word to be baptized and to identify publicly with the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.