Behind the Veils of Yemen: How an American Woman Risked Her Life, Family and Faith to Bring Jesus to Muslim Women
Audra Grace Shelby
“Lord, haven’t we been through enough?”
Shelby’s very human, refreshingly female perspective on adjusting to missionary life in Yemen is engaging. From her doubts about Christianity to the tests – beginning with her husband’s brush with death before they leave home – Shelby invites readers into her crises of trust.
Shelby doesn’t apologize for her first impressions of the culture around her, leaving the reader to wonder whether she rethought them. The grandiose subtitle coloured my impressions; hopefully it was the publisher’s addition and not an indication of a lack of humility. As I read Shelby reaction to her Arabic teacher’s prayer and questioning “Do you pray?”: “‘Of course I pray,’ I answered. I wanted to add, ‘but not as a show for others,’” I caught myself judging Shelby for judging her teacher! Recalling my cross-cultural experiences, I found my own condescension mirrored through her words.
However, it was hard not to feel anger along with her at the unfair treatment of girls and women in Yemen. Brides of 19 had already lost children to malnutrition, women were forced to live and work in shacks while their husbands sat outside chewing tobacco or buying pornography, and girls were beaten by boys who were never scolded for it. For women in Tihama villages, the illiteracy rate was 98 percent.
Shelby grows in her engagement with the women around her. Early on in her cross-cultural experience, at a wedding with her Arabic tutor, Shelby refused to allow the women to do her hair and makeup, and I felt the loss of an opportunity, but when she let the women pull her into their circle, it dawned on her that “they were pleased more by my willingness to dance with them than they were by my skills in dancing” – a lesson she applied to more than footwork. After some time in Yemen, Shelby’s choice to wear her balto covering on a day trip with English-speaking friends in t-shirts cost her their friendship, but won her the trust of the village.
“How easy it is to let lives go unnoticed. Lord, keep me from letting any life slip by.” Shelby welcomes us into her prayer closet, and God’s surprising answers in luggage and trees become parables for her and her readers. Perhaps her story will bring an answer to her prayer for workers: relationships, like the ones she cultivated with her Arabic tutor and the women in the villages, take time.
Readers interested in interfaith and cross-cultural communication, and anyone who has faced uncertainty with shaky faith, will resonate with Shelby’s journey toward saying along with her Muslim friends Ma’a sha’alla – “what God wills.”