By Mark Ellis —
She had a solid Midwestern upbringing and attended mass faithfully on Sunday. When she met a Muslim man from Turkey during college, she didn’t expect the turmoil that might ensue after their marriage.
As a girl, Deborah Joy* remembers staring up at the cross and wondering why she needed to go to the confessional. Why do I have to go to this priest when I can speak to you directly? She felt like Jesus impressed on her heart that she could speak to him freely.
In college, Deborah searched for a church where she might deepen her faith, but never found one that seemed to fit. “I didn’t plug into a church, but I kept reading my Bible.
Then she met a young man from Turkey named Mustafa who came over to the U.S. for his master’s degree. “I didn’t know anything about Islam except what he shared with me. He said because I was a woman of the book I would not have to convert if we got married.”
Mustafa gave Deborah an English version of the Quran. “I was still reading my Bible,” she recounts. “When I started reading the Quran it was confusing and contradicting. I didn’t want anything to do with it.”
After dating two years, the couple became engaged. “My parents were not thrilled about me dating this foreigner,” she says. They were less than encouraging or hospitable toward Mustafa.
The couple married in Turkey and lived with Mustafa’s family for the first few months of their marriage. In contrast to her family, his family was very welcoming.
Her father-in-law, however, was very direct with Deborah about her religious affiliation. After the meal one evening he turned to her and said, “You understand the Quran says you will burn in hell if you are a Christian.”
Night after night they had discussions about faith and he continued to push his point. “I felt pressure from my father-in-law,” she recalls. “Finally, I thought I could say the Shahada and go on. But I didn’t understand the impact.”
The Shahada is the Islamic creed or testimony declaring belief in the oneness of God and Muhammad as God’s prophet.
Under duress, Deborah recited the Shahada in front of her father-in-law: “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the prophet of Allah.”
Her statement of faith thrilled Mustafa’s family. “That’s all you have to say to become a Muslim,” she notes.
Soon, she felt the weight of increased expectations from his family. “Now I was this American bride who accepted Islam. The whole honor and shame culture increased. I was serving and waiting on them.”
His family didn’t force her to go to the mosque or cover herself. “His parents are very modern. They said to make sure you are doing the washings and trying to learn the prayers and fasting at Ramadan and trying to be a good person. It was more people pleasing, wanting to honor them and do everything correctly in their eyes.
“Cooking and cleaning and spending time with my mother-in-law was wrapped into it.”
Slowly and unexpectedly, Deborah felt heaviness in her soul following her conversion. When she returned to the U.S. for a visit, it felt like a weight of bricks came off her shoulders.
After eight years living in Istanbul as an Islamic woman, giving birth to a daughter, and learning the language, she began to feel the need to return to the U.S.
“I wanted to give my daughter a U.S. upbringing. I felt we needed to do this.” She was surprised when Mustafa agreed.
Shortly after they returned to the Midwest and moved into a condominium, something unexpected happened. As they were on their way to dinner one evening at 8:00, their elevator got stuck for over an hour. Deborah and Mustafa and three others were trapped inside the tight compartment.
“I started having anxiety issues, hyperventilating, and claustrophobia. I had never had anything like that before. I thought we were going to drop nine floors.”
They emerged safely, but her issues with claustrophobia increased. “I started fearing flying,” she recounts.
Their return to the Midwest in 2007 coincided with the beginning of the Great Recession. Mustafa couldn’t find employment and he grew increasingly frustrated.
At her brother’s invitation, they packed up their belongings and moved to Arizona.
After the move to the Southwest, Deborah’s anxieties intensified. “I was having breathing issues. In my brother’s house I was starting to hyperventilate, I couldn’t eat or sleep.”
Feeling desperate, she reached out to my brother. “I don’t know what is going on with me. Can we talk?”
They went to a park and sat down on a bench together. Deborah was physically shaking. She glanced at her brother and noticed he was smiling.
His demeanor caused even greater upset. “What is going on with you? Can’t you see I’m losing my mind? I don’t know what is going on…I can’t even function,” she warbled.
“I can go to the hospital and they will probably put me in a psych ward… or I can go to church with you,” she told him.
Deborah knew her older brother attended a church, but she didn’t realize he had accepted Christ a year earlier and had been praying for her salvation. He sensed she was at the end of her rope — spiritually needy – even if she couldn’t see it clearly herself.
There might be an opening for God…an answer to prayer, he thought.
Deborah went to the church with her brother and met the pastor in his office following the service.
He was very calm in the meeting. “Do you know about Jesus?” he asked.
“Yes, I grew up Catholic, but I’m a Muslim now.” She went on to explain her situation.
“Well, would you like to accept Christ?” the pastor asked.
“NO. You didn’t hear what I said. I don’t need any more stress,” she said.
“Well, can I pray for you?”
Deborah agreed, but wondered what the point of prayer would be.
Following the prayer, the pastor started reading Scripture and something remarkable happened.
“All of a sudden there was this presence of light that came down and filled me in my chest. It felt like light and peace inside of me, incredible peace instantly. It was so powerful. It was amazing,” Deborah recounts.
As the pastor continued to read Scripture aloud, she interrupted him. “Stop! I need to accept Christ.”
The pastor was momentarily taken aback, but managed to say, “OK.”
The two prayed together and Deborah accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior. “It was like God snapped his finger and took all my anxiety away completely.”
“God just did a miracle in my life!” she told the pastor. “Now what do I do?”
“You need to eat something first,” he said. Over a bowl of soup he told her she should start attending church, reading her bible, and she should get plugged into a woman’s group.
That night Deborah locked herself in the closet after her husband went to sleep and read her Bible – demonstrating her claustrophobia was gone and she was a new creature in Christ – hungry for the milk of God’s Word.
“The words were flying off the page. God was pouring into me. The veil was removed. I was so overwhelmed and grateful. I barely slept that night,” she recalls.
The next morning Deborah met with her husband and gave him the news: “I accepted Christ and I want to take our daughter to church!” she exclaimed.
He was so frustrated and distracted by other problems in his life, he was surprisingly accepting at that moment, but that attitude began to change in the next few weeks and months.
Mustafa grew increasingly negative toward her and ultimately the couple separated. “We tried to reconcile. We went to Christian counseling for a year. He wasn’t willing to change anything. We split again.”
“I was praying and thinking about ways to make the marriage work.” Since God did a miracle in her life, she wondered why He wouldn’t do a miracle like that in her husband.
Mustafa left Deborah and their daughter and returned to Turkey. “He wanted me to go, but I had no peace about that,” she says. “I sought Christ’s guidance in the Scripture. I wanted to be obedient. He pointed out the Scripture about the unbeliever leaving.”
God impressed on her heart: You need to let him go. Keep focused on me. Keep praying for your husband.
Deborah got involved with a ministry to Muslims known as Crescent Project and went through their intensive training in Minnesota.
“My heart is for the Muslim women,” she says. In 2016 the head of Crescent Project approached her about working with them full time.
At first she resisted, but sought the Lord and felt His leading to join the ministry full time. “He blessed me for that step of faith and obedience. It is for his glory. It was so powerful to see His hand at work in my life. It has been an amazing journey.”
*names changed for security reasons
If you want to know more about a personal relationship with God, go here
To learn more about the ministry of Crescent Project, go here