Feza Ertek eludes description. The sheer density of her spirituality either attracts or repels. She’s direct in the way that really spiritual people are; as if she’s somehow transcended the minor earthly concerns of the body. We mortals of flesh and blood trade in a currency that Feza transcends.
And yet she wasn’t always that way.
Flesh and blood have played a brutal part in the transformation of this Muslim-turned-Christian woman. The story of her life unfolds like a series of surreal dream sequences. It’s a life rife with poetic justice, moment upon moment dripping with narrative meaning.
Jer Adrian, a Pastor from Feza’s church, has known her for a year now. “She’s been on a mission trip to Africa with us, she is involved in our community settings, and in serving on a ministry team,” he says. “The first time I heard her story, I literally felt that I was in the presence of one of God’s elect.”
So. A story woven by God or by the tapestry of chance?
Feza grew up with a strange sensitivity to the spiritual. She distinctly remembers feeling goosebumps when she first heard about Jesus in Turkey where she grew up, in standard Islamic teaching as Jesus the prophet. “I then felt Jesus is my boyfriend,” she insists. She speaks in present tense but is referring to the past. “I truly felt that way, even though I was only five years old.”
Her childhood-self’s reaction to Allah, on the other hand, was the complete opposite. “I wanted to see Allah, so I prayed and asked him to show his face.” A dream ensued —one with an ugly, creepy figure with long fingernails, leering at the young Feza in grotesque lust. “I knew that was Allah,” she says, “and that he is not God. Because a true God would never make me afraid like that.”
Yet despite her categorical denial of Allah’s deity and of Islam, fear followed her throughout childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. She lived as a spiritual/secular Muslim, denying the faith inwardly, not practicing it outwardly, yet absorbing its spiritism through and through. She knew, she says, that there was a God. She just didn’t know why He kept leaving her.
“I was so angry at God. Every night of my life, I felt that I would go to sleep, holding God’s hand. But that if I let go of his hand, he wouldn’t be with me. Then every morning, I would feel that God left me because I let go of his hand while I was asleep. I was so afraid.”
By 12, Feza had become the community fortune teller. She would read the dregs of Turkish coffee to tell the future with alarming accuracy. “I would describe peoples’ houses, terrace, furniture, light without even seeing it. And I would always be right.”
Her gift haunted her. She felt spirits in every corner, darkness and demons (“as Muslims, we believed they were good demons”) lurking in every room and presences in empty houses. At night, she says they pushed down on her body and physically suffocated her.
By 2001, despite a successful government-level career in advertising, she was depressed and anxious beyond compare. The hyper-spirituality took its toll. She left her 10 and 11 year-old sons in Turkey with her ex-husband and his new wife, and she fled to New York City, where she began working as a diamond appraiser. “I was so miserable. I felt like I’m not from this earth,” she says.
In New York, Feza came to a fork in the road. A new American friend of hers, Monika, wanted to set her up with a friend, a radical Algerian-Muslim. The initial meeting would go down inside a Catholic church — at a Christmas Eve Mass. Monika was a Catholic. This was Feza’s first ever direct exposure to Christianity. “Jesus takes care of me,” Monika told Feza as they walked to mass to meet the Algerian-Muslim. “I can close my eyes and walk forward and He’ll catch me.”
Or at least that’s what Feza understood with her limited grasp of English at the time. She says she lifted her hands that night and uttered an off-the-cuff prayer, “OK Jesus, if you’re really God, then come meet me in my backyard!”
She says He did.
That night, after mass, Feza was sitting alone in her private basement suite. All of a sudden, she says she saw a flash of light out the basement window, and heard a huge crash. She waited a few seconds for the sound of sirens or for a signal that the electricity had gone out. Nothing.
The next morning, Feza went outside to take out the trash. Her door led into a backyard patio that was ringed with trees. But two of the trees had fallen to the ground, when all the others remained standing. They were the two trees that were directly in front of her basement window, and had broken at the trunk and crashed onto the ground. They had been so close to her window that it would have been physically impossible for anyone to push them to the ground, away from the building.
It appeared to be a supernatural intervention. Feza says her landlord was flummoxed. A crowd gathered, and people started taking pictures.
“I read much later on in Psalm 19 that “God’s Word can cut trees to the ground,” says Feza.
Jesus had indeed shown up in her backyard; Feza, however, moved on. She had fallen in love with the radical Algerian-Muslim she had met at Catholic mass.
Feza moved in with her new boyfriend, and for the first time in her life, caved in to radical Muslim practices. She donned a hijab. Quit her job. She let her boyfriend beat her.
Her life, she says, became an unholy trio of beating, sex, and worship. “My boyfriend would be praying in the corner to Allah with his prayer mat. Then he would look over and see that I had eaten the last piece of balaclava on the table. He would tell Allah — I’m going to put you on hold, Allah, I’ll be right back — and he would come over and beat me until my blue robe was no longer blue, but soaked in blood. Then he would go back and continue praying.”
When asked why she didn’t leave, especially when she considered herself a free-thinking, emancipated, modern woman, she says, “I couldn’t leave. I thought I was in love.”
Feza became obsessively jealous over her new boyfriend, worrying over an absent “wife” (whom he had married to obtain a green card), over his broken promises to marry Feza, and over his threats to take another younger, second wife.
Compelled by frantic suspicion, she turned their apartment inside out, searching for signs of his infidelity.
“When I finally found myself on the floor, digging through dirty toilet paper, sniffing it for semen,” she says, “at that moment, God came to me. And I admitted I was really sick.” But admission didn’t grant her freedom. She says she decided to poison her boyfriend’s food, eat it with him, and die together.
She did buy the poison. She did cook the food.
But when it came time for her boyfriend to eat, she told him the truth. “I’ve never been able to lie,” she says. She told him everything. He left.
This, she says, was God’s mercy to her. He left her in that apartment and never came back. She went back to work. In a low and lonely moment, she ran into a co-worker of hers. Pierre, a Lebanese diamond trader.
Pierre gave her a Bible.
Feza says she flipped the King James Bible open and it landed on Isaish 43:1: “Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.”
This, Feza says, blew her mind. She had lived her entire life in fear. Unconditional love and acceptance were the things that she had been hungering for. “When I opened another page, it came to 1 Corinthians 13. God was talking about love. There isn’t even one letter about love in the Qur’an.” From that point on, her spiritual journey took a wild turn.
She had met the Christian God.
Feza’s journey of faith brought her back to Turkey, then to Canada. Earlier this year, she flew to NYC for the first time since her conversion and went to find Pierre to thank him for giving her a Bible.
She’s in tears as she reflects on her journey of faith. “I don’t feel pain anymore. I don’t understand depression. I am so thankful to Jesus for saving me. And when I cry, I am crying for the people who do not know God.”
She dabs at her eyes with tissue. “He showed me how humble He was and He came to my backyard. He proved everything to me. And I just want to spend the rest of my life telling others that.”
Photo (Flickr CC) by C G.
Originally published in Issue 19 of Converge Magazine.