Behind the Veil of Reconciliation

Chrissie Shaheen was born into a unique household in Dalton, Georgia. Her mother was a Southern belle and her father was an Arab Palestinian. To make her childhood even more interesting, she lived next door to a Jewish family.

Today, Shaheen oversees an equally unique women’s ministry in the Middle East that involves Muslims, Jews, and Christians. What follows is an adapted conversation between Shaheen and Good News editor Steve Beard about this outreach in the Middle East.

You grew up within a very unique home. 

We had two cultures in our household growing up. And we loved it. We thought it was an amazing thing.

Furthermore, our next-door neighbors were Jewish. And we shared and celebrated life and holidays together. It was not unusual for them to come over for Christmas morning and we go over there for Hanukkah. Or for them to come over at Easter and we join them for Passover. My entire life has been intertwined with the Jewish people.

Photo courtesy of The Tent.

Photo courtesy of The Tent.

You had been trained as a banker but something obviously very special happened on your first trip to the Holy Land?

I came back from that first trip in 1996 and I just wanted to study the Word. I had such powerful encounters with God and I wanted to know Him better. So I studied for two and a half years the Hebraic roots of our faith and God began to reconcile my heart to the Jewish people and to Israel and really reconcile my past in so many ways. It was a profound experience for me.

You are half Palestinian. When you say God began to work in your heart and broaden you to love the people in Israel, you are referring to Jewish people. That had to be a big step because your family background. 

My family is from a city called Ramallah, the capital of the West Bank, about 15 miles from Jerusalem. Originally, the city was a Christian village established in the early 1500s and my family was one of the founding families of Ramallah, establishing the city as a Christian village.

It stayed predominantly Christian for quite a number of years. Over time, the complexion of the city began to change. My family has a long history in this beautiful little city. And it’s no longer a Christian village. It’s now 98 percent Muslim and the headquarters of the PLO.

How did your ministry begin? 

It really started in 1998, after my second trip to Israel. I came back to Georgia with a broken heart because I wanted to be in the Middle East and my heart had been connected to that area. On my way to work, I asked the Lord:  “Would you allow me to serve You for three months in Jerusalem?” He had a very quick answer for that and in four months I was in Jerusalem. I was part of a prayer ministry and we would meet people in the Old City. There was a revival at that time and a lot of young people were coming to faith.

Young women began to invite me into their homes. The Middle East is a very hospitable part of the world. Having tea or coffee or dinner is commonplace. I was in one home and as we finished coffee, and my young hostess took me into her bedroom, closed the door behind us, and locked it. She then turned the music up really loud so no one could hear us and she began to cry.

“I’ve never had anyone to tell the things that happened to me as a child,” she said. And it was just one abuse story after another. This beautiful Christian young woman had just gotten married and didn’t know how to relate to her husband because of the pain of her past.

We all wear labels – some that others have stuck on us and others that we have stuck on ourselves. In our prayers, we began to release her from the labels of “abused” or “rejected” that had been put on her and applied the new labels that Jesus says about her as being “redeemed” and “restored” and the “bride” he’s returning for. And that began our ministry.

Every woman I met, whether they were Arab Christians or Muslims who know Jesus or Jews who know Jesus told me the same stories — one abuse issue after another.

Photo courtesy of The Tent.

Photo courtesy of The Tent.

It sounds as if this is a very persistent and prevalent issue in the Middle East? 

The reason this woman never told anyone is because it would have brought shame upon the family. And to redeem that family, someone would have to be either hurt or killed or ostracized in some way. She never said anything because she was so afraid that this would bring shame on her household. And shame on the household in the Middle East is not redeemable.

It’s not that you can simply hope that the next generation is okay. It affects every generation thereafter. Some people won’t get jobs and some people won’t have families. It affects them deeply. She carried that burden within her all those years.

Women in the Middle East are often considered to be third and fourth class citizens at best. The abuse rate is estimated to be 85 percent. There really isn’t a way to share that with anyone.

This issue seemed to permeate many cultures. 

