My First Prayer

Elmira Ibraimova


When Elmira Ibraimova’s husband leaves her, she finds comfort in Christianity, unusual in Kyrgyzstan. On the day she is baptized, she is given a pair of pretty moccasins. Her friend explains that they will start her on an enlightened life. That night she offers her first prayer, and it is answered. Years later, she brings them with her to Canada. They are still comfortable and a source of encouragement on a new path.


Many years ago, when I lived in Kyrgyzstan, something terrible happened. Out of the blue, my lovely husband fell in love with a young woman and instantly became a stranger.  My happy family broke up, and everything changed – my beliefs, my values, and even my self-perception. Instinctively I searched for positive emotions, desperate for something to believe.

I shared my grief with nobody. It was too hard to talk about what seemed unreal, and I was not ready to hear condemnation of my ex-husband. Once I met my friend Shail, she told me, “Do you know that I’m a Christian?” “No,” I replied with surprise. It was not common for Kyrgyz people to be Christian. She noticed I was a little bit bewildered, so she explained – “You know, in my hard times, I went to the church, and God helped me.” Right then and there, I decided to tell Shail about my nightmare. 

She looked at me and said confidently, “You have to be baptized. I’ll help you.” Even though this was a strange idea for me as a Kyrgyz woman from an atheist family, I agreed to her proposal. 

Shail invited me to join her on vacation to a small town where the ceremony took place. We arrived three days early to fast and pray. Every evening I read from the Bible while my friend went out. She was dating a smart, handsome man and hoping their relationship had a future.

On the Sunday morning of my baptism, Shail gave me a present: a pair of light, pretty moccasins with colourful embroidered flowers. “These are your saint shoes,” she said. “They will lead you to your enlightened life.” I hugged her and wore those shoes for the ceremony. Together we walked to the old beautiful wooden church, which reminded me of an ancient Russian fairy tale. 

The ceremony was surreal, as if I was watching a movie: the wonderful icons by candlelight, the velvety voice of the priest, and the soaring notes of the choir. I don’t remember the process of baptism, just the fact that I was the only adult among the toddlers…

That evening we went to a restaurant where I met Shail’s date and realized, with a shock, he was married. 

When I heard they were planning to spend the night together, the pain of my husband’s betrayal came rushing back. I said I was tired after a long day and hurried away. Back in my hotel room, I knelt to pray. I whispered again and again: “God, please, save that man’s family from betrayal.”

I don’t know how long I had been on my knees when I heard the creak of the door, followed by quiet footsteps and the sound of someone crying. Sheil was back. My prayer. My first prayer as a newborn Christian had been heard. Her man went home to his family, to his wife.

The next morning, Shail was subdued. On our way home, we didn’t talk, and I avoided asking any painful questions. I didn’t feel that I betrayed my friend, nor did I condemn her as “the other woman.” She was the person who threw me a lifeline when I needed it most. I do know that our intentions toward each other were loving and kind. 

When I came home, I packed those pretty “saint shoes” away and didn’t wear them for a long time. I even forgot about that night. 

Years later, when I was packing my bags for Canada, I found those “saint” shoes again. I smiled and decided to take them with me. In my new country, I wore them very often: they were lovely soft and comfortable. Shail was right when she said: “They will lead you to your enlightened life.” Here in Toronto, I started my new life as a new person with new dreams. 

ELMIRA IBRAIMOVA is a former psychologist from Kyrgyzstan and currently works as a life coach, helping women after divorce.

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