Refugee Stories

IMAGINE…

Imagine that you are a 12 year old girl in Afghanistan. You come home from school one day and are told that you will soon be married to a man who is much, much older. You are frightened but you have no choice but to obey.

Imagine that you are a young man with a good mind and dreams for the future. Because you belong to the wrong ethnic group you are not allowed to attend school beyond the elementary level.

Imagine that you are a young woman 18 years old. Your father is dead and you and your mother and 2 sisters live with your Uncle.
You desperately want to attend school but because you are a girl your Uncle won’t allow it. You are only allowed to be in your house or in your own yard. You know that you will soon be forced to marry as men are willing to pay your uncle handsomely for a beautiful girl like you.

Imagine that you are a Christian man who is holding a bible study in your home. Imagine that the police break in and drag you away and you know the punishment for following Jesus is death. Imagine that on the way to the jail the police get into an accident and in the confusion you manage to escape. You hide all night under a bridge before you go back to your house. When you arrive your house is empty and padlocked and you have no idea where your family is or if they are even alive.

Imagine you are a teacher of 6th grade students. You love your students and you love being a teacher. One day the Taliban comes and sets fire to your school. Your arms still bear the scars of where you were burned trying to save the children. Then imagine that another day the Taliban comes and tells you that if you do not give them money they will kill your students. You don’t have any money so they slit the children’s throats in front of you.

Now imagine that because things are SO bad in your country you decide to run away. You know you will never be allowed to leave so you hire a smuggler to take you. You believe that if you can just reach the west you will be safe.

Imagine that you and your husband and little girl are walking over the mountains. You have been walking so long that your feet are bleeding and you begin to cry. Your little girl takes your hand, looks up into your face and says “Its okay Mama Nee, don’t cry, it’s okay”.

Imagine that after many days of walking you come to Turkey. There you are forced to live in horrible conditions sometimes up to 40 people sharing a room. But Turkey is not Western Culture and you believe if you can just get to Greece things will be better. Imagine that you don’t know how to swim and have never seen the sea. And yet because you are desperate you climb into a small rubber raft with 20 other people. It is night and you are very afraid. Many people have died when their boats have turned over. Your wife and children and even you begin to cry as the waves grow higher.

Imagine that just as you almost make it to shore the police boats come and you are forced to stand in the cold water at gun point. You are put in a camp and your husband is put in a jail. The camps are filled with rats and very dirty. You go for more than a day with nothing to eat and nothing to feed your children.

Imagine that after you are released the police give you a paper and tell you to go to Athina. But when you get there you have no place to sleep, nothing to eat and no where even to go to the toilet. You and your children are living in the park. The park is dirty and crowded with others who are just like you. They don’t want to be there either but they have no where else to go.

Imagine that people yell at you and throw things at you. Imagine that when you go to renew your paper you are told that you didn’t follow the instructions correctly and you cannot get a new paper. You cannot read even your own language, how do they expect you to read a paper written in Greek.

Imagine that you are a father who stands every day in the square hoping someone will hire him for a few hours. Or imagine that you are one of the lucky ones that find work in a sweat shop for 1 euro an hour. Because you do not have papers, you cannot rent a house so you are forced to pay someone who has taken over an abandoned building. Imagine living one room with a tiny bathroom. Imagine sharing that room with three other families totaling 20 people. Now imagine that you have to pay 600 Euros a month for that room.

Imagine that everywhere you go you feel unwanted and ashamed. You have lost hope and sometime even think of taking your own life.

Now imagine that all your life you have been told that Christians are bad. But one day you walk into a building where you are greeted as a friend. You are offered a cup of tea, or maybe a plate of macaroni or rice. Some days there are even packages of food given that you can take home to feed your family for several days.

Imagine that these same people love your children. There is a baby room where little ones are cuddled and toddlers play with toys. The older kids have their own room where they hear stories, make crafts and watch videos. Sometimes there are kid’s parties with games, puppets and good things to eat. Over time you see your children lose the frightened look in their eyes and begin to smile again.

Imagine that these people offer you a shower, clothes, and a place to sit down and rest. They might provide school supplies for your children or invite you into their homes. Maybe they come to visit you in your home or take you on an outing. Maybe they play chess or backgammon or basketball but they treat you as a friend and hope begins to grow in your heart.

These people listen to your story and cry with you. They ask if they can pray for you and then they begin to talk about Jesus.

Imagine that you know Jesus was a good man but you have never read a Bible or been able to ask questions about Jesus. You are given a chance to watch movies about Jesus, and given literature and Bibles to read in your own language. You can attend a Bible class or sometimes in the midst of chaos a little group gathers around a Bible and some of your questions are answered. Maybe Jesus comes to you in a dream or maybe you just see him in the lives of these people, who love you, but suddenly you see Him clearly and you want to know him for yourself.

This is how lives are transformed. This is what God is doing in Athens. This is a place called Helping Hands.

18th Anniversary of Helping Hands

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Home in the Heart of Athens…

Here is the link to a great article about the Helping Hands ministry in Athens…

http://www.iteams.us/2014/06/a-home-near-the-heart-of-athens/

 

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Tired of saying, “I’m sorry…”

This happened several years ago but I am just getting around to posting it:

One of the things I hate the most about this ministry is how many times a week I have to say to refugees, “I’m sorry…”  (“I’m sorry we don’t have any more pampers for your baby”, “I’m sorry we don’t have a place for you to sleep”, “I’m sorry shower time is over”, “I’m sorry we don’t have work for you”, “I’m sorry we cannot give you money”, “I’m sorry” “I’m sorry” “I’m sorry”).

One evening it seemed I was saying it so many times that I went to HIDE in the office. I wasn’t in there 30 second when there was a knock on the door.  It was Rawah, one of our Arabic translators.  He (not I) opened the door and poked his head in, saying, “Scott, there’s a guy here who needs medical help.”  I replied, “Rawah, you know we cannot help people medically.  Please tell him that yourself!”  Just then the young man poked his head in the door next to Rawah so I invited them both in to sit in the office with me.

The young Kurdish man entered the office agitated, expectant.  Rawa, one of our Iraqi volunteers, translated the Kurd’s flood of Arabic words.  “He says he needs medicine,” Rawa said.  The Kurd leaned over and pulled his shirt up, unwrapping an abdominal brace to reveal a back laced with scars.  “He only has one kidney,” Rawa translated.    Then he removed one of his shoes to display another physical malady, and the small office suddenly reeked of a misshapen foot that most likely hadn’t been washed in a very long time.

“Tell him,” I said to Rawa, “that I’m very sorry, but we can’t do anything for him unless he has a prescription, and even then we may not be able to help him.”

The Kurd, named Ariwah, continued speaking, even though the interpreter was the only one
who could understand, but the tone of his voice, the pleading of his eyes conveyed his desperation anyway.

“How old is he?” I asked.

The young Kurd’s voice broke as he replied.  Rawa translated, “Twenty-six…and he misses his family.”

“Tell him I’d like to pray for him,” I said.  “I’m so sorry that there’s nothing I can do for him except to pray , but somehow the answer to his problems are in God.  Even though the Kurd couldn’t understand the English words used, he seemed touched that someone showed compassion as God broke my heart and opened my tear ducts.

