At the organisation where I volunteer a few days a week doing prenatal care, I meet women who have fled from the horrors of war. Most women at the clinic are victims of the most heinous acts. These women, almost all of them, are pregnant through rape. What can one say to someone who is in a situation like this, violated, pregnant and refugee?
A pregnancy, which for most people is something positive, is for these women a big shame. Some of them cannot even manage to tell us what has happened to them. Some have their story written down on a piece of paper for us to read. When I examine a woman, measuring the size of the uterus and listening to the fetal heartbeat, I wonder—how is she coping? What does she think when she feels the baby kick or when she hears the heartbeat through the doptone (electric fetoscope) when I examine her? I do not know at all what this particular woman has experienced. But the empty mournful gaze I often face on these women tells me that I probably don’t want to know too many details about it either.
Gender-based sexual violence is one of the hardest things I’ve met in this work. It is not only in this country that it happens but everywhere where conflict is ongoing. It is commonly used in war situations. I think of the Yezidi women I met who were captured, used as sex slaves and sent home when they showed signs of pregnancy.
Ever since childhood I have stood up for the unprivileged in society. I had a sense of fairness that sometimes got me into trouble when “solving” problems using my fists! Early in my life I wanted to follow Jesus and work abroad where people did not know about Him. My plan was to work in an orphanage taking care of and loving babies and small children. I wanted to become a nurse and midwife, because surely they would deal with babies! Little did I know back then that a midwife just sees to it that the baby is born safely. But even now I still have the same longing to serve the most vulnerable. So whenever I meet people from other cultures— men and women—I feel this longing to help.
I have been able to use my profession in roles I never could have imagined. I have served in four different Muslim countries since 1991, working with women through antenatal care and family planning clinics. My driving force has been and still is to show the love of Christ to the women I meet.
“How is it possible to survive and even thrive in a Muslim context where women have little or no rights?” is a question I sometimes get. First and foremost I need to say that I have felt respected and valued by the authorities and almost all my colleagues. God put the love for these women in my heart. My motivation was and still is:
‘So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you’. Matthew 7:12a (NIV)
This verse gives me compassion and empathy for those I meet. Yes, I get tired and impatient but as I listen to people’s stories I can’t help but keep going. What I am doing is not so strange; I try to put myself in their place. I know I can’t feel the same but I can show that I care.
This is how we as Christians can have an impact on anyone we meet. It could be as we are serving overseas or even now when we see people from other countries and faiths in our own countries, in a shop, on the bus and as colleagues at work. We need to pray for courage to take the first step.
The author is an Interserve Partner and has served in the Arab world for over 25 years.