When a girl is born in many households, they mourn for 40 days over the birth of a little baby girl because it’s not honored. From the day that baby is born, she experiences criticism.

Your ministry is called the Tent. What does that represent? 

Amos 9:11 says, “In that day the tabernacle, or the tent of David will be rebuilt. And that the rest of mankind will — they will restore and rebuild it and — so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord.”

The way the Lord put this ministry together was to bring Arab and Jewish believers together so that the rest of the world can witness Jesus in us. This would fulfill the scripture of John 17 that Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, that we would be one so that the world will know He was sent by the Father and that the Father loves them.

Remarkably, your ministry works in Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Nazareth. And The Tent is in ministry to Arab Muslims, Arab Christians, as well as Jews. That must take some very creative ingenuity and divine wisdom. 

Jesus is very creative. We found that women were so oppressed and there had never really been anyone to just show them love and do special things for them. When we opened our doors, we wanted to do things that were special for them. We had the whole place decorated in a beautiful way and share whatever Scripture God lays on our heart that month. But then we also offer things like a salon day or a spa month where we have a retreat set up for them and they can come and get facials and manicures and massages and then we have the opportunity during those events to ask them how we can pray for them. Most people never ask that question of women. “Do you have a family member who’s sick?” or “Do you have a broken relationship?” That was a biggie. We offered to pray for reconciliation and healing. And women just cry and tell us their stories.

The Tent also operates a coffee shop? 

Yes. We have a gate that crosses the threshold of our door and we were outside one day. It was at a time of day when the coffee shop wasn’t open. A beautiful young woman was walking by and she began to slow down a bit when she got closer to our gate and she looked over and said, “I’ve been wanting to know what’s happening here. I see this sign about Al Wahah.” That is the Arabic word for the Oasis, the name of our center and coffee shop. I began to tell her about our seminars and our classes and the special events we do just for women. She loved the idea and wanted to come and then she said, “You know, I’m originally from Ramallah.”

Now, not everybody would just throw that information out there all the time, but she did. This was great for me because then I had the open door to say to her, “My family is from Ramallah.”

She looked at me with big eyes as if to say, “Are you kidding me? Your family is from Ramallah?” I had the opportunity to tell her about my great uncle and my family. We did many things in Ramallah, establishing schools and hospitals and wanting to build up the infrastructure and bless the people of Ramallah.

She asked me if I was part of Iza Shaheen’s family and I said, “Yes, that’s my uncle.” I was very excited because I love my great uncle very much. And she said, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to know someone from this family.” And I said, “Why would you want to know someone from this family?” And she said, “Well, I always wanted to know why someone would be so good as to build us a school.”

That was the door the Lord opened for me to be able to minister into her life. I said, “Why don’t you come in and let me serve you a cup of coffee and let’s talk?” So for two and a half hours, this woman sat in our coffee shop and began to tell me her story. “I grew up in a Muslim family,” she said, “and my heart was always to marry an older man and be the second wife.”

Hmm. That’s not a very common confession.  

That’s right. Tears began to stream down her face when she began to talk about how painful it is to be the second wife and the abuse and the neglect of her children and there was no real relationship with her husband. And she was just kind of put away and cast aside.

And I asked her, I said, “Is there any way you’d allow me to pray with you?” And she allowed me to bless her and pray with her and pray for her to know in her heart who she really is created to be — not the second wife.

It sounds as if you deal with so much hurt and pain? 

Yes. Many women walk in our doors veiled physically. They’ll take off their veils physically and then they take off their veils spiritually, then emotionally. They really open up with us — God’s unveiling for women.

How do their husbands feel about your work with their wives?

I love that question. It is odd to think that Muslim men would appreciate us and that we wouldn’t be more persecuted for what we’re doing. But these women are coming to us and they’re getting so encouraged and they leave with these big smiles on their faces and their children are happy, their homes are happy, their husbands are happy. In fact, it gets to the point where if she’s having a bad day, her husband recommends that she come to us.

Talk about the events you have for couples.