“He says, thank you very much,” translated Rawa as I shook  Ariwah’s hand after the short prayer.  The young man wrapped his brace back around his waist and walked out of the office looking subdued, depressed.

“Thank me for what?” I asked, “I’m not able to do anything.  I wish there were something I could do.”

After the tea and bread had been served, the young Kurd was one of a handful of men who stayed later to watch the end of the Jesus video playing loudly in his own dialect.  Then he found Daniel, our Kurdish translator, and the two of them approached me, Ariwah wearing a big smile on his face.  “He wants to tell you,” Daniel said, “that he thanks you for your kindness to him.  He doesn’t want anything from you.  He only wants to tell you thank you because the tears of a Christian make him want to put his faith in Jesus.”

Then Ariwah turned and entered the Seeker’s Class.

Two weeks later I saw him and asked how he was doing.  With a joyful expression he recounted the events from the day we met. “I didn’t tell you on that day, but after you prayed for me all of the pain left my body.  But what led me to Jesus were your tears for me.  Now I am following Jesus…I have been baptized and am studying the Bible with someone…Nobody will ever turn me away from Him because He is the Truth.”

 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

From Cave to Christ…

Esmerelda’s Testimony…

…from living in a

cave to LIFE in Christ!

Tue, Oct 23, 2012

This is a POWERFUL testimony that strongly moves me when I read it because:

  1. It glorifies God
  2. It speaks of how God continues to move from, and beyond, Athens
  3. It speaks of how God used Gregor and Gregor’s parents to share God’s life-changing love

with Esmerelda

  1. I personally know Esmerelda, and she is a bright, beautiful, joyful, loving and humble

servant of God.  We are supporting her, and we hope you will pray about supporting her if

you can.  She is a WORTHY investment!  You can give a tax-deductible investment online at:

https://give.cru.org/2880510 (then click “give a gift”)

“I was born in Shkoder, Albania, a country devastated in many levels under the harshest

Communist regime of Eastern Europe. I belonged to a race that even among a poor and

devastated people was marginalized, despised and made fun of.

They call us Gypsies.

And among my own people I was an unlucky case.  As a kid I new nothing of my mother.

She left us when I was two to go to Italy, thinking of finding a better life. I learned later her

intentions were to come back and take us when she would have made some money, but this

never happened.  We were three children but I remember only my father with whom I stayed

when mother left.

I was little but was told latter because the house was so old and crumbling, my father and

me moved to a cave in a hill nearby.  No doors, no windows, when it rained, water would

drip in over our “bed”.  We had a dog and a cat. Once the cat got a snake in our bedding

and killed it saving my life. Another time the dog saved me from criminals who pepper-

sprayed my father and tried to kidnap me.

That is the first “house” I remember.

We begged for daily bread from shop to shop, from coffee bar to coffee bar.  I did not know

what family meant. I coveted other children when I saw them hugging their mothers, thinking

in silence, I want to have a family.  The only person that loved me and I loved him was father.

I loved him so much that I never wanted to be separated from him.  I did not want to know

about God. I thought He does not care for me.

At around age seven, my grandmother took us in and we shared a room with her in my

uncle’s apartment.  I never got to go to school. Daily survival was the theme of our lives.

One day while playing in front of the apartment building, my cousin, the uncle’s daughter,

invited me to a place they called “fellowship place”.  Almost all kids from the neighborhood

would go there. I went.

It was a dark red metallic door in front of which stood what seemed then to me to be an

older lady. She welcomed children with hugs. They all called her mother Roza. That sounded

strange.  Being a timid child I did not go to her, but as I waited my turn to go in through the

door, she, with a big smile and a love I did not know how to describe, opened her arms

towards me and said, “Come and give a hug to mother.” It was the embrace I had longed for

all my life. I did not want to be separated from it. I felt love, perfect love, unconditional love.

Inside I was asking, “Where is this love coming from?”.  With time I was to discover that the

love mother Roza had, was the love of Jesus Christ.

Soon that woman would become my mother for real.

My father passed away suddenly when I was eight years old. I did not know but mother Roza

had promised my father to send me to school. She had a long hard battle with my grandmother

who was in charge. Sheherself being uneducated, did not see a need for me to go to school.

Then mother Rosa and her husband (my new father) Zef and my brother Gregor (who came to

Christ in Athens and was the pastor of the church) took me in for good. This was another hard

battle with my grandmother.  Everything changed. I had a family. My own room, a warm bed,

food, clean clothes, and I went to school like the other kids. Father Zef would take me to

the school and waited to pick me up when I finished.

But only at eleven years old I deeply understood my need to be born again by making the Lord

Jesus Christ my Savior and my Lord. I did this with all my heart, on my knees, with tears in my

eyes. It was something Gregor had said when he came to share once at the Children’s Church:

“God told Noah to make one door to the Ark through which he his family and the animals had

to go to be saved. And in the same way Jesus is the Door to Salvation. He is the only way to

the Father. No one goes to the Father except through Him.”

From that moment on I am holding His hand and never want to let go. I got a new life both

ways, in this world and in eternity.  I still faced many difficulties and challenges. Father Zef

passed away one year after I was adopted. So I lost my father again.  As Gregor got married

to Kela and they moved to Kosovo to serve the Lord there in the city of Gjilan me and mother

Roza moved also there. Mother Roza’s heath was deteriorating and in a few years she also

went to be with the Lord.

I got to go to high school and university in Kosovo. God’s faithful hand has been with me

always and according to the promise He made that He will never leave me, He will never

forsake me.  For many years growing up in the new family and the church I had a dream,

one desire to serve the Lord all my life. I did this in the churches I have been helping in kids

and youth ministries in Shkoder, Albania and in Gjilan and Prishtina (in Kosovo).  Doing as much as

I could, counting it a privilege.  During the university years I got also very active with Campus

Crusade for Christ.  And in the last year of my studies God put it in my heart to join them

full-time. I applied, and was accepted.

Now I am ministering on campus and seeing God bring others to Himself and using me and

others to help them find Him and to grow in Him.   Praise the Lord!  In June of 2013 I plan to

marry my fiance and we will minister together for Jesus!

 

M’s Testimony

I’m a Kurd from Iran. All of my family has been on Haaji, so they are very religious. I fought with my family all the time because I wouldn’t go to the mosque. My dad would tell me that I was like Noah’s son who wouldn’t come to God. So that’s why I separated from my family.

My family was part of a political (and religious) group that believes that Iran should have freedom and that Kurdistan should be a separate country.

Four years ago, the Iranian religious police came to our house, started shooting at us, and completely destroyed our house. There were no windows or doors left, and they took everything we had in the house. One of my uncles was shot. He had been in jail for six years, and had just gotten out of jail when this happened. After these problems, the government asked my uncle to work for them, but he wouldn’t accept. So he left for Iraq.

Before this happened, I was just part of the group to support my uncle, but after this I became much more involved in the group because of what the government had done to us. I started going to the judges to petition them to hold the government responsible for destroying our house. I told them that I was not involved with the group, but my uncle was. Instead, they charged me with crimes, and told me I was not allowed to go back to my own city. They laughed at me when I asked why I couldn’t go back, but they just mocked me. Then I found out that they were playing with me, that they wouldn’t help me get justice.

