1 Nebela Mahmood had the perfect life: a large house, servants, a cook, driver, and laundry service. Her husband was a major in the army and she was an obstetrician and gynecologist. She also had a beautiful five year old daughter and she was twenty-eight weeks pregnant with her second child. Yet she had one problem: she was a Christian in Pakistan.
2 The problem lies in the fact that her town, Lahore, is located two hours from the Indian border. Radical religious groups flock to Pakistan in order to regroup after they have been chased out of neighboring countries.
3 “Pakistan is a hub for all these people,” said Nebela.
4 Nebela Mahmood was forced to leave her home in Pakistan due to religious persecution because she was a Christian in a land where the majority of the people are Muslim. She sacrificed her joy of practicing medicine in order to ensure the survival of her children.
5 On a seemingly ordinary day in 2001, Nebela’s life was altered forever. That day, two bearded men in turbans came into her medical office and accused her of preaching the “Gospel.” They demanded that she leave “her religion” and embrace Islam.
6 During the next few weeks, she received phone calls that included abusive language and dirty words for the name of Jesus. The callers threatened that they would kill her if she did not change her religion. They went so far as to say that they would kidnap her daughter if she did not comply with their demands.
7 After another two weeks passed, a “Fatwa,” was issued in her name. This edict was manipulated by radical Islamists to mean a death sentence. It originally meant a religious opinion concerning Islamic law and was issued by an Islamic scholar.
8 Signs were placed on her house demanding for her to convert. Consequently, she was forced to go into hiding with her family. She and her family stayed at a relative’s house.
9 “You are living for your life every day. It’s the risk you take. You never feel safe,” said Nebela.
10 She thought that the threats of violence would eventually be forgotten and then she and her family could return to their home.
11 This hope was shattered on September 11, 2001. The events that occurred that day convinced Nebela that she had to move her family out of Pakistan.
12 “Everybody is paying the price for 9/11,” said Nebela.
13 She and her family arrived in the United States around September 27, 2001. They were able to obtain asylum status. At the beginning, they stayed with her husband’s brother where they were forced to live in a room with one bed.
14 The only job her husband could find was at a Luke Oil gas station working the 11-7am shift. She found work as a bank teller because she could not afford to complete her medical residency in order to become certified to practice medicine in the United States.
15 Nebela smiled as her son ran into the room and she scooped him up into her arms. Although it is difficult for Nebela to put her professional goals on hold, she does so because she has a more important job to attend to: motherhood.
16 “I am a mother first,” she said as she hugged her tiny son close to her chest. “I am sacrificing my life for them.”
17 Throughout her life, Nebela has always placed her children’s needs above her own. Even when she was experiencing persecution in Pakistan, she made it a priority to shield her daughter from any painful experiences.
18 When asked about what she remembered of her life in Pakistan, Saba responded: “It was a pretty great life. I can’t remember the bad aspects.”
19 Nebela also made sure that her children received the medical assistance they required.
20 When her daughter developed allergy symptoms, Nebela found a clinic in West Chester, Pennsylvania called Community Volunteers in Medicine where she could get medical assistance despite the fact that she had no insurance. The idea that she had to buy medical insurance was a new concept for Nebela. In Pakistan, there was socialized medicine.
21 “It’s very hard here (United States) to buy medicine. Over there (Pakistan), poor people can see a doctor,” said Nebela.
22 Mary Wirshup, the family practice doctor at the clinic, treated Nebela and her family. The first time that Dr. Wirshup met Nebela, she was dressed completely in Pakistani garb.
23 "She looked like a culture that was foreign to me. She looked Middle Eastern at a time when it wasn’t beneficial to look that way,” said Dr. Wirshup
24 Yet appearances can be deceiving. “I was surprised to hear that she was being persecuted by them (Muslims),” said Dr. Wirshup.
25 The typical doctor-patient relationship soon blossomed into something more: a friendship.
26 "My heart went out to her because she couldn't practice the medicine she loved. We bonded because we both had tremendous faith in God; we loved medicine and our families,” said Dr. Wirshup.
