Sunday, August 24, 2008

"Mn's" Story

My name is "Mn" and I was born in Tehran, Iran, in 1979. This same year, two significant events took place in my country. On February 1, 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran from exile in Paris to seize control of the government. Nine months later, on November 4, 1979, militant university students in Tehran raided the U.S. diplomatic mission and took several diplomats hostage, thus beginning a crisis between Iran and the United States that lasted over a year. So my birth was framed by two very important political events. To make matters much worse, on the September 22, 1980, without any prior warning, Iraq invaded Iran, thus beginning one of the longest and bloodiest wars of the 20th century. The war finally ended in a stalemate eight years later. These were the years of my earliest childhood. The times were tumultuous.

In spite of all this, my parents provided a good and happy home for me and my three siblings. My father was a wonderful man who loved me and taught me many things. He died when I was 13, and it was a huge loss to me. I loved him and admired him greatly. My mother held our family together, and we were all very close to each other. I liked school and loved to study, and I received a good education.

After finishing school, I worked for a civil engineering firm and also had my own restaurant. One day, a scandal erupted because of some supposed tainted meat. It became known later that it was entirely false and politically motivated, but nevertheless my partner and I got caught in the middle of it. I was arrested and put in jail. I hired a very good lawyer, who advised me that due to my father’s history as an officer in the royal military under the Shah, things would probably not go well for me in a trial. He said my best choice was to flee the country. Not only that, I was extremely tired of the difficult economic situation and lack of democracy in Iran. I had only recently been married, so my new bride and I left for Turkey.

Life in Turkey was very difficult and tensions were very high between Iraq and the United States. My plan was to try to make it to Norway or Canada and continue my education and return to the business world. But I was unable to find a smuggler to help us, and I decided to send my wife back to Iran and have her join me later when my situation improved.

After living in Turkey for about six months, I left for Greece. Along with several other refugees, I crossed the border on foot. We made a very dangerous crossing of the river between Turkey and Greece. One of the men with me drowned. By God’s grace I made it, but we were in bad condition. At one point we were so cold and hungry we didn’t know if we would make it. We found a small church and huddled inside it, burning candles to try to keep warm. Eventually we were apprehended and arrested and I spent three months in a refugee camp. Conditions were terrible and I was very depressed.

I finally made my way to Athens and tried to find some other Iranians. I heard about a place called Helping Hands that was a Christian organization who helped refugees. At this same location was something called the Persian Christian Fellowship. On my first time there I heard brother Themis preach about how we are all sinners. It started me thinking about things I had never really thought about before. The next Sunday, an Iranian Christian named Mohammad preached, and I took a Bible home with me.

Helping Hands and the Persian Christian Fellowship were planning a retreat for seekers and new believers, and they invited me for a weekend outside of Athens on a Greek island. A volunteer team from a church in Canada was in Greece to help with the retreat.

At this time, I had a good friend from Iran who was very sick and in the hospital. The doctors said that he had many problems with his body and that he needed many tests. He continued to get worse until he was to the point where he was paralyzed and unable to move at all. I told him that some Christians wanted to pray for him, but he said, “Prayer can never heal me.” But this group of Christians from Canada prayed with me for him on Thanksgiving Day on this Greek island. Later, I went to the hospital to see him and get the results of the test. The man had been healed! He was so much better, even the doctors were amazed and bewildered. My friend was greatly moved by what had happened to him, and he soon came to Christ.

I was absorbing all this but was still not ready to become a Christian. I needed to think about it some more. I thought about Christianity for three months and read several books. At the end of that time I put my faith in Jesus as my savior.

Part of the reason I waited for three months before accepting Christ is that I was trying to bargain with God. I told Christ that if He is the truth then He should bring my wife to join me in Greece. But eventually I understood that I cannot demand something from God. I realized that it is not Christ who needs me, but it is I who so desperately need Him.

I began to grow in my new faith and developed a desire, more and more, to serve the Lord. I enjoyed the Bible classes that were held at Helping Hands. I met many wonderful people who helped disciple me in the Word of God and the Christian life. I enjoyed serving at Helping Hands and reaching out to other refugees. Telling others, especially other Iranians, about what God had done for me through Jesus Christ, was a great joy to me. When I first came to Greece, I could speak hardly any English, but because I was around so many English speaking missionaries, I began to learn the language and also began to study it. This was an important development for me, because an opportunity would soon arise that enabled me to have access to biblical training. By now, I knew in my heart that all I wanted to do with my life was serve the Lord in ministry, though I had no idea what that would look like. I was particularly burdened for my own people.

In the fall of 2004, Helping Hands and another organization in Athens combined efforts to start a six-month training course called the Athens Intensive Ministry School. The teaching was being offered in English, and though I was far from fluent, I qualified along with three other men to be in the school. The school ran for six months, and I enjoyed it very much. Besides further developing my English skills, we studied Bible books, systematic theology, spiritual development, and many practical ministry courses.

A little over a month before AIMS started, I had surgery (for the fifth time) for a pilonidal cyst, a very painful and debilitating condition. Many times I was unable to sit through the classes and had to lie on my side on a couch. The physical trials I experienced during this time were intense and severe. But even worse than that was the news that my wife was divorcing me because of my faith. She told me that our ways must separate. The pain was almost unbearable, but God’s grace helped me through even this. Now I had lost my country, my family, and my wife, but I had gained Christ, and I knew that no matter what, I would follow and serve Him.

After graduation from AIMS in February, 2004, an American friend named Dwight with Entrust helped get me enrolled in the English language program at the Greek Bible Institute. I audited the remainder of the semester there, and entered the program that fall as a full time student. My year of study there was difficult but wonderful. I learned many wonderful things, and made some deep and abiding friendships.

Meanwhile, I was waiting on an answer from the Canadian government concerning my application to immigrate there. I had decided from now on the seek help through only legal means and leave things in the hands of God. A friend had helped me fill out the application in late 2003, and I was very honest with them about my life in Iran, my political situation, my conversion to Christianity and my desire to serve the Lord. Most people told me that it was virtually impossible that I would be accepted. It seemed like the longer it dragged on the more unlikely it would be that I would receive a positive answer. Yet in a strange way I was encouraged; most people received a rejection notice very quickly. Though I had not been accepted, at least I had not been refused.

In the fall of 2005, while I was in my studies at the Greek Bible Institute, an opportunity arose for me to start an outreach to Persian speaking refugees on Saturday night at another small refugee center. The Lord blessed us greatly. Two other men and I help lead the services, and usually I did the preaching. Many people started coming to Christ! Over the next year, about 100 people put their faith in Jesus, most of them Iranians. We did our best to teach and disciple them, but many of them moved on quickly to other countries in Europe. This is one of the great challenges and frustrations in refugee ministry.

On October 5, 2006, I received some fantastic news. The Canadian immigration authorities had accepted my application! The Lord had heard my cry and answered my prayers. In the spring of the following year, I moved to my new home in the Toronto area. By now I was officially on staff with Entrust, an organization that is involved in training leaders for the church. I am seeking the Lord about how He wants to use me in Canada. There is a large population of Iranians and Afghans in Canada, and my desire is to serve them in whatever way the Lord provides. Already I am discovering many exciting possibilities. One of my dreams is to one day return to Iran and open a Bible training school.

The Lord has blessed me so much over the past five years since I became a refugee. Even though I have endured great pain and trials, I have come to know Him who is life itself. His forgiveness and love is the greatest treasure anyone can ever know. How can I do anything less than serve Him with all my heart and soul?

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