This is only one example of the reasons I had to leave Iran. The government kept bringing charges against me. If I told you all the things that happened to me during that time, it would fill a whole book. The government kept looking for any reason to lock me away forever. Because the government was against me, many other people took a dislike to me, and I had to carry a knife around with me to defend myself. My situation was like a container of petrol, just waiting for someone to light a match.

I left Iran with my passport, but at the border I just gave them a lot of money to let me into Turkey. I stayed in Turkey for three months. It was a really bad winter. I stayed in a smuggler’s house. My goal was to go to Bulgaria, because it’s easier to get to the rest of Europe from there. But since it was so cold and there was a way to leave, a group of us decided to come to Greece.

On the way from Turkey to Greece, I had to go through a river. While I walked through the river, I said “I give all of my past to this river, and begin to live a new life now.”

I came to Athens, and became very sick. I was taken to a hospital, and in the hospital many people came to visit me. They didn’t care that I was not from the same town or even the same country as them. They offered me many things, and I never had to pay for medicine or anything in the hospital. One thing came to my mind, that they are Christian,

and that is the reason they are helping me. In Turkey they were Moslem, but they never helped me.

I heard in the park that there was a place that gave out food. So I came to Helping Hands. I saw Nader, who was speaking about the gospel. I decided to come one Sunday to the Persian Christian Fellowship. I thought, “all those years I fought against my father about the Moslem faith, but now I should find out what Christians believe.” Nader said that Jesus is the Son of God, and I thought it was blasphemy to say that man became God.

But it was a big question in my mind, what happened when Jesus was born? I thought that either Mary was adulterous, or it was a miracle. Then I read the entire life of Jesus, and I found out that not only was his birth a miracle, but his death and resurrection were miracles too.

I came to the conclusion that I am a sinner. There were two things in my life that I have always regretted, and always felt guilty about. No person knew about them, but God always knew. But I heard that Jesus came to forgive our sins, and I thought “I really need a savior, to save me from those sins.” I believe that it was a miracle that Jesus was born, to die for us to save us from our sins, and I accepted him as my savior.

From the day that I gave my heart to Jesus, it was like a heavy burden was lifted from my shoulders. When I raised my hand to accept Jesus in Persian Christian Fellowship, it was like all my guilt and shame left through my open hands. I think everything in my life has been changed. When I was in Iran, I lived in the same city as my parents, but didn’t even visit them once a year. But once I became a Christian, I started to care for them. Before I didn’t love anyone, and only thought about how I could hurt them. Now I want to love them.

I am from a big group of people in Kurdistan, and everyone there knows me. I know if they hear that I became Christian, immediately they would reject me and the gospel at the same time. But I want to show the love of Jesus to them first, to prepare their hearts, then to share the gospel with them. I want to share the love of Jesus to everyone around the world. I started here in Athens. Everyone in Athens knows that I’m a Christian, because I can’t stop talking about my faith. Even the smugglers know. They’ll kill me if they find me. But I know that if everybody in this world would know His love, His peace, and His freedom, there wouldn’t be any more pain in the world.

 

Saturday, March 09, 2013

“Ahmad” ‘s story

Ahmad’s  Story

June 4, 2012 by Ryan Gilles

One day, Ahmad* will tell his son the story that he was never told. Not the wanderer’s tale that he knows so well, the one marred by hopes dashed on foreign shores and an endless search for belonging. Ahmad will not dread the end of this story because borders, papers, and prisons will not extinguish its light. One day, Ahmad will sit down with his son, look into those expectant eyes, and smile. Because on that day, Ahmad will tell his son the story of how they came home.

It has been eight months since Ahmad last saw his wife and son. 1,806 miles stand between them, but on May 5, 2012 it must have felt like light years. Standing at the front of a small church in the middle of Athens, Greece, Ahmad was further away from his family than ever before. A distance measured not by miles but understanding. His wife, Najla, had understood, even encouraged him when he left Iran seven months earlier. With nothing more than a backpack, Ahmad had escaped those borders in search of a foreign land where his son might be more than just another Afghan refugee. A land that he and his family might call home. But this was something altogether different. The ground he stood upon that afternoon was not just foreign. It was forbidden.

Ahmad stepped into the water-filled basin at the front of the dim sanctuary and it seemed to carry him an ocean away from his family and the Islamic heritage he had always known. The man awaiting him in the water smiled warmly as he reached out and clasped Ahmad’s hand. In a room filled with stillness, the two exchanged soft words and nods with the water around their waists. And then the stillness was broken as the man looked at Ahmad and announced to the small group gathered, “Because of this, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” As Ahmad’s head slipped beneath the surface, so too did the small silver necklace he has worn for years, bearing his wife’s initials. And Ahmad felt the cool water washing away 30 years of a painful and broken past.

*                *               *

An expression of sadness crosses Ahmad’s face as he closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. That’s how you know he is remembering, sifting through his past as if dredging polluted waters in search of a few, precious items. People tend to tie their memories to the anchors of familiarity and belonging that ground their sundry experiences. But Ahmad has no such anchors. Ahmad has never known what it feels like to belong.

“There is this feeling of identity crisis,” explains Ahmad, a solemn look on his face. “Somehow, I think it will last forever for me.”

Ahmad was just one year old in 1983 when his parents fled the growing violence in Kabul and resettled in Mashhad, Iran. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan created a flood of refugees in the early 1980’s that filled the dusty roads leading to the borders of Pakistan and Iran. Ahmad’s parents hoped that Iran might be a sanctuary for all Muslims, given the country’s recent Islamic revolution. But they were bitterly disappointed.

With his head held high, Ahmad will tell you today that he is Afghan, not Iranian. And yet, he has spent less than five of his 30 years there. Mashhad was no home for Ahmad’s family because the colors of racial stigma painted a bleak backdrop to that stage of their lives.

They did not belong, the Afghan refugees, and with caustic sneers, the Iranians would never let them forget it.

“‘Oh look at those Afghans,’ they would say. ‘They stink.’ They would call us dogs. They still call Afghans that today…that was the identity they gave us.”

Ahmad cried for two hours on the day his mother was forced to pull him out of the third grade. It was the day the government cracked down on immigrants throughout the country, but 8-year-old Ahmad struggled to understand, watching through windows that seemed like jail bars as smiling Iranian children walked to class. The blood that made his crying eyes red also made Ahmad and his family worthless in the eyes of the Iranian government. It would be years later before he understood that. But on that day, little Ahmad began to understand the feeling of inferiority.

Those ten years in the slums of Mashhad left Ahmad anchorless and adrift. A budding tree with no roots. For a brief time his family moved back to Afghanistan, but the shadow of violence and ethnic strife followed them. By the time Ahmad was 13 his family had resettled in the ghetto of Qom, Iran, a desert city south of Tehran where his family still lives today.
Ahmad frowns as he remembers his early years in Qom. Those were dark years, defined by uncertainty. “We never knew what was going to happen,” Ahmad says with a shrug. “There was no clear policy. We never knew if or when we would get kicked out.” What Ahmad did know was the feeling of injustice. Every day, he would pass seemingly carefree Iranian teenagers as he sprinted to work at the nearby carpentry shop, clutching his small lunch in a brown paper bag. “Why am I not like them?” he would ask. “Why me? Why us?” Those were the answerless questions that weighed on Ahmad every day. “It all felt so unjust. Some Afghan refugees got used to it, but I never did.”

