The shroud of religious hostility still hangs over many former Soviet countries. Many of these countries in Central Asia have strict laws specifically outlawing religious education for children and teenagers.
Others are slightly more tolerant, yet both churches and parents still struggle to reach the younger generation. One of Open Doors’ biggest aims in this region is to find ways to reach students through both Christian and “secular” camps that create opportunities to share the good news of Jesus.
It was through one of these camps – and an infatuation with a girl – that Damir* had his life changed by Jesus.
*name changed to protect anonymity
Damir was a wealthy 16 year-old Muslim whose father was a high ranking official. As his parents’ only son, Damir was obedient and respectful and a good pupil at school, but his attitude towards other people was arrogant and haughty.
“I always thought that I was the best among my classmates, and I was proud of my family’s social status” Damir said. “I thought I could use people however I wanted.”
Last spring, Damir met a girl named Kamila*. After they had known each other a few months, Kamila went to one of Open Doors’ Christian summer camps. Despite the fact that her parents were Muslims, they let her attend the Christian camp. The cost was very small, Kamila’s family was very poor and opportunities like this were rare.
Damir decided to go too … sort of.
He wasn’t interested in a Christian camp experience, so he booked a room at a hotel located near the camp. His plan was to get some one on one time with Kamila away from the watchful eye of their parents. God had other plans.
The next morning, the teachers noticed Kamila had disappeared. They searched the camp grounds and eventually learned about Damir. The camp director found Damir’s room, knocked on his door and interrupted the two teenagers. Kamila didn’t expect anyone would find her and was terrified. She left crying with one of the teachers but the camp director, Sharifa* felt a prompting from God to talk with Damir.
“So I began by asking who he was and where he was from” Sharifa recalls. “He answered, but was very brazen and arrogant.”
As Sharifa remembers, the conversation then went like this:
Sharifa: “Do you love her?”
Damir: “Well, I like her.”
Sharifa: “What if you got her pregnant? Would you marry her?”
Damir: “No, I am not ready.”
Sharifa: “You wish to build up your own life first, yes?”
Sharifa: “Your parents would help you secure a good education and a good job in the future?”
Damir: “Yes, my father does everything to support me.”
Sharifa: “I’m sure in several years you will marry a good girl, but it probably won’t be Kamila.”
Damir: “I think so.”
Sharifa: “What about Kamila? What if she were to become pregnant and you didn’t marry her? She would likely have an abortion?”
Damir: “I think so.”
Sharifa: “What if she became infertile as a result?”
Damir: “I see that is possible.”
Sharifa: “Let’s just imagine… by the time you are 30-years-old you will be a successful man with a good job and a happy family. But can you imagine where Kamila would find herself? She would likely be alone. Her life at 30-years-old would be empty. Nobody would marry her because of infertility, and she, like so many in our country, could commit suicide. What do you think about that? You are a smart young man and I am not your teacher. I am not going to teach you, but I will control your contact with Kamila while she is here. After camp, you are responsible. You can decide.”
On that note, Sharifa left Damir alone in the room. That evening Damir went to the camp to speak with Sharifa.
“I came back because your words made me think,” Damir said. “I understand now that I am a man, and I am responsible. I promise not to be alone with Kamila.” He then asked for permission to participate in the camp events. He took part in games, evangelical meetings and Bible lessons. He visited the camp every day.
One day, the topic was “A Biblical View on Relationships between Boys and Girls.” As Damir shared later, that lesson changed his entire understanding on relationships. During an evangelical meeting, he decided to accept Christ.
“I came to this camp with only one goal,” Damir shared. “That was to have intimacy with Kamila, something new for me and new for her. I wanted this not because of my love, but because I wanted status and popularity. I didn’t care about the consequences. Now, I realize that I need close relationship and intimacy with Christ. My relationships with girls must be pure. I am responsible for controlling myself and not giving room for sin.”
Damir came to the camp to be intimate with a girl. Christ brought him there to change his life.
After the camp, Damir and Kamila made the decision to be friends while they sought God’s will for their lives. They prayed together that their parents would meet Christ.
“I want my parents and sisters to meet Christ, to learn about his love” Damir says. “But I am afraid of their opposition. Pray that God will give me courage to share with them.”
Damir is not the only teenager facing this problem. After the camps children and teenagers want to share their faith with their families. In some cases, relatives are resistant and place pressure on these young Christians. Some try to force them to return to Islam.