"Q" 's Testimony (March 2002)
I knew about Christianity when I lived in Iran. I met a lot of Christians there, and they had many good characteristics that drew me toward them. There is a big difference between Christians and Muslims, their behavior, their speech, everything. It's very easy to tell if someone is a Christian or a Muslim. The Christians act like they have been in God's presence. But everyone knows that, in Iran, if you go to church or ask questions about Christianity, it's dangerous...you risk your life. There is no way to learn more about it. Still, I wanted to learn all I could about Christianity.
Two years ago, I left Iran. I wasn't escaping from any particular, big problem (unfortunate for my case file story when applying in other countries for asylum). I just wanted freedom. In Iran, there is no freedom; everything involves religion. They stop your mouth with religion...you must keep your own thoughts in your own head or else worry that you will get in trouble.
I was there three years ago when the elections led to huge student demonstrations in Tehran, and I saw the way the protestors were treated. I watched demonstrators being arrested, people who have never been heard from since. I watched twelve and thirteen year old boys...children...beating the protestors, not knowing anything except what they had been taught about religion. This is the way animals act, not people.
So I left Iran for Turkey. When I had been there one month, I heard from some Christian friends of mine back in Iran, who told me there was an Iranian church there in Istanbul. So I went because I was curious. I loved Christian people and their behavior. I wanted to steal their characteristics but not their religion; I wanted to be like them but not one of them. I didn't want to change my religion.
Reza, one of my friends in Istanbul, told me he wanted to go to church one Sunday and asked if I would go with him, and I told him I would. It happened to be a baptism day. (My friend didn't tell me it was HIS baptism day!) At this church in Turkey, they wore white robes and had a special ceremony, baptizing inside the church building. I was Muslim, and my friend had been Muslim. It was a huge testimony to me that he would change his religion. He asked me, "Do you want to change your clothes and be baptized too?"
I told him, "I think you're homesick and alone, and that's why you are changing your religion, because these people have accepted you." I was very angry with him. But he didn't listen to me. I was sad that he was so lost.
When the congregation was singing, the worship songs were printed out on sheets of paper, and I followed along with the words, but the paper shook because my hands were trembling. I loved the way the people prayed with joy instead of weeping. They could dance for their God instead of flaying themselves until they bled, like good Muslims do. I wanted to be able to pray to God with joy, too, not sadness.
I stayed until the end of the service when the baptism took place, but I was sad. Even so, the next week I told my friend I would go to church with him again. I decided, "If the questions I will ask get answered, then I will come again." I went to the church for five months, every week...a regular member, attending Bible studies and Sunday morning services. In the Bible class, I always told the teacher, "If you say anything about the Koran, you must bring me a translation so I can read it for myself. And if you say anything about the Bible, I want a translation of the verses you quote too." Mahmud, another student in the class, said, "You should first think about the question and see if you can figure out the answer yourself before you ask." As I was reading Genesis, I would be asking a question, and the answer would suddenly occur to me. As time went on, I could answer my own questions, as if something were pushing or helping me along the way.
Whenever we had class, I would always sit in a place where no one could see me from the street, but Mahmud told me that people would eventually find out and treat me badly. My roommates wondered what I did three times a week, even on my day off when I left the house well dressed. When I went to the church, it was the only time I wouldn't invite my roommates out with me. The house that we had, we rented in my name and another guy's name, but other people lived there too. One day, my roommates followed me on my way to church. One of my best friends came into the church and saw me there. He sat next to me and said, "I'm sorry for you." After the service, I knew that, if I went home, my roommates and friends would not treat me the same, that they might do something to me. Before, my best friend had given me a blanket, but when I got home, he was sleeping under it and had left me a note that said, "I'm sorry that it's cold, but I can't do anything about it." My roommates teased me unmercifully. The house was like a prison for me. I had rented the house in my name, but now I wanted to leave it. Still, somehow, I didn't treat them like I might have treated them before. Instead, I wanted to help them. God was working in me. Slowly, he brought me to forgive my best friend and other old roommates for their attitude and behavior. They tried their best to make me angry, but I think God gave me the power to treat them with love in exchange for their ridicule.
Reza, my friend who first brought me to church, wasn't around much because he was trying to get into Greece. I tried myself unsuccessfully to go to Greece three or four times. I didn't want to live in Turkey. I wanted to live in a better country, a land where I could work. One day I saw Reza, and he told me that he had found a new way to get to Greece, by the sea. We bought a plastic boat that was so cheap you could poke a hole in it with your finger. Nevertheless, we were determined to paddle across the Mediterranean in it.
We put the boat in the water and immediately lost one of the oars. I said, "We have to go back."
"Don't worry," said Reza, "God will help us."
"It's one in the morning! It's impossible!" I answered. But in five minutes we had found the missing oar. I was afraid because the weather was windy and the waves were too big. I told Reza, "I want to live!" But Reza encouraged me to keep paddling. We were in the sea for four and a half hours. We tried to get closer to our destination, but the wind just blew us back. Our arms were tired, we couldn't row anymore, but we called on God to help us. Suddenly, twenty meters away, a big ship was coming toward us. I said, "Okay, now we will die, because the ship is coming toward us, and we don't have any more strength to paddle away." Instead, the ship missed us by five meters, but the people on board didn't see us, and we didn't even get caught in the wake...instead it helped us go further. We had prayed, and God had helped us. We paddled with our feet and hands and finally got to Greece at six in the morning.
I decided to get baptized. We heard that there was a church in Greece that could do it. I told Reza that this was my new goal, to get baptized. When I arrived in Athens, I had a friend who told me about a Christian place called Helping Hands. We came together to attend the Baptism classes because I wanted to be baptized. I even translated for the teacher. I was finally baptized one day at a nearby beach, and was baptized with the Holy Spirit the same day.
My life has changed very much since I've become a Christian, my behavior, my speech, my attitude toward other human beings, the ability to feel their problems...many things. When I got baptized I felt clean andI was very happy. I try not to have sin in my life anymore. I ask God to guide me Himself. I don't know what the future holds, but I hope that I will be able to start a new life in a new place.
I live in one of Helping Hands' Nests. Even so, in Greece, I have many problems. I hate being called a "refugee." It is very difficult to find work, and even more difficult to leave for another European country. But at least I am free...politically and spiritually.