One month before her visa expires, Fatima Dede begs her pastor to act as matchmaker and find her a Christian husband. If she returns to Mauritania, she must marry the Muslim her parents and imam picked out—or die as a martyr for her newfound faith in Jesus. Her pastor comes up with three candidates: Stuart, a practical-minded widower with two children; Amir, a self-styled playboy who loves to spend his father's money; and Barry, who drops out of the running when Fatima shows up late. Time and circumstance introduce a fourth candidate: Chad, a secret admirer who finally works up the nerve to ask Fatima out. He knows nothing of her crisis, and she's afraid to tell him, lest this serendipitous chance of romance fly away. Will Fatima find the courage to reveal her plight?
Fatima Dede wrung her hands as she lifted her gaze and forced the words out. “Pastor, do you arrange marriages?”
“No, Mrs. Howard takes care of all wedding arrangements. But first, it’s our policy here at Midtown Chicago Ministries that I—or the associate pastor—conduct an interview with you and your future husband.” Pastor Marks smiled, his gray eyes twinkling under salt-and-pepper brows. “Is he someone I know?”
Fatima pressed invisible wrinkles from her skirt. “Forgive me, Pastor. My English is not good. What I meant was, in my country, a girl doesn’t pick her own husband. Her parents look for someone suitable. And discuss it with his parents. And the imam. And—”
Pastor Marks held up his hand. “Your English is perfectly good. I’m the one who didn’t understand. You want me to assume the role of a matchmaker and find you a Christian husband, is that right?”
“Yes, before my visa expires.”
“What?” He sat bolt upright, jolting his rolling chair an inch or two back from the glass-topped desk. “But that’s only four weeks away. An important matter like marriage shouldn’t be rushed into. Surely you know that, Miss Dede. Why, even if I were in the matchmaking business, which I’m not; and even if I could find someone on such short notice, which I can’t, I would never recommend—”
Fatima could hear his words, but they seemed to come from farther and farther away. A woozy weakness threatened to overcome her. She gripped the arms of the chair and willed for full consciousness to return.
Pastor Marks leaned forward. “Are you all right?”
“Please, Pastor. Hear me out. I know I’m asking the impossible. But your Jesus said that all things are possible to those who believe.”
“He’s your Jesus, too.”
“Yes, that’s what I’m counting on. I’m asking Jesus to work a miracle. Before it’s too late. You see, my parents are coming to take me home.”
“And you want to remain in America?”
Fatima drew a calming breath and tried to keep the desperation out of her voice. “If I go back to Mauritania, my family will force me to marry a Muslim. They’ve already picked him out. Paid the—I don’t know what you call it here.”
“Dowry. But can’t you say no?”
She shook her head. “I could say no during the ceremony and the wedding wouldn’t go forward. But my parents would hold me prisoner until I said yes to Tarak. Or some other man they chose. Then I would become his prisoner.”
“Are there no Christian men to choose from?”
“That’s just it. My parents would never let me choose.”
“I see.” He tented his fingers.
She sighed. “I’ve heard of converts in Mauritania. None from my people. Mostly Pulaarnear the Senegal border. The police throw them in prison. Many of them die there. It’s horrible. Don’t you see? I can’t go back. As much as I love my country, I-I—” She hung her head in shame. “I don’t want to die as a martyr.”
“No one does. So let’s consider the alternatives.”
His voice was soft and understanding, like her father’s. She nodded.
“Why can’t you extend your visa to stay here longer?” he asked. “I would think that your medical services would be valuable.”
“My parents would never allow it. They would inform the authorities that the only reason I wanted to stay was to marry an American citizen and gain a green card. Which is true. You see, once my residency at the hospital is finished, I’m supposed to return to Mauritania and start practicing medicine there.” Fatima groaned. “I should have come to you sooner. But I loved Ibrahim. I thought he loved me and would marry me.”
Pastor raised his eyebrows. “Ibrahim Buttar? But—”
“Yes, he returned to Pakistan to marry a Muslim girl. From a wealthy family. I feel like such a fool.”
“He fooled me, too. His faith seemed so genuine.” Pastor closed his eyes for a moment, as if in meditation. “Under the circumstances, you can consider yourself fortunate to have learned about Ibrahim’s true feelings, and faith, before entering into a disastrous marriage. But that won’t solve your present difficulty.”
“Then you’ll help me?” Fatima pleaded.
“Let me pray about it.” He shook his head as she started to protest. “No, not long. Just a day, okay? Hopefully, God will give me some idea of what to do. Perhaps the name of a matchmaking service to refer you to. Or a man to introduce you to.”
Hope bubbled up in her heart, dissolving some of the fear. “Oh, yes, Pastor, pray to Jesus for me. I want to do His will.”
“Here, write your phone number and email address on this slip of paper. And I promise. No later than 5:00 p.m. tomorrow, I’ll get back to you.”