We think we know all about the Arab world. We sit before a steaming cup of coffee, open our newspapers to read the latest news and learn that Ugandan authorities have discovered an Islamic terrorist group planning an attack in Kampala. All Americans in the area are urged to stay indoors until further notice.
We take a short break at work and scroll through internet articles detailing the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, how they hide their Bibles and refer to church services as gatherings so the authorities don’t find out.
We shake our heads in disbelief.
After dinner, we watch TV and see that even the most educated commentators disagree about what it means to be Muslim as they argue the best way to intercede in the Middle East. What we think we know comes from the headlines, the internet, poorly slanted social media posts and each other.
But Ruba Abbassi understands what it means to be Muslim. She grew up in the Middle East.
First Comes Forgiveness
Ruba was born the third of six children to a jeweler and his wife in the northern region of Jordan and raised in what she calls a nominal Christian home. The Kingdom of Jordan is predominantly Muslim, with 95% of its residents following Sunni Islam. Only 4% of the population is reported to be Christian, and most of them are Greek Orthodox or Catholic.
In 1983, one of Ruba’s college classmates shared the four spiritual laws with her. “It was the first time I heard about God’s love to me personally, the forgiveness and redemption,” she explains.
But learning about the importance of forgiveness was a difficult thing for Ruba. She had been struggling with feelings of bitterness toward her parents for decisions they made in her childhood. Her father had found another job in an area far from home. He and Ruba’s mother moved there after placing Ruba and her older sister in a boarding school and disappearing from their lives.
She was 4 years old.
Ruba stayed in boarding school for seven years, seeing her mother only twice during all that time. It was painful to be away from her parents. She was just a little girl and didn’t understand why they would abandon her.
“All I knew (was) that I hated them. The turning point in my life was when I heard about Christ’s forgiveness. … I thought, if Christ reconciled with me through the cross, how come I can’t forgive my parents and reconcile with them?”
On the same day Ruba accepted Christ’s love for her, healing came as she forgave her parents.
Her father passed away two decades ago as a believer, and Ruba’s mother is 88 years old now. “She loves the Lord Jesus. She is my best friend,” Ruba reports.
Ruba says it was difficult to be raised in a society where people felt they had the right to persecute her for her faith. They called her a blasphemer. “We got used to it, but at some point we got so tired. Many people couldn’t accept the situation; (Christians) ended up emigrating to other countries, seeking freedom of religion and identity,” she remembers.
Ruba says it is a true demonstration of Christian values to live out her faith in a Muslim world. She had to learn how to live as a minority, and it became more difficult as her Christian faith grew.
To live in Jordan with full Muslim rights, citizens must abide by Sharia’a Law. She says the rules are quite strict. A woman must have only one husband, but a man can have as many as four wives. And it is within his right to beat them for insubordination. A Muslim might become a non-Muslim, and a non-Muslim might lead a Muslim away from Islam, but the consequence of either is permanent — death.
But Ruba is a determined follower of Christ. “My Christian attitude and values predominate above all laws, all treatment from others,” she says.
The Beth Moore of the Middle East
Ruba moved to the United States when she married her husband, Nabeeh, at the age of 23, and she followed him to Texas as he pursued his graduate and doctorate studies. Today they have three grown Texan sons.
She says she spent 10 years praying God would open a door to serve Him. Ruba knew He was calling her to ministry, but she did not know how or when.
“One day, my husband, Nabeeh, heard about a European ministry that sponsors radio programs. They were searching for someone to start a radio program for Arab women,” Ruba remembers. “He went and met with them and told them, ‘I think I have the right person you are looking for.’ That was the beginning. They were the door that I asked the Lord to open, and I was the person they were looking for.”
Arab Woman Today Ministries (AWT), based in Amman, Jordan, began in October 1999 as a radio program to reach women who were living without hope, women who could never enter the doors of a Christian church, women of the Arab world.
Through AWT, Ruba has been able to fulfill her desire to play a part in spreading the Gospel to 22 Arabic countries, reaching women who would otherwise never hear it. Ruba and the AWT team produce 52 programs a year, broadcasting them four times a week in North Africa and the Middle East.
One Woman’s Story
And the program is working. Ruba and her team have been already ministered to countless women — women like Hiba.
Hiba’s husband was an Iraqi diplomat with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was an open-minded man and did not reject his wife when she came to know the Lord after listening to AWT radio broadcasts. Sadly, he died after an illness. Her son was a translator who worked for the United States Armed Forces, but an extremist group Hiba can’t identify for safety reasons killed him in 2004. After her son’s death, the government took Hiba’s house and all she had.
She fled to Amman, Jordan, hoping her daughter would welcome her, but that didn’t happen. Instead her daughter kicked Hiba out of her house and threatened to hit her with her car if she ever saw Hiba entering a Christian church.
Heartbroken, Hiba went to a garden and prayed, “My daughter of my flesh rejected me. I have no one left but You. I know that You will not leave me nor forsake me as my daughter did.”
And God answered her prayers.
“My refuge and support is the church that provides me with medication and donations (and even) transportation to church,” Hiba explains. “They help me secretly. This is how my Lord provides for me, through working with them.”
While Hiba has certainly suffered persecution because of her faith, she says her faith is also the light that guides her.
Back to the Radio
Because women account for sixty percent of the region’s illiteracy rates, sharing testimonies and the truth of the Gospel by radio and word-of-mouth is extraordinarily important.
Ruba explains, “My ministry grew to reach Arab women on air, online and on ground. We are reaching millions in minutes as well as equipping Arab women to reconcile with themselves as well as with Christ, where we as women have our true values in Him.”
As with any faith-based ministry, Ruba and her team have faced obstacles. It is becoming more difficult for her to secure funding, and political instability in the region has greatly impacted her country. But none of that changes a thing. There are so many more Hibas still to reach.
And that is what drives Ruba.