As a teenager, Ahmad found studying English to be an escape from the pain of every day life. Perhaps those days and nights he spent studying were a silent rebellion of sorts, a way to spite the inequitable system that declared him unworthy of education. But practicing English became more than just an escape on the day that it led Ahmad to a Christian chat room online. It was the first time he had ever heard of someone named Jesus Christ, and Ahmad was intrigued. At the end of the conversation, the people in the chat room, people on the other side of the world whom he had never met, prayed for him. That was the first time anyone had prayed for Ahmad and he never forgot it.

Islam was all Ahmad had ever known; yet somehow, all he knew seemed wrong. “Muhammad said there is no such things as borders. That we are all Muslim brothers.  But I saw borders. I saw my Muslim ‘brothers’ call us Afghans dogs.” Ahmad shakes his head with disgust. “By the time I was 16 I was sure this was all wrong.”

There are many days Ahmad wishes he could forget, but one most of all. He wishes he had never stepped into that taxi with four Iranian soldiers back in 2004. He wishes they had never asked him where he was from as they drove the hour from Tehran to Qom. He wishes he could forget the terrible things they said to him; the mordant jokes and the cruel stories. “That drive, it felt like a year to me. They did things I just can’t tell you about.”

If Ahmad ever had a ‘normal life’ in Iran, it all came to an end in 2006 on the road from Qom to Mashhad.  Police checkpoints were common enough, but they were also dangerous for Afghan refugees, especially those with no identification. Over and over Ahmad told the police that he was a legal refugee, but they didn’t listen as they dragged him toward the vehicle that would carry him to an infamous refugee camp near the border. “I spent two days and nights there,” Ahmad remembers, almost as if the thought itself is a bitter taste. “During those two days and nights I thought a lot about my life in Iran. And I knew I had to put an end to it. It felt like hell to me.”

When Ahmad was finally able to return home, he knew it was not for good. But leaving would be costly and for six months he worked to earn the two million Toman necessary to procure fake documents that would take him to Turkey, and hopefully beyond. The journey to Turkey was simple enough, but entering Europe proved a more difficult feat. Three times, Ahmad tried to pass into Greece, paddling a small raft in the dead of night toward the nearest Grecian island. And three times he was caught. The last of which landed him in a Turkish prison for over one month.

Two options for deportation, that was all the Turkish government gave Ahmad. And both ended in Afghanistan. Rather than to be left at the border, Ahmad chose to be flown into Kabul where he knew family and friends that could help. But it was not family or friends that greeted Ahmad as he stepped off the plane. It was chaos. A massive explosion shook the ground before Ahmad had even touched Afghan soil. An explosion he later found had been a suicide attack that killed 35 people. “I lived in constant fear of being killed during those two months,” remembers Ahmad.

But amid the chaos, Ahmad found something else: the love of his life. He had met Najla once before, but this time was different. Something blossomed as they stole time together, talking eagerly for hours on end in her parents’ kitchen. Under Islamic law, it is forbidden for unmarried males and females to spend time together alone, but that was of little consequence to Ahmad. “Come what may, I told her. I wanted to talk to her because I liked her. But she was so scared.” Ahmad eventually left Afghanistan to return to Iran, but not before Najla looked into his eyes and promised him that she would wait, no matter how long it took. Just one year later, Ahmad’s parents traveled to Kabul according to Islamic tradition, and returned to Qom with the glowing Najla, who soon after became Ahmad’s wife. The happiness Ahmad felt that day could only have been surpassed three years later when he held his newborn son for the first time. Ahmad smiles as he remembers. These are his treasures.
His son was nearly one year old when Ahmad thought again of leaving Iran. The notion of his boy living the restless, inferior life of an Afghan refugee was simply more than Ahmad could bear. “His father grew up an illegal refugee, his grandfather worked as an illegal refugee and now he was born an illegal refugee,” says Ahmad, the pain of those words more than evident. “That was tearing me apart.”

Eight months ago, Ahmad again set his sights on the shores of Greece. And this time, he found them. The system had changed since 2006, and rather than deportation, this journey ended on the streets of Athens. But those streets were not the place of hope and promise that he had imagined. The illusion of endless opportunity died a quick death upon the cold, hard ground of Alexander Park, where Ahmad was forced to sleep for one week. Greece was never meant to be the final destination, but Ahmad quickly found himself ensnared in a broken system like so many other refugees. With no papers and no money, the borders of Greece loomed large.

But Ahmad doesn’t believe it was chance that brought him to Greece. Nor was it chance that brought him to the doors of the Helping Hands refugee ministry one day. A hot meal, that was all Ahmad was looking for the morning he turned into the alleyway in the district of Omonia and up a flight of concrete stairs that lead to the Christian ministry. Yet in the small, white-walled entry room at the top of the stairs, he found something else: a table full of Bibles.

“It was the first time I had been able to just read a Bible without fearing for my life.” That was when Ahmad began asking questions, something he had never been able to do within the walls of Islam. And with joy, the team at Helping Hands answered those questions.

For months, Ahmad kept his new Bible tucked safely away inside his backpack; a treasure that was still dangerous for him to carry, even in Greece. During that time, he lived in a crowded flat downtown with other Afghan refugees. Shaking his head, Ahmad remembers trying to fall asleep many nights as his radical Islamist roommates talked together about their hatred for Christians. Little did they know that the sacred object of their hatred rested mere feet away, beside Ahmad’s head and pounding heart.

Ahmad continued to study, to search, and to learn. And slowly, he felt his heart changing, or perhaps coming alive. “The thing that touched me deeply was when I heard that Christianity was not about a long list of rules, but about a relationship.”  For months, Ahmad wrestled with the idea and the significance of that relationship. But one day, he knew he had wrestled enough. It was the day he eagerly called two of his mentors from Helping Hands to tell them one simple, beautiful thing: “I decided to put my faith in Jesus Christ.”

*                *               *

Ahmad emerged from the water with a smile on his face, the small sanctuary coming alive with cheers and clapping. But they were not the cheers of his wife and son. As Ahmad stepped out of the large water basin, he was handed a towel. Not papers of documentation. And after scores of hugs and handshakes, he stepped back onto the streets of a foreign city that will never be home.

Ahmad’s journey is far from over. And yet, he smiles now. Because after 30 long years, Ahmad finally knows who he is and where he truly belongs. It is a place far beyond the reach of borders, papers, and laws. A home that no capricious earthly entity can snatch from him; a treasure of eternal citizenship that he holds with his heart.

But the water in that basin did not change the fact that Ahmad remains an Afghan refugee; his needs remain real and the road ahead, uncertain. Ahmad still longs for a country of his own. A flag to wave with pride and a land that his son can call home. He prays for discernment as he considers his next steps. He fights for papers that will validate his name. He clings to the hope that one day his wife and son will know the joy that he has found in Christ. And above all, he fights for the day he will see them again.

