Cecelia’s Costly Choice
Cecilia was still grieving her husband’s death when Habib Kabunda started visiting her small village in Uganda. Although he was a Muslim and she was a Christian, Habib had been a friend of Cecilia’s husband. So when he proposed marriage, Cecilia’s tribe voted that she should marry him, and Cecilia accepted. Her children needed a father, and she had no means of supporting her family.
After their marriage, which required Cecilia to convert to Islam, Habib moved into Cecilia’s mud-walled house, where they had children together and eventually became a family of nine. Habib worked, Cecilia managed the household and life seemed to return to normal.
As the years passed, however, Cecilia became increasingly uneasy with her adopted Islamic faith. She felt empty and depressed, and the words of the clerics at the mosque meant nothing to her. Recognizing that the problem was spiritual, she knew she had a decision to make. “I realized I had to stop right there and return to Christ,” she said.
Cecilia left the mosque and returned to church, even though she and Habib often fought about it. Her Christian faith became more central to her life, and she knew she would never return to Islam.
Then, one day Habib went to work and never came home. Days later, he called to tell her he was leaving her because she had become a Christian. He told her that he couldn’t live with her anymore and that he was leaving her to starve. While she could have taken an easier path and remained a nominal Muslim, she knew her relationship with Christ was worth the hardship. She trusted God to take care of her family.
Habib never said why he wanted to marry a Christian widow, but a Ugandan church leader said it falls in line with a Muslim conversion strategy in Uganda. According to Brother Stephen, the church leader, Muslims are rewarded if they marry a Christian, with the highest rewards going to those who manage to marry a pastor’s daughter.
While more than 80 percent of Ugandans consider themselves Christians, the work of Islamic missionaries as well as financial and educational incentives are persuading a growing number to convert to Islam. Since 2015, Islam has grown by 7 percent. “Especially in the north we have some areas where the Muslims are taking over,” Brother Stephen said.
With seven children to feed, Cecilia never had enough food for her family. They were slowly starving, their ragged clothes hanging off thin shoulders.
Cecilia tried to make extra money by doing gardening work for other people, but it wasn’t enough to support her family. And although friends from church shared what they could, they didn’t have much to spare either. Soon, the children had to quit school because Cecilia couldn’t afford tuition, and she couldn’t even afford the medicine to treat her youngest child for typhoid. Adding to her suffering and humiliation, her ex-husband’s family watched carefully, gloating that her Christian faith wasn’t going to save her from starving. That’s when Cecilia’s pastor called a local VOM worker for help.
Upon arriving at Cecilia’s home, the VOM worker was deeply saddened by the family’s situation; it was worse than he had expected. Everyone in the tiny one-room house slept on banana leaves and sacks stuffed with grass, the malnourished children often received only one meal each day, and the mud house looked like it could collapse on their heads.
With VOM’s support since 2017, Cecilia’s family has been doing better. She has been able to reinforce the walls of her house and add another room, and she bought mattresses and clothing for the children. In addition, a VOM worker visited the family recently and took the children shopping for school supplies, enabling them to wear shoes for the first time in their lives on the first day of school.
Cecilia’s pastor and church family are grateful that she is being provided for, and even the larger community recognizes how she is being helped through the body of Christ. One day as the VOM worker purchased items for Cecilia’s family in the local market, he overheard someone say, “The Lord has really answered that woman’s prayers. When she returned to Christ, everyone thought she would die quickly. Her husband’s relatives have been waiting to see her fail, but the Lord has given her a smile.”
Though Cecilia has faced many difficulties because of her decision to leave her husband’s Islamic faith, she has trusted God as her provider through it all. Today she attends a nearby church where the local Christians know her story and continue to support her. Her pastor, a former Muslim, understands what she has gone through and is able to provide encouragement when she needs it. And the VOM worker, who still visits the family regularly, has noted a change in her demeanor — Cecilia now smiles. “This is a sign of gratitude for the miracle the Lord is doing in their lives,” he said.
There is new life in Cecilia’s little mud house. The walls and roof have been repaired, and the family now sleeps on mattresses with blankets and sheets. Each weekday morning the children walk to school in their new shoes, and each evening they pray together on the floor of their now-sturdy home. The four walls that couldn’t hide their poverty and humiliation now shelter a family renewed through the love of their brothers and sisters in Christ.