The Lord opened up the door because we actually heard so many stories about these husbands and we wanted to know them, too, and in fact, the husbands wanted to know us better. In response, we offered a marriage seminar. I don’t like doing anything without purpose. If we are going to meet the husbands, I wanted something creative and wonderful with them. And so, we brought in a Christian Arab couple who lead marriage seminars and we offered them a six-week course where they learn about relationships, love languages, and how important it is to know how your spouse experiences or receives love.

We end up with a big dinner and it’s so important for these husbands and wives to experience that with one another. It’s sold out. We have a waiting list for our marriage seminars and our dinners.

So your ministry of reconciliation is not just between Jews and Arabs, Muslim and Christian, but also husbands and wives? 

That’s right. Yes. God’s creative like that, too. Reconciliation isn’t just between God and us, it’s also between each other.

What drew you in to the ministry of reconciliation? 

It is a big part of what we do. It’s the foundation of everything we started. For ten years, the Lord had me ministering to hurting women, bringing healing and reconciliation in their identity.

I have Jewish friends who love Jesus very much. They would say to me, “Chrissie, I want to know your Muslim friends who know Jesus. My image of these people are basically that they strap bombs to themselves and get on our buses and blow people up.” And I said, “No problem, I can introduce you to them. Because they really want to know their sisters in Christ.”

And then my Muslim friends began to say to me, “Chrissie, I’ve never met a Jew who knows Jesus, and I want to because all I know of those Jewish people is that they’re soldiers at the checkpoints with guns and they give me a hard time and they make it difficult for my life, they oppress us. And I want to know my Jewish sisters.”

So we started doing some dinners and retreats and God really began to change their lives. And change my life, quite honestly, too. As we began to worship in Arabic and Hebrew and English, I began to see women’s hearts melt. They began to feel connected and cry as they would worship in one another’s language. We also had difficult discussions during our retreat times where we would talk political issues or land issues. Those are always very, very painful.

One night those discussions became so heavy that I am sure no one slept that night. It was that difficult for them. The next day, when we went into worship, it was as if cold water had been just poured out on the whole place and no one could go into worship.

How do you move forward from this point?

During the retreat each women was invited to write God’s favorite name for them and their name of God on a piece of paper. And I went to the microphone, and I just began to call out these names. I began to say things like “bride” and “love” and “joy” and “peace” and “sister” and “friend” and “beloved one,” and I looked out at those Arab and Jewish women, sisters in Christ, divided by hurt and I looked at them and said, “Can we begin to see each other the way God sees us?” And that led us into a whole different level of worship. Tears began to stream down their faces as we worshipped with one another.

We had set up areas around the facility and one of the areas we set up was a foot washing area and I saw two women approach that section of the room. One of the women was raised Muslim. Today, she has a wonderful ministry in bringing Muslim women to faith, but she also grew up hating Jews. She has seen very difficult things at the hands of Jews. The other woman was a Jewish believer in Christ, a second generation Holocaust survivor. The two of them had had a very painful conversation the night before about their past experiences.

The woman who had been raised Muslim began to weep and knelt down and washed the Jewish woman’s feet and repented for the pain and the suffering that she, her family, and her people had caused them. And then the same happened vice versa.  Our Jewish sister did the same for her.

This is what our ministry is all about. The only way I can describe that was as if heaven and earth kissed at that moment. It reminded me of when Jesus taught us to pray that His will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. In that moment, it was.

Amen. Thank you.

Steve Beard is the editor of Good News.

Comments

  1. kate brennan says

    Yeshua is the only place where Arabs, and Muslims can meet and leave their hurt and hatred behind`;
    “These things I command you, that you love one another” (John 15:17). Chrissie Shaheen’s ministries and the outreach at Al Waha is fulfilling this commandment.

    We must remember that the term ‘Palestinian’ was given to both Jews and ARabs. Yeshua, as the Malach Ha Brit (Angel of the Covenant)(Malachi 3:1) did not do away with the law, including the land covenant to Israel and in the near future, any non-Jewish believer may live in any tribal land under the same Torah that will go forth from Zion/Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:3)

  2. Tom Patterson says

    Who is Chrissie Shaheen’s father?

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