Because on that day, Ahmad will tell his son the story of how they came home. And with that hope, he presses on.       -Ryan

Please pray for Ahmad, that he would cling to Christ and grow in his faith during this time. Also, pray that Ahmad would have wisdom and discernment as he prepares for the day when he will tell his wife about the Lord, that she would have ears to hear and a heart to receive. And pray that they will be together again soon, in a place they can call home.

*For security purposes, the names in this post have been changed

 

Thursday, November 03, 2011

True stories of refugees whose lives were transformed by Jesus Christ through the Helping Hands ministry in Athens, Greece.  You can order from Amazon.comBarnes and Noble, and Westbow Publishing.   Here is the video promo of our new book “Kingdom Beyond Borders”…

 

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Ilir’s Story

Ilir’s Testimony

I was born in Albania in 1970, and grew up under the communist regime.  It was forbidden to talk about God, but I always wondered who created us as I looked at the stars above my mom’s village.  I could look at a watch or a car and understand that somebody made them for a purpose.  But who made me?  And for what purpose did I exist?  I asked my mom about these things when I was still very young.  She never responded directly, but would say that I would figure it out some day.

When I graduated from high school, I applied to the university but was denied because my father was not a member of the communist party.  So I went to work as a mechanic on large trucks for several years before I went into the army to fulfill my military obligation.  They chose me to be a member of the Special Forces, and at the beginning of the revolution we were commanded to break up the escalating demonstrations.  One night I received orders to prepare my men for a demonstration the next morning, but this time we were told to bring our guns and use them if necessary.  These orders went against the constitution and my conscience, so I decided that I would leave before they had a chance to court-martial me for disobeying orders.  I told my men that I was leaving and that they were free to do what they felt was right.

I knew that I had to flee the country, so I went with a friend to Greece.  I worked in Greece for almost four years.  During that time, a Greek Orthodox man told me about Jesus, but I wasn’t really interested.  After making some money, I returned to Albania where I thought I could build a business under the new democratic system.  I started selling cars with my brother and sister, but the business failed after my brother wrecked some cars and pocketed some of our profits.  Without money in my pocket, I started noticing that many of the people I thought were my friends didn’t want to hang around with me anymore.  They didn’t really care about me—they cared about my money.  In that desperate situation, I cried out to God.  Why did God allow this to happen to me?  I was a good person.

One day, I noticed a new booklet in my parent’s house.  It was the book of Genesis.  For the first time in my life, I read about creation and found answers to the questions I had asked since my childhood.  God created the world, and He made me.  But why?  I found answers to that question when I went to put the booklet back and there, next to it, was a New Testament.  I started reading the Gospels, but was confused by some things.  The next day happened to be a Sunday, so I decided to go to the Catholic church (the only church in town).  I listened as the priest preached about salvation, and I asked him afterwards to explain some things to me.  He told me to come back on Tuesday to play soccer with him.  He spelled out the way of salvation through the book of John and gave me a copy to read on my own.  Looking back, I truly believe that he was born-again.

Because of my failed business and the poor economy in Albania, I decided it was time to return to Greece.  The first time I tried, the police caught me and sent me back.  I was still reading the book of John at that time, and I challenged the Lord to show me His power by bringing me safely back to Athens.  After seven days and nights of walking over the mountains, including many miracles and acts of God, I arrived in Athens.  I determined to find a church and learn more about God.  Of course, the day after I arrived in Athens happened to be a Sunday.  I met an old friend from Albania in the street, and he asked me to join him for the afternoon.  I went with him and it turned out to be a Bible study.  Leading the Bible study was Scott McCracken, who later became my Team Leader when I joined the International Teams missionaries in Athens.

After six months of studying the Bible, I committed my life to Christ and was baptized.  Around that time, Scott also told me about the soup kitchen they were running for refugees and invited me to come help if I had any free time.  So I went, enjoyed it, and soon discovered one of my gifts in helping to organize the volunteers.  I also learned that I had the gift of evangelism as I shared with many of the people who came.

Over the next couple years I grew in the Lord, and God fanned the fire in my heart to serve Him and make Him known among the nations.  Along with continuing to help at the soup kitchen, I started sharing the gospel with other Albanians I met, and began leading a Bible Study for new believers.  It was my heart to encourage them to share the good news with others.

In 1997, I began asking the Lord what He wanted me to do with my life.  One night in September, the Lord responded in a dream.  I saw a bright light and a man telling me, “Get up, my son.”  I woke up and saw that my window was open.  I knew I had closed it the night before, so my first thought was that a thief was in the house.  I checked around and saw no one, so I closed the window and went back to sleep.  Again, I saw a bright light and the man saying, “Get up!”  I woke again and the window was open again.  This time, I heard footsteps in the room, but no one was there.  So I crawled under the bed, covered myself with my blanket, and began praying, “Lord, here I am.  If you want to take my life, take it.”  But he told me, “Get up and go read your Bible.”  My Bible was open on my desk.  I read the page quickly, slammed the book shut, and then jumped back in bed because I was scared.  But the Lord wouldn’t leave me alone.  “Get up and go read!”  And I heard the Bible open again.  I went to my desk and read more carefully this time, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15).  I thought, “Lord, this is not for me.  Forget it.  Find somebody else.”  It was four in the morning and I went to sleep.  The next morning I got up to do my normal morning devotions and the Bible was open again, this time to the book of Jonah.  As I read that story for the first time, I realized that He was going to have me serve Him whether I wanted to or not.  I could choose to obey, or I could choose to go through the fish first.

The next day, I told Scott McCracken about my dream, and he told me that he had also been praying about asking me to come work with the team full-time.  So after I applied and was accepted to International Teams, and after God provided for my support, I officially joined the team in May of 1998.

It is not easy to be an Albanian in Greece.  There is a lot of prejudice against us.  But I believe that God has called me to remain here to t

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

“D’s” Story

‘I was born into a Muslim family. All through my childhood I had religious instruction by my devout elder brothers. The oldest had 3 spirits passed on to him by his instructor and was in possession of dark powers!

At the age of 17 I was initiated into the spiritist muslim mystic sect of the ‘Dervishes’. I used to stay on my knees whole nights memorising the Koran and I was not allowed to sleep before the sun came out.

I left my country in the late 90s to come to Europe. Passing through Turkey, I came for the first time across a Christian church with a cross on it. The cross startled me, and I did not know why. I was drawn to it and felt as if the cross was planted in my heart and I could not uproot it. I carried the cross in me and I did not know why and what was its significance. I was a Muslim.

A friend that was travelling with me came to Christ in Turkey, but I was encased and could not make a move towards Christ neither in my mind nor my heart.

In year 2000 I came to Greece and worked hard for a while hoping to go further into northern Europe. It wasn’t long before someone stole all the money I had collected and killed all my dreams.

My answer was to commit an armed robbery. This, I thought, would correct the injustice.

I was caught and thrown into prison. Rage consumed my nights and days until one night Jesus appeared to me in a dream. He stood gracefully before me and said, ‘I will give you just wages!’

