Tuesday, March 14, 2006

"L" 's story

I am from Iran. My father is seventy years old and has had three wives. I have so many siblings that I have to stop and count them on my fingers: six brothers, seven sisters. All of my brothers are in the army (and they are afraid they will lose their jobs because I left Iran). But my mind needs to be free. I'm not like them. I have a free spirit.

I could say that I had the feeling that I had lost something and had to go find it, but the real reason I left Iran was the matter of finding a job. When I first left home, I didn't tell my parents, just my sisters that I was going on a trip. I didn't even know where I was going. I spent a year going from one city in Iran to another. In each place I had a feeling that what I wanted (I didn't know what) wasn't there.

Life after leaving my parents was very difficult, even though I found work each place I went. I decided to apply for a passport, and when I got it, I went to Turkey, where I stayed for three years, trying to get to Greece from the first day I arrived. Three years later, the Turkish government deported me to Iran. It was a horrible situation, which lasted for the nine months it took for me to get a new passport to return to Turkey. As soon as I got it, I went to Istanbul.

I tried once more to get to Greece. I told God I would do Vuzu until I could get in. To do Vuzu, I would take my hand, put it in some water, then stretch out my hand so that my thumb was on one side of my face and my middle finger was on the other, pulling my hand over my face to wash it. It was important to get every centimeter of my face wet; otherwise I would have to do it again. I would dip my hand back into the water, cupping it to hold some, and pour it on my left arm, dragging the water down to my fingers, then repeating the process on my right arm.

Then I would put my hand at the back of the top of my head and drag it in a straight line almost to my forehead. Next I stroked each toe, from the tip to where it reached my foot, with my wet hand. Good Muslims do this five times a day before prayer. I would do this after each time I went to the bathroom, remaining in a constant state of ritual cleanliness.

I did Vuzu for a month. It was Christmas 2001, and I was in a square in Turkey where a Christmas program was taking place. When the program finished, I saw a black man giving out a book to everybody. I was curious, so I went over to him to see what he was doing. "What is this?" I asked, as I took one of the books. He said, "It is the holy Gospel of Jesus Christ." I didn't believe Christianity, but I knew that the Bible is a holy book written by the prophets. So I just kissed the book and left it on the street for someone else to take, since I can't read Turkish.

Soon it was time to leave. Four of my friends and I bought a plastic rowboat. We planned to paddle from Izmir to the closest Greek island. I called my mom, the first time I had talked to her since I had left. She hadn't been happy with me, but I asked her to pray for me, since I didn't know if I'd ever see her again. I might die. We blew up the boat, then realized none of us could swim! I believed that I wasn't really risking my life, that I would survive. I knew that the God who created the sea could save me too. I had this confidence as I paddled.

We moved fast. After five hours, we arrived at Híos without any problems. But the police arrested us and held us for two days. Then they gave us red cards (indicating we were applying for political asylum), forty euros each, and told us to buy ferry tickets to Athens. It was so easy. On previous attempts, I had spent five days walking from Turkey to Greece. This time it only took five hours of traveling and two days in jail.

I didn't know anyone in Athens or anywhere to go, but I knew that Iranians gathered in the Omonia area. The next day, some Iranians I met told me to come to Helping Hands. The first time I came was on a Friday for Shower Ministry. I was dirty from sleeping in the park. An Iranian named Nader was giving people showers and told me I was very lucky because a lot of people hadn't shown up that day. I got to shower even though I didn't have a ticket.

I came back the next day for food and loved watching the Jesus film. One day, I looked up to see Nader staring at me. He told me, "I know that one day you will believe in Jesus." But I thought, That's silly. That's impossible. How could that happen? It took Jesus beating me up to believe in Him, like Paul, blinded.

Ever since I arrived in Athens, I kept experiencing something new, something that had never happened to me in my life. I would think, I want to see... so-and-so, and a minute later that exact person would suddenly be in front of me. It would happen all the time. I wouldn't even ask God, but He kept providing for me.

For instance, one time my computer teacher Joanna had lent me a CD for learning English, making me promise to return it the next Saturday. On that day I thought Helping Hands was closed, and I was sad when I realized that night that I still had the CD and didn't know how to give it back to her. Right at that moment, she appeared, telling me I could keep the CD for another week. [Joanna: I had taken a different way home that night and bumped into Morteza right as I was about to go down to the metro.]

