Sudanese woman

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What happens when a woman decides to follow Christ? In the United States, it can mean peace, joy and freedom. In other countries, it can mean arrest, torture, rape—even death.

As a journalist, I've had wonderful opportunities to travel around the world and write about the amazing things the Lord is doing. What stands out to me most are the women I've had the honor of meeting—women who have counted the cost to follow Christ and are willingly paying it.

"You're so brave to go to these countries," people often tell me. I'm not brave at all; I always have a return ticket to freedom. Women such as Anna*, Hui Liang* and Lily*, whom you'll meet in a moment, are the brave ones. They live under cruel, vicious governments that are doing everything possible to stamp out Christianity.

You won't read their stories in People or, frankly, in most Christian women's magazines. But their stories deserve to be told.

Will you allow me to introduce you to some of them? I warn you that their stories are not pretty. They'll challenge you. They'll make you feel uncomfortable. You may even feel guilty the next time you're in the grocery store.

But then, you don't read SpiritLed Woman because you're hunting for feel-good, goose-bump articles. You want to find the heart of God—and these women are definitely in His heart.

Take Anna Kima, for example. I met Anna in Nairobi, Kenya. I flew on a nice comfortable plane to Kenya ("Oh, you're so brave!"), but Anna walked there from war-torn Sudan—with her four children and all their earthly possessions.

"I carried one child on my neck, another on my back and our luggage on my head," Anna told me. "We walked for three months. All of us were sick with malaria and diarrhea."

Sudan, Anna's homeland, is torn apart by famine and a long-standing civil war that purposely targets Christians, among others. For years, the Muslim government of northern Sudan has waged all-out war against Christians and tribal people in the southern part of the country, trying to force them to become Muslims.

The North bombs their villages, schools and hospitals (during the day when they can kill as many as possible). Christian women and girls are often kidnapped and enslaved by Muslims in the North and forced to work in intolerable conditions where they are beaten, burned and raped repeatedly. Millions of southern Sudanese have already died from the war and famine, and thousands of Christian women and girls are still held as slaves.

Anna was one of the ones who made it out of Sudan rather than being brutally murdered. Today, as a refugee in Kenya, she works with the New Sudan Council of Churches, a ministry that helps people in southern Sudan.

Anna helped organize the 1999 Women's Peace Workshop, which brought together for the first time women from tribes that had fought one another for generations. Some of the attendees were widows whose husbands had been killed by husbands of other women at the workshop. Through gentleness, grace and a great deal of prayer, Anna and the other organizers showed the women their need to forgive one another and be united.

"We thought God turned from us," she says, "but we turned from Him because of hatred. Where there is hatred, there are no blessings. That's why we have famine. We want to use peace as an instrument for development."

Every Christian woman in southern Sudan has lost a loved one to the war. Like Anna, they are paying the price to follow Jesus.

Where He Leads, I'll Follow

Sometimes I meet remarkable women such as Anna on their own turf; other times they come to mine. Hui Liang ("hwee lee-AHNG") and her husband, who are both from mainland China, stayed at my home for a few weeks when I was writing a book (China: The Hidden Miracle, Sovereign World) about what they've endured simply to remain true to their faith.

Hui Liang was engaged to a young pastor in China before the cultural revolution. He was eventually jailed for his outspoken Christian witness, but he was not the only one who suffered. Hui Liang was also persecuted because she refused to renounce her fiancé, who was considered a traitor to communism and China. She lost her job and was sent to a labor camp on the other side of China.

At first, she was devastated to be so far from her family and fiancé, but she soon saw God's wisdom in the move. There were other Christian women at the camp, and in between hours of hard labor in the fields surrounding the prison, they told other prisoners and also some of the villagers about Jesus and led many to Him. The Lord, she realized, was using the women to spread the gospel to areas of China where the Good News had never before been preached.

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