In 2002 I was moved into another prison. I suffered extreme stress and anxiety.

There Jesus came to me again in a dream. His countenance was so beautiful and all about Him was brilliance of light. When I woke up all my stress, malice and hatred was gone. I marvelled, but still read the Koran and could not come to Jesus.

In year 2004 I was moved to a prison in Athens.

I read the Koran day and night but nothing could fill my void. One morning the dreaded decision arrived. Deportation! Due to my criminal record, not only would I never have the right to apply for asylum but now I was to be sent back to Iran. The consequences were grave and I went mad with despair at the prospect.

That night I called upon Mohamed, Allah, the prophets, spirits, and Jesus.

‘If anyone is there, come and speak to me.

If you are God, my God, if you love me, if you want me, come and speak to me.’

No one answered me, but Jesus came a third time in my dream.

He was beautiful and brilliant, like the light of the sun.

He spoke to me in Greek and said three times, Be patient a little longer’.

I woke up next morning feeling as a new born baby at my mother’s arms. I could not understand what had happened to me. My stress was gone and I was full of inexplicable peace. I knew that God was with me and I was not going to be deported.

I was released indeed and I was not deported!

My heart was drawn closer and closer to Jesus.

And yet there was still something that grabbed me at times from within and I could not fight it. The spirit of Islam was in me.

It took me ten years to come to Christ, there were strongholds binding me.

Then while I was serving my last sentence for not having legal papers, God completed His work in me. I started attending a Greek fellowship and I started to drink of God. I got baptized.

When I went through the waters of baptism I felt as if God put His stamp on me and I was freed completely from the spirit of Islam.

And last year, on Easter day, He came to me and said, I died for you. You are my beloved son. If only you know how much you are loved.’

I will never forget it as long as I live.’

Sunday, April 10, 2011

“Mh”–Called and Sent out by the Lord of the Harvest

“Mh” is a remarkable young man who until several years ago owned a restaurant and enjoyed a prosperous life in Iran. By 2003 he had become so discouraged by the political and economic situation in his homeland that he and his wife of eleven months set out on the “refugee highway” in search of freedom and a better life.

“Mh” and his bride traveled together to Turkey but were unable to find a smuggler who could take them any further. The young disillusioned Muslim found it necessary to send his wife back to Iran to live with her family until he could find a way to emigrate to Canada. They agreed that as soon as he was settled and able to buy an airplane ticket for his wife, she would join him in the west.

“Mh” eventually crossed the mountainous border between Turkey and Greece on foot during the night. After his arrival in Athens, he intended to hire a smuggler to sneak him into Norway and then on to the “promised land” of Canada. But God had other plans for his life. . . .

After spending three months in a refugee camp, he found his way to the ministry center of Helping Hands where he received a Bible and heard the gospel for the first time in his life. He began coming to the Persian Christian Fellowship where he heard messages about the Son of God who died for his sins and experienced the love of Christ in the lives of believers he met there. After several months of seeking and examining the Good News that he had been taught all his life to reject, “Mh” received Jesus Christ as his Savior.

In the past eighteen months, this young believer has remained amazingly cheerful and solid in his faith in spite of a series of agonizing trials. In the early part of 2004, he underwent surgery to remove a cyst from his tailbone. During the ensuing months, he suffered a number of complications and infections. A year after the surgery, the cyst seems to be growing back, and it is very painful for “Mh” to sit in class or on the bus. Partway through the time-consuming and patience-demanding process of applying for a visa to emigrate to Canada, his wife informed him that she had decided to divorce him and never wanted to see him again because he had become a Christian!

In spite of these and other heartbreaking setbacks, “Mh” completed the six-month Athens Intensive Ministry School and graduated from the Greek Bible Institute in June, 2006. He serves as the founding pastor of the Persian Christian Community, where more than 50 former Muslims have come to faith in Jesus Christ in the past year. This past summer, like the Apostle Paul’s testimony in Philippians 3, “Mh” shared that even after losing everything that he had valued in his life in Iran, he is convinced that when he came to know Jesus Christ he gained something infinitely greater than marriage, home, business and family.

After graduation from AIMS, “Mh” continued his studies at the Greek Bible Institute in addition to classes at the ARC. He has a deep hunger for the word of God a vision to return to Iran in God’s timing to open a Bible school. And the BEE International staff in Greece have the incredible joy of teaching the Scriptures and sharing our lives with a young believer like “Mh”, who has truly “counted the cost of discipleship” and whom I believe God is going to continue to use in a mighty way here in Athens and eventually as an ambassador for Christ to his own people back in Iran.

(editor’s note:  since this story was first recorded some years ago, “Mh” has immigrated to Canada, married a beautiful Canadian “preacher’s kid”, and returned with his bride to an Islamic country where he is sharing the Good News with others)

 

“B” ‘s Story (“Without Words”)

WITHOUT WORDS……………….

“B” is a tall, noble Afghan woman with fine features and a face that portrays a most fine personality.

I first met her a couple of weeks before Christmas.

It was at 5 o’clock, one Sunday afternoon when she appeared at the little bible study for Iranian and Afghan women that I lead, at Helping Hands.

On introduction she buried her head into her arms on the table in front of her and just wept before us.

We found out through my translator on Sundays, that she had very high levels of sugar in her blood and was full of fear as to what will happen to her three children if she became ill enough to be hospitalised.

We prayed for her.

She was quiet and although she and her children carried visibly a deep and angry sorrow, she kept to herself.

She was not willing to be known.

Next Sunday she is back again.

We are studying the various names of God revealed in the Old Testament.

Today we are talking about El Elyon, God Most High.

I watch her from the corner of my eye. I feel that she is drinking the words. Later in the evening, during the Persian Fellowship meeting, I find myself sitting next to her and I feel again that her spirit is drinking the words quietly.

At the end of the evening she is in great agitation. Her blood sugar levels have reached 3.5 mg and she is not at all well. We decide with Jimmy to take her to a hospital as she is in danger of becoming comatose if the sugar levels go any higher.

We arrive at the casualty ward of a hospital that is on night duty.

The emergencies of the night are packed like sardines in a tin can, and we are given an appointment ticket with the number 186!

The night is young….

I realise that the wait is going to be long and we decide that Jimmy should go home and catch some sleep as the next day Nea Zoi has outreach in the downtown brothels.

Suddenly a young lady approaches me and ask if I would like her appointment ticket as she has decided to wait no longer.

Her ticket is number 96!

Aha! It is the Lord!

Within a few minutes it is our turn to be called and the doctor hands me a long list of 101 tests that need to be done in order to round up a diagnosis.

I approach the hospital cashier and the lady responsible asks me if I have medical insurance.

‘I have none madam.’

She lifts her face to look at me and after a long gaze, amidst groans, quarrels, smells, arguments of desperate patients, desperate relatives and desperate cashiers, against any hospital rules, she stamps the prescriptions and hands them back to me!

‘You will not pay anything tonight madam…’

Aha! The Lord is here! He has come before us!

My hair stands on end and my heart is filled with anticipation.

The night is pregnant…

It is past midnight.

