A few weeks ago, I was able to visit our Persian Conference Centre and meet with a few believers who were attending a conference there. These people endure many hardships and so much persecution. Their stories stick with me long after I have left. I wanted to share with you a story shared with me from one woman and her husband. I hope her story will encourage and challenge you. This is Part 1 of 3.
I was born into a Christian family and I am thankful because of that. I am thankful for my father. He taught us many things and his faith made it possible for me to live mine out.
My father was born in a very conservative Muslim family. His family was very important and well known. My grandmom used to wake whole family even in very cold weather, and forced them to do ablutions (washing) to prepare for morning prayers. My father was a prayer caller (a person who calls for prayer), but in his childhood he used to have dreams and visions. He had dreams where he saw some very brilliant and shiny men. When he shared this with his family, they told him that the shiny man is an Imam or prophet and they were very proud of him. This was how he grew up.
One day, my father’s uncle became sick and the family took him to a Christian hospital founded by American missionaries. It was the only hospital available. While my father was in the hospital with his family, the missionaries gave them some Christian tracts and articles and pamphlets -- and a Bible.
My dad started to study and read those articles. His family said that the missionaries were pagans and unclean, they were not righteous people, and so he should not read what they had given him. Christians did some very disrespectful things like walk into their churches without removing their muddy street shoes. He knew all the things he’d been told about Christians, but what he was reading did not match. He had to know more about what the Bible said about Jesus and the other prophets.
My father kept reading and studying what he had. My father knew it was wicked, but he secretly read the Bible at night when he was alone. The things he read were very strange, but God’s Word never returns void. My father changed, his heart changed, the more he read and studied the Bible. His family noticed these changes, but he kept his Bible reading a secret for as long as he could. As I mentioned, his family was very conservative and when my grandmom realized that he was studying the Bible, she took it away from him. This just made my father more determined than ever to keep searching and studying.
When he was a teenager, my father decided to follow Jesus. When his family learned that he had converted from Islam, they kicked him out. He made his way to Tehran and found a Christian church (this was before all the Persian-speaking Christian churches were closed). He started attending the services at this church and in time he left to study Theology in Beirut. He finished school, married my mother, and travelled to different cities as a missionary. I have three siblings, and one of our family jokes is that each one of us was born in a different city, in every corner of the country, because he travelled so much.
My father was fluent in English and in addition to the ministry work he did, he taught English at university on the side to make money. When I was born, the Islamic Revolution happened. My father was working as a professor at a university in the north part of the country at the time. During the revolution, a new way of thinking emerged and the government approached everything differently. Professors who were not Muslim came under scrutiny and there were even student protests against non-Muslim teachers.
In those early years after the Revolution, things were very dark and very bad and tough. There was a lot of propaganda from the government about these new ways and anyone who objected or protested was arrested or executed. Many people went missing without any word of what had happened to them. Anyone who could speak another language was considered a spy. My father was helping TWR with translations and the only way to exchange work was through the post. Anyone sending letters often was also considered a spy. In addition to the teaching and sending letters, my father’s background – his conversion from Islam, was discovered.
I was five years old when my father was arrested for the first time. He was charged with apostasy for converting. The penalty for apostasy was execution.
Read Part 2 next week...