In search of a blessing
Muslim dad able to reconcile after daughter’s conversion to Christianity

by Mark Ellis

IRVINE, Calif. — After she came to Christ, her Muslim father told her she was ‘dead’ from that moment and she was never to grace the doorway of his home. But despite her father’s rejection, she found a new blessing from the Father of Lights.

Today, Sophia Marsh-Ochsner hosts “CounterCulture,” a weekday drive-time radio program on KBRT 740 AM.

The show, launched in April, explores those courageous change agents who, instead of shrinking back from culture, remain immersed in it to change it for good and show the world the face of Jesus. Discussion topics center on culturally relevant issues and feature interviews with leading thinkers in politics, religion and popular culture.

Her path to the microphone was birthed from personal pain.

The daughter of a Muslim Pakistani father and a Roman Catholic mother, Marsh-Ochsner, grew up in the industrial heartland of West Yorkshire, England. Honoring her father’s wishes, Marsh-Ochsner was raised in the Muslim faith, but from an early age, she sensed something missing in her visits to the mosque.

“There was a vacuum of God’s presence,” she thought.

One day a friend in high school invited Marsh-Ochsner to a Christian church. She went without telling her father and experienced something completely new.

“I felt the Spirit of God for the first time,” she said, adding that she left the church wanting to know more about Jesus.

About this time, Marsh-Ochsner’s father was getting more serious about Islam, taking several pilgrimages to Mecca and spending more and more time in the mosque.

“It became his only focus, to some degree,” she said. “It alienated my mom and caused a lot of friction.”

When Marsh-Ochsner visited the home of her Christian friends she saw an environment within their home that was strikingly different.

“I saw grace, peace, and mercy lived out,” she said.

One day Marsh-Ochsner asked her father about the claims of Jesus Christ. His face darkened, as if she had uttered a curse.

“If you ever question Islam—if you think Jesus is the Savior, you will be out on the street,” he warned her.

“I got the message that Islam must be surrendered to, in blind obedience to everything,” Marsh-Ochsner said. “There was no freedom to wrestle with my faith. I was forced to own it.”

A new world opens
Marsh-Ochsner won a scholarship to college in the United States, and landed in Los Angeles in 1989 where she met a young man from Kentucky who was a nominal Christian. The pair married, but within a year he met another woman.

Blindsided and heartbroken, Marsh-Ochsner placed a call to her mother-in-law. Marsh-Ochsner poured out her heart over the phone and listened as the older woman told Marsh-Ochsner: “You don’t need my son; you need The Son.”

“It really struck me because I expected her to rant and rave about her son and defend him,” she said.

A God-shaped light bulb began to flicker in Marsh-Ochsner’s soul.

Forty-eight hours later a non-descript package arrived on Marsh-Ochsner’s doorstep. Her mother-in-law had shipped her used Bible inscribed with a note.

“I went through a divorce and this is the Bible that helped me through,” she wrote.

Marsh-Ochsner’s eyes widened as she opened the Scripture and could see her mother-in-law’s “blood, sweat and tears” on its pages.

Not knowing where to begin reading, she started with 1 John because it was heavily marked.

“I was floored that the word ‘love’ and ‘God’ were in the same sentence,” she said. “Could this be a God who is relational … who loves me?” she wondered.

The God she grew up with in Islam was distant, strict and judgmental—much like her father.

“In Islam, I had to work my way toward God,” she said.

Pastoral guidance
While transitioning through her divorce, Marsh-Ochsner began attending a Los Angeles church. Through the guidance of its pastors she began to understand the concept of sin and redemption.

In one session she began to weep.

“Do you mean there’s no longer a need for me to pay and pay and pay? God sent somebody to pay it all on my behalf?” she said.

It was then that Marsh-Ochsner surrendered to Jesus and was born again.

“I was like the eunuch by the side of the road,” she said.

For the first time, Marsh-Ochsner felt approval from her heavenly Father as an adopted daughter, part of a kingdom and a story bigger than herself. She received the blessing of her Father above.

But approval from her earthly dad remained elusive. It disheartened her to receive letters from him that urged her to return to Islam.

A yolked soulmate
Four years ago, Marsh-Ochsner became engaged to Bob Ochsner, who earned a master’s degree in apologetics from Biola University. After their engagement was announced, a 20-page letter from Marsh-Ochsner’s father arrived urging Bob to become a Muslim.

Bob replied with his own lengthy letter, a point-by-point rebuttal that stated why he would not. Her father responded with an angry phone call to his daughter.

“So you’re saying that 1.5 billion Muslims are preaching an incorrect text?” he asked her. “Are you saying I have taught you lies? Are you saying that Jesus is the Messiah?”

There was a slight pause.

“Yes,” Marsh-Ochsner replied.

“You are dead for me from this moment on,” he told her. “Don’t call me. I will not come to your wedding. You are not welcome in my home.”

Then he hung up.

The daughter was heartbroken.

“I wanted his blessing on the wedding,” she said. “I wanted him to walk me down the aisle.” She recognized that owning her faith meant a greater sacrifice than most people in America will ever know.

Marsh-Ochsner’s mother walked her down the aisle and father and daughter didn’t speak for several years.

A surprise blessing
Anger and hurt remained, but God spoke to her heart.

“He will never have a chance to understand grace and mercy from me unless you extend it to him—like I have given it to you.’

In response, Marsh-Ochsner called her dad.

“I respect you as a father,” she told him. “I love you. You are always welcome in my home. My hand is always open to you.”

For the first time in Marsh-Ochsner’s life, her father said, “I bless you,” and then he hung up.

Four months ago, Marsh-Ochsner and her father met for the first time in many years when he traveled to Southern California.

They wept and hugged.

“He felt the loss and I did, too,” she said. “He cried over my husband.”

There were more awkward moments when her father tried yet again to convert them.

“It was so weighty and so burdensome,” she said. “We said our goodbyes, but we held fast to our faith. It was a real blow to my father. He thinks he will be held accountable for this.”

Through it all, Marsh-Ochsner has developed an immense passion for multicultural work, including hosting forums.

“We need to create points of engagement where we can come alongside our Muslim friends,” she said. “We can’t love our neighbors if we don’t know them.”

Putting feet to her faith, Marsh-Ochsner continues her ministry involvement as part of a bridge-building and peacemaking initiatives team at Mariners Church.

“The majority of U.S. Muslims blame their leadership for not taking a stand against radical Islam,” she said. “Most here are moderates and they love America.

“We are missing the boat on what it really means to love people. This is a call to action for Christians to love their Muslim neighbors, to be benevolent toward them independent of what they believe.”

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Published, July 2012

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