Sanjana’s family had a reputation as fighters, using guns to resolve conflicts. Growing up in an agricultural part of Upper Egypt that was home to both Coptic Christians and Muslims, she was always impressed by how her Christian classmates humbly accepted beatings in class without complaint.
The Christian also gave Sanjana a copy of the Gospel of Matthew, which she wrapped in a plastic bag and hid in a hole in the ground.
After reading the Gospel and learning more about the Christian faith, Sanjana found it to be the complete opposite of what she experienced in her Muslim home. Eventually, and with deep consideration, she decided to become a follower of Christ.
Sanjana’s father soon noticed that she had stopped praying five times a day as required in Islam. When he asked her about it, she boldly told him about her decision to trust in Christ. Her father’s response was predictable: he beat her. “What is this nonsense you are talking about?” he asked. “We raised you as a Muslim, and you have to continue as a Muslim. Our sons were born as Muslims … our grandfathers are.”
Each time she tried to attend church, she was refused entry because she didn’t have a cross tattoo to show that she was a Christian. After decades of persecution, most
Egyptian Orthodox churches are fearful of false Christian converts from Islam infiltrating their churches, and some view the tattoo as a demonstration of a sincere conversion.
When her family saw that Sanjana was serious about her new faith, they challenged her. “I believe in Jesus,” Sanjana told them. Her father beat her again, and this time he tied her up and locked her in a room on the family compound. Sanjana spent the next three years in that room, half-starved and beaten continually. “My father would start to beat me,” she said, “and when he got tired, my other family [members] would take over. It was like a party.”
The beatings resulted in a broken arm and fractures in her neck and shoulders, and family members used acid to try to remove a small cross tattoo she had recently acquired on her forearm. Finally, they decided to try the ultimate humiliation. Sanjana’s father and brother brought an imam to her room, with the understanding that he had permission to rape her if she would not return to Islam. Sanjana’s pastor explained that the imam would have married her later to break her dignity. “They wanted to destroy her,” he said.
Sanjana screamed for help as the imam sexually assaulted her, but no one came to her aid. The injustice and horror of Sanjana’s treatment, however, persuaded her younger sister to leave Islam and follow Christ. She helped Sanjana escape that night, and the two women fled to Cairo, where they slept on the street. Sanjana’s freedom did not last long. A family member soon found her and dragged her back to their home in Upper Egypt.
“They beat her almost to death,” her pastor said. “I don’t know how she survived this beating.”
Then her family forced her to marry a Muslim man, who locked her in their apartment and went about the task of reconverting her to Islam. “I struggled so much with my husband,” Sanjana said. “I was tortured and persecuted … during that year. In the end, when he found nothing was working with me, he was afraid that the neighbours would find out about me becoming a Christian. That would shame him, so he divorced me.”
After a year of marriage and subsequent divorce, Sanjana was on the street again. This time, she connected with a VOM-supported pastor in Cairo who ministers specifically to Christian converts from Islam. He arranged for Sanjana to live with a Christian family and introduced her sister to a Christian convert whom she later married. Sanjana was baptised in 2016. She said that as the pastor lowered her into the water, she felt like Jesus was speaking to her, confirming that she was His daughter. “I wanted to hear Jesus more!” she said, laughing at how she almost struggled with the pastor to keep her underwater longer so she could hear more of that precious voice.
As for why she never rejected her faith in Christ during the years of severe abuse, she gave a sound biblical example: “Suppose I was living in the pigsty, like the [prodigal] son,” she said. “Then you cleaned me, you washed me … Eating clean food and wearing clean clothes, how can I go back just to escape suffering? I am an ambassador to my God now; how can I become a slave once again?”
Today, Sanjana works part-time as a tailor. Although it pays only enough to cover her basic needs, she tithes faithfully because she knows it honours the Lord. “Whatever I … do for the Lord,” she said, “I [can] never give Him what He has given me. I regret all the years that passed without knowing Him.”
While she has been rescued in a variety of ways, Sanjana’s life remains challenging. She needs to find a new place to live soon, and she is still rejected by society. The peace she found in Christ continues to sustain her.
“God gave me a promise,” Sanjana said, “and I trust His promise. God is always good.”
Join Sanjana, who has replaced hatred with forgiveness, in praying for her father’s salvation.