Rachel was born in 1983, in Lebanon, a country in the Middle-East with a large historic Christian community. At that time, Lebanon was recovering from years of war that had devastated the country. These were difficult times. When Rachel was two years old, her family moved to the sands of the Arabian desert.
Saudi Arabia… Home to the holy places of Islam. A country saturated with religion, where other faiths are forbidden and where the religious police, the dreadedMattawan, violently repress any sign of misbehavior such as wearing a cross. Still, as a young girl, Rachel had received Christian instruction and fellowship. She explains:“There was a house in a compound, we used to meet there. It was an underground church. Kids would go into a room where an Egyptian mother taught them Bible stories and adults would go to another room. We used to meet on Fridays.” For a long time, Rachel and her friends would have to sing quietly, for fear neighbors might call the police.
Rachel’s faith as a young girl was strong. Her mother, a very committed Christian, was her champion. But her father didn’t like it. “My favorite song was ‘I have decided to follow Jesus’. There was a verse that talks about going to jail and dying for your faith and he found it very inappropriate for a six-year-old,” recounts Rachel.
Back to Lebanon
Rachel’s mother thought it was essential for Rachel to meet other believers in a healthier atmosphere. Back in her home country, she remembered an organization that ran camps for children: Grain of Wheat. She wrote a letter to their Beirut office asking if she could enrol Rachel in a camp. The director rejected her request. Because follow-up would be difficult, their policy was to not accept children from outside of Lebanon. But Rachel’s mother was persistent. She wrote to Grain of Wheat’s international office in Lausanne, Switzerland and obtained an agreement.
«I celebrated my 9th birthday at camp in Lebanon,” Rachel recalls. “Although a lot of people say that at that age kids are ‘angels’, I knew that I was a sinner and that I needed salvation.” Rachel enjoyed singing the most. For the first time, she could do it out loud. And she could talk opening about her faith in Jesus Christ.
Eventually, the family moved back to Lebanon, a more western country than Saudi Arabia. Discovering how many people proclaimed to be Christians but did not live accordingly was a shock to the young teenager. Rachel herself was very vocal about her faith, which caused her some problems at school. The nuns who ran the school were embarrassed by this hothead. Here is how Rachel remembers it: “It’s the so-called Christians who gave me a hard time, more than Muslims ever did. But I had the best of mentors: my mother. She helped me stay strong in the midst of all these pressures.”Soon afterwards, however, her mother fell ill and passed away a year later. Rachel was fourteen.
She recalls the bitterness that swelled in her heart a few months after the funeral. When she would pray, resentment overcame her and she made it clear to God: “You could have saved Mom, wasn’t she your daughter? I need her so badly… You have let us all down.” As a result, Rachel lost her trust in God leading her life. Without the support of believing adults, she started to blend in more and more with her peers.
From brokenness to service
This time of resentment lasted for two years. Nobody told Rachel to reconnect with God. Nothing specific happened, but it that seems her childhood faith caught up with her. She resumes: “In 1999, I started going back to church because deep inside I knew I should go. My father didn’t object because believers were the only ones who stood by him in times of trouble, without asking anything in return.” The event that rooted her in a more adult faith happened on a late December day. Rachel was asked to tell a story in front of a large audience of young people. She was terrified, because she was shy and Arabic was her second language (English had become her first during her years in the Gulf). She turned to God in prayer. “I asked Him to help me. But I had to admit we were not really on good terms. I still had great doubts.” Not only was her prayer answered and she could speak clearly and powerfully, but some young people also gave their lives to God as a result. “I was so moved by this miracle that I sincerely asked God for his forgiveness,” Rachel glows.
The teenager was aware she owed a lot to Grain of Wheat leaders for their calm, patience, love and devotion, and also to her Sunday school teachers. She soon became a children’s leader herself. She recalls that once a child came to her in a camp to tell her she had never felt that loved before. “A camp is a lot of hard work,” Rachel comments.“But moments like these are the best pay back we could ever have.”
“Do not look down on children,” she finally pleads. “If we are not like them and receive faith like them, we will not enter the Kingdom of God. Children also teach me.”
Grain of Wheat was founded in 1946 in Switzerland to assist children traumatized by war. Nowadays, the organization works in over thirty countries, reaching tens of thousands of children each year.