As we have to wait over 3 hours for the test results, I ask her if she would like to go for a walk outside around the  block, as walking is said to help bring down sugar levels.

We walk arm in arm and I feel deep down in my spirit her sorrow and God’s longing to make Himself known to her.

But there are no more than 30 words between us. I barely speak Farsi and she barely speaks English.

We are in need of an interpreter.

We are hardly out of the reach of the hospital, when under the bright and crisp winter sky, she decides to open her heart and reveal her story.

“….. My husband…..very good engineer….20 years together….communist…. every day angry…..then changes….very happy…loving….I ask him why…..he tells me  on 25th December his Afhgan friend explains about Christmas…..2006 he reads book from India…..about Jesus…..

…… My husband loves Jesus…..read Book every day…..every month goes Kabul…..meet 30 university people…..they talk about Jesus…….in secret……

……two of them disappear……. the rest disperse……..

……My husband…..has four brothers……they are Taliban…..they hate Book…..his mother 90 years hates the Book…..everyday they shout…… ‘this Book out of house’……

….One day…..April 2007 …..four brothers kill my husband with their hands……at home……my children watch him  die…………..

…His family say that I gave him the Book….they hate me….I sell my rings and come through Iran to Turkey and to Greek island Kos….our boat breaks…..the police fish me and my children out of the water….the police cry…….”

April 2007, Kantahar, stronghold of the Taliban, is watered by the blood of a faithful martyr.

Unknown to men, known unto God.

She weeps quietly under the starry sky and I weep with her, praying the words and longings that are rising in my spirit.

Our hearts are poured out to one another, all that is to be known is known without being said and our friendship is sealed for life.

Hearts speak their own language and the interpreter is the Holy Spirit.

‘…You are my sister…, I want your God be my God…’

We are standing on a pavement and despite the language barrier, we both know, unmistakably that our lives as women have met and that we have met Jesus right there on the bench of a bus stop in downtown Athens.

It is 3 o’clock in the morning.

She is back at Helping Hands in a few days, asking which name of God she missed last Sunday!

I take her to our small office and as there is hardly any vocabulary between us I try to help her find, in a Farsi Bible, the appropriate passage from Genesis 16.

She reads aloud.

….’Woman, where are you coming from and where are you going? Go back and face your life… I know your mistress…I know your misfortune… I know the child you are carrying…I have a name for him and a future… EL ROI  the God who sees! ‘

Her face lights up.

‘Very nice, very nice,’ she says.

I turn her to the 91 Psalm.

She reads the first couple of verses and looks up incredulously. Then she reads a couple more and looks up incredulously. Then a few more.

As long as I live I will not forget her look, it is the look of a starved man who has just discovered an enormous cream cake and is savouring the first cherry on the top of the cream!!!!

Or even of a man born blind who opens his eyes for the first time and sees a world lit up by the warm light of the sun!!

I point her to Psalm 42.   ‘As the deer pants for the waters so my soul longs for You…’

‘Very, very nice…’

She begins to weep.

Psalm 43.   ‘Why are disquieted oh my soul, hope thou in God ’.

She is like a thirsty land drinking the long longed for rain, in front of my eyes.

Psalm 23.  ‘The Lord is my shepherd…’

She lifts up the Book to her lips and kisses the page in her tears.

‘I understand…I understand these words!’

It is an open heaven for Bani and the Holy Spirit is explaining to her the scriptures!

I cannot speak Farsi and she cannot speak more than 30 English words!

The following days, every time she comes to Helping Hands, we shut ourselves in the little office and I try to help her find in a Farsi Bible scriptures that come up in my heart.

Psalm 37. ‘Do not fret about the evildoer….cease from anger….’

‘I was angry when I come to Greece, because my husband dies….. I hit my children……’

John 8.  ‘Woman where are your accusers…neither do I condemn you…’

She weeps and hugs the Book…

And the week days follow, there follow other scriptures.

Isaiah 61.  ‘the Spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach good tidings to the poor…’

Isaiah 53   ‘…He was wounded for our transgressions…’

‘Is this Jesus’?

The crucifixion from the last chapters of John.

‘I believe… I believe…I see…’

John 3.  Nicodemus and the need of a second birth.

‘I believe…I want…Jesus my God… Your God …my God…my eyes open…’

And so this dear woman, in a jam-cramped-cluttered-full of interruptions office, lays hold of Gods salvation, without hardly any words of explanation, hardly any conventional evangelism!  I watch her being led through all the stages of a new birth by the precious Holy Spirit alone!

She makes me understand that she wants, on Sunday morning worship, (she has been coming with us the last two weeks), to stand in the front and say to everybody, ‘I believe, I believe, I believe’! When I point to her the scripture in Romans 10, 9, ’If you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth…’, she laughs ‘like me’, she says!  She is radiant.

On Sundy mornings ,at the fellowship we attend, she weeps at the beauty of the songs.  She brings another young Afgan family with her ‘who want Jesus too’ and another Afgan widow with a 14 year old girl who came to the Lord two weeks ago! “B” ‘s two daughters have also taken Jesus’.

Two Saturdays ago at her own request, together with two other Afghan men, she went through the waters of baptism!

“B”… a widow from Kantahar, without a covering, bereaved of a beloved husband, bereaved of protection, bereaved of family, ( her own mother would not give her shelter for fear of reprisals from the Taliban), bereaved of country, bereaved of dreams; a woman refugee in crowded Athens, is beaming. Jesus Christ has revealed Himself to her and she is taken up with His beauty.  And this is but the beginning of her journey.

Our God is a Spirit. He is free to do whatever He wants, whenever He wants with whoever He wants. No existence that has been created by Him can limit him. He is not limited by words because by His Spirit He can explain the depths of God to the spirit of man. His word is not bound to human explanation and does not need human defending.

It is humbling but utterly true.

Our dear brothers and sisters, it is becoming clearer than the sun that we are swimming in a ministry that has come from God and has not to do with us.

We are reaping a harvest that we have not sown!

I wonder whose endless tears of intercession, the blood of which martyrs has reached the throne of God and has released these floods of grace, borne in His Sacred Heart for these people from the foundation of the world? It is a humbling and breath-taking question.

In front of our eyes and in our generation the Lord is breaking the spirit of Islam, as he has done earlier with the spirit of communism. The Lord is gathering the ‘travail of His soul’ and He is satisfied. And we are intoxicated with just tasting a glimpse of His great joy.

Please uphold this ministry in your prayers.  There is a ripe and vast harvest. Ask the Lord of the harvest to sent labourers.

Could we ask you to continue to pray for us; we seem to need God more than ever before.

I long so much to speak Farsi quickly.  “B” is my teacher. Will you pray that I will be given the grace I need to learn a new language at this stage of my life?

And will you remember to pray for this dear woman, “B”?

That the Lord will heal both her and her little boy from diabetes, that her two older daughters, 9 and 14 will be healed from their sorrow and memories, that He will be establish her socially and  spiritually in a Christian community and that she ‘will be fashioned as a corner pillar fit for His palace’.

 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Eddy’s Story

I was born in Cameroon and my mom died when I was just a child, and my dad died many years later .We were a big family and things seldom ran smoothly.  I was really missing my mother, which created a vacuum in my young heart and mind, which turned into real pain and I soon began pondering the whole question of my existence.

