A Living Breathing Christian Martyr
To Live Is Christ – To Die Is Gain
Recently I attended a talk given by a young woman who, despite having her face disfigured, melted by battery acid, having been shot twice and pronounced dead — lives a life with a smile on her face, a hop in her step and a message of love and hope and redemption that should be an inspiration to all of us.
Gulnaz “Julie” Aftab was a sixteen year old Pakistani teen living in a Muslim majority country — where only 4% are Christian — when she was brutally attacked for nothing more than being a Christian.
She was born in Pakistan and raised in a Christian home, living a life as second class citizens in a segregated society, allowed access only to the lower, entry level, servant jobs. Julie was the oldest sibling and dropped out of school to work when her father injured his back and could no longer perform his duties as a bus driver.
Julie provided the best she could for her family by working in a small local business. One day a customer came into the shop, and as Julie approached the counter to assist the man, he asked her if she was a Christian. She answered that she was. The man then asked Julie to remove her pendant cross she wore around her neck. Apparently it was offensive to him. She politely refused. She refused because it was not only part of her identity, it was a gift from her grandmother who had passed away. The man then told her she didn’t have to live in poverty, she would be blessed if she converted to Islam. He said the community would support her and give her all she needed. Again she refused the offer. The man then placed a handful of money on the counter and told her she could have it if only she converted to Islam. Once again Julie said no.
As a girl she was told from her youth she couldn’t do certain things and she had developed a strong, competitive and independent spirit along the way, always wanting to prove others wrong. Her persistence, while tested, would not waver.
The man then told her she was living in darkness. Julie replied no, she believed she was living in light. The man then quizzed her asking, “do you believe Islam is darkness?” and she answered him, those are your words, you said it, not me. He then tried to grab Julie but she backed away. He told her he was giving her one last chance to convert and keep the money — Julie frustrated by the intimidation and threats, picked up the money, said no, and threw it in his face.
Later that day the man returned, only this time he didn’t have money for Julie, he had battery acid. He threw in on Julie hitting her face and arms. Then while another man held her by the hair the first man poured more acid down her throat — claiming he was “going to silence the mouth that had blasphemed Allah.”
It’s clear that these men are evil, what isn’t clear is whether or not they had got their marching orders by reading surah 22:19 “Punish the unbelievers with garments of fire, hooked iron rods, boiling water; melt their skin and bellies.” Or maybe it was surah 48:29 that says “Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and those who are with him are severe against disbelievers, and merciful among themselves.” There is no question these Muslim men were severe against Julie, an innocent sixteen year old girl.
Julie had first hand knowledge that in Pakistani culture such actions by a minority could have resulted in her being hurt or raped, and while she had seen first hand the violence and the killing, she never thought this would happen to her.
Julie recounts in vivid detail how her face and arms were literally smoking, smoldering from the acid melting her skin, and how the pain was excruciating, she even described how part of her cheek, melted, fell to the ground before her very eyes, exposing her teeth below. She lost sight in one eye in the attack as well.
Some local hospitals refused to help Julie because she was a Christian, and when she finally found a hospital that would help her, mobs gathered and threatened to burn it down, forcing her family to flee and take Julie to a third then a fourth medical facility to treat her injuries. She suffered for nearly two weeks before she was pronounced dead — only to be revived by doctors after her mother pleaded for them to administer oxygen. She would spend the next year in the hospital trying to recover.
Many of the doctors and nurses were cruel to Julie, using industrial (rather than medial grade) gloves to scrub her wounds and refusing to give her any anesthesia during the skin graph operations. One doctor, a Muslim, even offered to pay for her treatment but only if she converted to Islam.
Later, she would be threatened with a public hanging by local officials because “They thought it would be an insult to Islam if I lived,” she recalled. Mob justice resulted in her being shot twice by fanatics who wanted her dead — even her parents home was burned to the ground as the community turned against them.
Julie’s fortunes changed one day when her family met a local bishop who said he would try to help — and help he did by contacting the Shiners Hospital for Children. Soon Julie would find herself with a visa and on her way to living with a host family, a Christian family, eager to bring her in and who would welcome her as an adopted daughter. Julie has endured over 30 surgeries to repair the damage done that fateful day in Pakistan.
A modern day martyr, Julie is an inspiration to all of civilized humanity. The first in her family to graduate high school and college, she is continuing her education as an accounting major. Today, Julie is married and expecting her first child.
Julie has spent the last 12 years here in America (unable to see her family in Pakistan, who are to this day refused visas to travel abroad) and has become a naturalized U.S. Citizen. A proud American, she began her own foundation to help other poor Christian children in Pakistan.
She has turned her story of pain and torture and near death into one of renewed hope where she helps little Julie’s in her former homeland to get a private Christian education so that they too can one day realized their dreams and the plan God has for their lives.
A real life story of triumph over tragedy, Julie knows what so many of us — who have never experienced such trials and trauma — could learn from her, that true healing doesn’t come from three dozen surgeries; true healing begins on the inside and works its way out.
You can help Julie’s foundation Renew The Hope by sending a donation or perhaps just thank her for telling her story of hope in a world filled with shadows and darkness. You can contact her at the following email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
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