27 Dr. Wirshup found a way to get Nebela's daughter, Saba, a soccer scholarship to play on the EBYA soccer team that she coached during the fall season. She also invited Nebela and her two children to go to Dutch Wonderland, a children’s theme park in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
28 “I wanted to help her out in whatever way I could in order to get her back on her feet,” Dr. Wirshup said.
29 Dr. Wirshup admired the amount of patience that Nebela possessed especially in regards to her children.
30 “You could tell how much she loved her kids. She was willing to sacrifice everything she could to help them have a better life,” said Dr. Wirshup.
31Nebela was even willing to sue one of her own kind: a doctor. She did so in order to get her son the help he needed.
32 When her son was 15 months old, his gait became unbalanced and he had trouble walking. Doctors did not discover that he had Biotinidase enzyme deficiency quick enough to save his hearing.
33 Part of the problem was that her son did not show the usual symptoms of the deficiency because he had been getting biotin in the milk formula he drank. It was not until he had been weaned off of the milk that he started showing symptoms.
34 Nebela sued the responsible doctors in a malpractice suit and won. The money allowed her to buy the house she now lives in and to get her son the medical assistance he needs. But this victory did not change the fact that her son lost eighty percent of his hearing.
35 “Winning the case was the only way to guaranteed that her son would get the care he needed for the rest of his life,” said Dr. Wirshup. “Her son will need speech therapy, hearing aids, and physical therapy for most of his life.”
36 In Nebela eyes, it was a miracle that her son survived his illness.
37 “When I look at my son, I know that God has things planned. You enjoy things more when you work for them. For my son, I have suffered a lot.”
38 Yet Nebela worries for her son as he grows up. His hearing impairment affects every part of his life including how he interacts with his peers. When he attends a friend’s birthday party, he ends up sitting alone while all the other children are playing because he becomes frustrated when he cannot hear everything his friends are saying.
40 Despite his hearing impairment, her son is very intelligent, although he must work twice as hard as everyone else. Her husband and she have planned their schedules so that one of them is always home with their son to help work with him on his studies. They use signs and cueing in order to communicate more effectively with him.
41 Sitting in her house in a wealthy county of Pennsylvania, she now wears blue jeans and a T-shirt. Her brown hair is pulled back in a barrette. Her Pakistani garb is packed away and only makes an appearance for special occasions.
42 “If I wear them now, I feel uncomfortable,” Nebela said in reference to her traditional outfits.
43 Nine years have passed since Nebela first arrived in this country. She now has a green card status and in four years she will be eligible to take the test for citizenship. She will most likely never return to Pakistan.
44 “Nothing is safe.” She spoke of how the Taliban have infiltrated Pakistan’s capital city. “If the Taliban can go in there, they can do anything.”
45 As she serves caramel brownies to her children, she explains that she misses the people more than the place where she once lived.
46 “I miss my family,” said Nebela.
47 She misses her sisters and her parents the most. She specifically wishes that she could see her sisters’ children grow up.
48 She takes out two large faded photo albums which hold snapshots of her past, specifically her wedding. Her fingers barely touch the surface of the photos as she traces the outline of a younger, thinner, less careworn version of herself. The next photo showed her sisters painting henna on her arms which Nebela said was an intricate part of the wedding ceremony. Her fingers walk across the page to rest on the image of her sisters placing mustard oil on her head which she explains is an important part of the ceremony.
49 The next page showed an older woman holding a small child in her arms which Nebela explained was her mother with her sister’s child.
50 These traces of her earlier life remain. Like the foundations of a house, they provide stability and strength when the storms come.
51 Now in her new life, other members of her family provide support and encouragement. These forms of support come in the form of her daughter, Saba.
52 “She’s a very strong woman. I admire her for sticking through everything. I really hope she gets her medical career back someday,” said Saba.
53 Through the support of the Church and her family, Nebela has been able to endure the many difficult storms in her life. She has been able to keep a positive attitude and find joy despite her circumstances.
54 “When I look at things, everything I suffered, my son’s suffering, everything had a meaning. It had to do with something,” She said as she kissed the top of her son’s tousled hair.