Thursday, December 15, 2005

Finally, a Purpose!

Into this universe, and why not knowing, nor whence, like water willy-nilly flowing:
and out of it, as wind along the waste, I know not whither, willy-nilly blowing.
- Omar Khayam, Rubaiyyat"

As a boy in Iran, I dreamt big. I grew up in a military base, where my father served as an officer in the Iranian Army. Ours was an orderly life, filled with predictable days and practical goals. I was a good kid and I did what was expected of me. I was also ambitious and saw everything as a great adventure. I loved to run through the fields and race through the soldiers' obstacle courses; a small warrior conquering imaginary enemies.

But as I grew up I became restless. I felt confined in that military base and my dreams spilled over the walls. Alone at night, I dreamt of leaving Iran and of traveling to faraway countries. I also dreamt of victory, of freedom, and of great experiences of many types. But beneath these goals was a deeper dream: to find my purpose. I thought that I could achieve this through escape and success, so I was driven by my dream and determined to make it real.

Every dream requires a first step, and my first step was to go to university. I graduated with a degree in English, then taught in Tehran. Soon I'd saved enough money to take another step toward my dream: leaving Iran. After four failed attempts, I finally crossed the border into Turkey. I headed to Istanbul, found a job, and met other Iranians who also dreamt of going west. We were young, energetic and confident. Together, we planned our escape to Greece.

Going to Greece was a dream but the journey was a nightmare. We took a boat and then walked for a week, growing wearier every day from the cold and hunger. En route, we were falsely accused us of goat stealing and I used most of my money to pay off the accuser. Finally, we stumbled into Athens, rented a room in Omonia, and set off to find work.

Slowly, each of us found jobs and settled down. I didn't like being in Athens, though, so I kept myself busy by working, learning English and saving money to buy fake passports. Armed with these, I was free to leave Greece. I bought the passports but needed money for tickets, so I continued working. But I couldn't save money. I was getting discouraged and felt that my dream was fading. What did the future hold? Would I be a refugee in Athens forever?

During this time, a friend invited me to a Christian church. Having nothing better to do, I went. I didn't know much about Christianity, but like most Muslims, I'd heard that Jesus was a prophet. To me, He was a myth, like Ali Baba.

But as I walked into the church, I could see that the Christians had a very different idea. To them He was real, and He was everything. I watched, amazed, as they praised Him joyfully and prayed to Him lovingly. They seemed to know Him as a friend, and yet they spoke of Him as God. Several told how Jesus had saved them and had given their lives a purpose. They called Jesus their Savior and their Lord.

Their Savior? I didn't understand why these people needed to be saved or how a myth could give them purpose. To me, the Christians' dependence on Jesus was a weakness and their enthusiasm was foolish. I looked down on their naiveté.

But then something happened that melted my defenses: the pastor began to speak. He spoke of God in a way I had never heard. And he spoke of Him so passionately and pragmatically that I wanted to hear more.

First, the pastor said that God loves us. He read from the Injil, "God so loved the world that He gave His only son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not die but will have eternal life." (John 3:16) The pastor said that one of the names for God is "Abba", the Hebrew word that small children use to address their fathers. He said that God loves His children more tenderly than the most attentive father on earth.

He said that God is a good father who wants to give His children a wonderful life. He read from the Injil: "I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly," (John 10:10). Like a good father, God has a plan for His children. "For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." (Jeremiah 29:11) Furthermore, God loves us so much that He offers us the gift of spending Eternity with Him in Heaven.

All of this seemed too good to be true. God loves me? God has good plans for my life? God wants to give me a future and a hope, and spend Eternity with me? I wanted to know more. If God loved me and had a plan for my life, how could I feel that love and find that purpose? How could I become the child of such a wonderful Father?
Perhaps, I thought, I had never known God's love and plan because I hadn't tried hard enough to please Him. Perhaps I could become His child by working harder or by living a perfect life.

Yes, said the pastor, perfection was necessary. But none of us can be perfect. Even if we follow religious rules, perform good deeds, fast, and go on pilgrimage, we still won't be holy. We are sinners, said the pastor, and our sin separates us from God. The Injil makes this clear: "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23); "As it is written, 'There is none righteous, not even one." (Romans 3:10); and "All our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment." (Isaiah 64:6).

I had never considered myself a sinner. In fact, I thought I was a good person. But if good deeds couldn't save me and make me right with God, what was the answer?

The answer, said the pastor, is Jesus. Jesus can save us because Jesus is more than a good prophet; Jesus is God's perfect Son. He died on the cross and rose from the dead to pay the debt for our sins. When Jesus was dying on the cross, his final word was "tetelestai", a Greek phrase meaning "the debt has been paid, the work is finished." If a person believes in Jesus, God forgives his sins, adopts him as His child, and promises him Heaven after death (I John 5:11-13).

When the pastor finished speaking, he invited us to pray. I didn't pray. But the next week, I went back to that church. I arrived early and saw several young people kneeling in prayer. Suddenly, my spirit was moved and I burst into tears. I was so embarrassed that I ran into the bathroom to hide.

As I wept, my vision cleared and I felt as though a veil had been lifted from my eyes. I knew then that God loved me, and that I needed Jesus. I knew then that I could spend the rest of my life running from country to country in search of purpose and peace, but that only Jesus could make my dream real. I prayed and told Jesus everything, and then asked Him to be my Lord and my Savior.

Since then, God has given me my deepest desire: great peace, and a purpose higher than any I could have imagined. I know that because of Jesus, I am God's child and my sins are forgiven. I was restless and afraid for my future, but now I know that God is leading me. I may not get everything I want, but God will give me everything I need. I now have the greatest purpose on earth: the privilege of serving my Savior and God. And when I die, I will see Him face-to-face and spend Eternity with Him. Now that is an adventure.

I traveled the world and finally found my home in Jesus. When I doubted my fate, God had a purpose behind every step of my refugee journey. I believe that God called me to travel west, to come to Athens, to attend the Christian church, to hear about Jesus and to believe in Him.

Before I knew God, He knew me and loved me. Before I heard Him, He was calling me.

I believe that He is calling you, too. Will you answer?

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