Also, I had a problem finding a place to stay, but I found an empty house, and it was open, so I went in. I stayed there for two weeks, coming to Helping Hands every time it was open and going to a local church on Sundays. I went to church because I wanted to know what they were talking about and to have more information, not as a believer but a seeker. The first sentence I heard that impacted me was "He is the God of love." When I heard this, I started to cry.

Two weeks after I moved into the empty house, two men, an Arab and an Albanian, came and told me that it was their house, but they let me stay there. They were not normal people; I just knew that they were doing illegal things, but I didn't have any choice; I had to live with them. I thought that maybe God had put me there to bring the Albanian to church, so I invited him to come with me several times, even though I wasn't a believer myself!

I kept a Koran with me the whole time. Whenever my Iranian friends asked me if I had become a Christian, I would pull out my Koran and say, "Would I carry this if I were a Christian? The only reason I go to church is to know what Christians believe."

It was very difficult to know which one was true and demanded belief, Christianity or Islam. I was twenty-six years old, had grown up in Islam all my life. I had even done Vuzu for an entire month. How could I give up everything, as if it were all a game, and say Christ was the way? But in my heart I knew this was true. God was trying to show me His way by all these miracles happening in my life. But I didn't want to believe it. I couldn't accept Christianity. I said to myself, I have to know all the facts, I can't simply believe. I'm the kind of person that can't accept something right away; I have to search for the truth for a long time.

One day I went to church during a prayer time and prayed, "God, I'm tired, very tired. If You are real, reveal Yourself to me. I want to know You and to know Your truth." That night I couldn't sleep. I prayed all night. I told God, "I only want to see Your truth. Open my eyes."

The next day, my friends cleaned the house. The Arab came and asked me, "Don't you have a Koran?" I handed it to him, and he read some passages out of it. Then he asked, "Do you know which direction Mecca is in?"

I answered, "I don't know, but pray in four directions, and one of them will be right." So he did. It was strange to me because I thought that my Arab friend didn't believe in God. I soon found

out that it was all a scam. He had stolen the Albanian's CD player and was planning to blame it on me.

That night the Albanian invited me into his room. He asked me where his CD player was. When I told him I didn't know, he punched me three times, in both eyes and in the nose. My clothes were covered in blood. I told him, "I didn't do it!" but he didn't believe me. Finally, I was able to escape from the house.

I never went back to the house, just staying out on the street all night before going to work the next morning. While I was working, I asked God, "You wanted me to bring them to Your church. What's going on? Why did this happen?" But God was using THEM to bring ME to Him.

I realized I had left one of my possessions in the house when I left for good, but instead of feeling sad, I felt free; it was my copy of the Koran. The Arab had brought Islam into the house, then stole the CD player and brought about all of these bad events. How could that be right? But Christians did good things. I thought that, to believe in Jesus, He should just appear and say, "Hi, I'm Jesus." But then I discovered that the reality was inside me. He was changing me from the inside, not appearing on the outside. All of my problems and bad characteristics were changing. I hadn't been patient at all, but now I had peace. I could tell He was working in me. It was as if God had punched me in both eyes Himself to say, "Okay, you've heard enough. Open your eyes and listen to me!"

There I was at work, talking out loud with God. Finally, I said, "Okay, I see now!" I had a bad headache because of my beating. I couldn't ask my employer for painkillers because I couldn't speak Greek. So I said, "God, I leave my headache with you." By the end of the day, my headache was gone.

I had committed a lot of sin in my life. I had problems because of my sin. The devil would point to my sin and say, "That's you!" I couldn't stand that.

But after I believed in Jesus, anytime the devil wanted to show how sinful I am, I could laugh at him and say, "I know, but Jesus paid the price for me, and you can't do anything!" From the time I believed in Jesus, the devil has tried to make me sin more than ever. It has been difficult because there are more opportunities than ever to sin, but now I have the strength to stand in Him.

One day I was looking for a place to stay, but I didn't have any money for rent. I talked to some friends who said they had found a place where I might be allowed to stay and pay later. I was on my way to the appointment to discuss this when I passed Nader in the street. Nader said, "We hear that you need a house. We talked and decided to give you a bed in the Nest apartment. You can move in tomorrow."

So I called my friend and said, "Don't worry, my problem is solved." My friend was shocked because it had only been two minutes since we last talked.

What does the future hold for me? I love traveling, and I always thought I would make a good traveling businessman. Now, I want to travel for God, to go anywhere he wants me to go, to be His missionary.

"L" was baptized on June 9th at the local church he attends. He has already started telling other refugees about Jesus. He believes God has called him to a life of service for Him.

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