I obtained in those early days a vague understanding of who He really was.  He, however, did not want me to remain in ignorance .My deep thoughts and reflections always put me in a position that constantly made me inquire into religious affairs.  I started seeing dreams and visions of Biblical proportions that I did not understand at the time.  Now I do.

When I reached school-going age, the vacuum in my heart grew ever larger.  I attended a Christian primary school where I learned the elementary things of God, and the foundation of my faith in Jesus Christ was built and I began to understand more of Jesus as my Lord and Savior.

Many things happened that made me realize that God had many things in store for me including sharing His Good News with others.  For a long time I wondered why I was the only one in such a large family who had some enlightenment in the things pertaining to God.  Perhaps my innate yearning and longing for answers to some basic life questions played a big role.  I remember some people being religious and believing in God in their own ways and traditions.  One thing I know for sure is that God created each one of us with a vacuum that only He can fill, if people invite Him into their lives.  If we pause for just a moment (even as children) to seek Him, He will reach out to us.  No one exactly introduced me to God.  He reached out to me because I sought Him as a child.

 

My experience with God in my early years helped me in no small way.  But my relationship with God began to wane when I started going to a public school.  I became stubborn and did my own thing.  I was largely influenced by my non-Christian friends.  But the seed of God’s Word remained in me.  Church became a boring routine fraught with ritualistic liturgies.  My rebellion resulted in me becoming more distressed and empty. The vacuum I had experienced before returned and grew even larger. But God still had me in mind.

I was preparing for university and at the same time I was preparing for broken-heartedness.  My dad was a coffee farmer and when global coffee prices fell, my country was hard-hit as over eighty percent of the people in Cameroon base their livelihood on agriculture.  This global market failure triggered an economic crisis the scale of which we had never seen before.  Life was never the same again for us.  Consequently, people could not care for their basic needs, let alone afford a college education in a big family like mine.

God, however, had plans I did not know of.  I found an administrative job and while there, a door of business opportunity opened and I made a fortune.  The manner in which this happened convinced me without any shadow of a doubt that this was a direct intervention from God.  Even though I had drifted far from God, He still held me close.  My sense of God’s active presence in my life began to return slowly but surely.  It was hard, but I determined not to forget my God.

 

As things increasingly became unbearable in Cameroon, popular unrest ensued.  There were students rioting and other political upheavals of all sorts.  I was frightened and my insecurity grew as lawlessness and corruption became the order of the day. I thought I was going to lose even the little I had saved if I continued in the system. Many people carried the same conviction and began to leave the country. I was part of this mass exodus.

 

Since I was financially equipped, it was not as difficult to make plans to leave the country. I therefore set out to acquire the appropriate paperwork.  I met a middleman who said he would facilitate things and make it happen in no time.  Little did I know that he was using my money for his own ends.  He too wanted to take flight.  I nearly melted with grief and anguish, and thought I would tear him in pieces if I caught him.  This fellow vanished with my passport and money worth thousands of U.S. dollars.

Instead of turning to God, I resorted to mediums for assistance in the recovery of the cash.  What a mistake that was!  Thank God this is a dead practice in my life today.  Finally, I remembered God again and stopped all traditional and legal pursuits against this person whose trace I could not even find.

 

Then God blessed me again .My business partner unexpectedly dispatched someone to rescue me financially without her knowing my plight.  This was another direct intervention from God. My travel plans were therefore only hindered and not permanently thwarted.

Quickly, I hastened to obtain any readily available visa I could lay hands on.  This time I was successful and obtained a Russian student visa.  I left for Russia with very limited cash in my pocket.  While in Russia, I quickly discovered life as a student would be unbearable.  There was nothing to do to replenish your pocket with cash if you ran out of funds.  With the fear of the Russian cold which was fast approaching, I hurriedly made plans to leave. Russia in the first place was not my final destination. Finally, in September of 1997, I left Russia after nearly four months.

 

I arrived in Greece in the same year and wanted to continue with my studies.  I thought I would find a job and go to school at the same time.  However, things were not that easy. I soon discovered I had to learn the language, which was very difficult. Thus, I settled for menial jobs in order to survive.  Without any real sense of direction, I almost despaired. As a matter of fact I was dejected after just a little while in hard circumstances.

Suddenly, my sense of God revived again in me a new spirit.  I prayed and implored God on a regular basis.  Soon I made some Christian friends who decided to help me get started with life afresh. I was later introduced to a church with whom I fellowshipped for seven years.  While there I took some basic Christian training courses for one year.  My Biblical view of God became clearer  and Jesus Christ truly became my Lord and Saviour.  As my spiritual hunger increased, I decided to go a step further.  I enrolled in a Bible School and successfully finished my one year training course (1999-2000).

 

It was in this Bible School that I first heard about Helping Hands. Even though I was touched by what I heard about this organization and wanted to join and be a part of it, I did not do so immediately.  Many years passed and I decided to finally put an end to procrastination in 2003.

 

When I first came to Greece, I had dreams and aspirations nobody could talk me out of. I tried hard to create a world of my fantasies. But the more I tried, the more frustration I felt.  I even enrolled in the university to boost my standing. I thought I could satisfy a restless part of me by simply acquiring more knowledge.  This effort too failed. It is clear I needed wisdom from God and not a mundane knowledge that usually puffs up (THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH EDUCATION!!!!!!!).  Without letting God at the forefront of my life, I had made plans which did not really reflect the plans He had for me.

When God begins to fill the hollow in our hearts, we begin to feel fulfillment.  My interaction with refugees who come to Helping Hands and are almost “hoping against hope” reminds me of my own state without God.  Sharing the love of Christ with other Christians and with people that have hardly heard of the love of God ushers in a joy indescribable.  Many times we fail because we do not allow God to mould us into the shape that best fits us.

I want to be like the Apostle Paul who boldly confessed he was lacked on many occasions. These were not I started volunteering for this body and have been there ever since with some intermittent breaks which came in because I have had to work in some summers.only physical or material lack. At times he would desire more of God in order to grasp certain spiritual truths into the things that pertain to Him.  Even though life is not easy to live, it is worth living it for God.

 

I would like to thank the entire staff of International Teams in Athens who have been a good example for my emulation. My gratitude is extended as well to all those who have made invaluable inputs into my life in this country. Thanks be to God and to Jesus Christ our Saviour.

EDDY

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Saturday, April 02, 2011

Dr. Joseph

(Testimony shared at church Summer 2010)

Dear brothers and sisters, kalimera sas and good morning!

I am reading my message to you this morning so that I do not talk for too long a time.

God’s plans are always mysterious, we plan one thing but He acts according to His plan. Also, some times we get struck by situations that are very, very difficult and almost impossible to understand, but again God has His own plan for us, showing His light and blessing upon us in a very different way. This is the case with me, a blessing in disguise, if the Islamic terrorist Taliban had not issued a death verdict against me I most probably would never have received the blessing of our Lord Jesus’ promise of salvation.

I am greatly honored and blessed to be here as your new brother in the Lord Jesus’ name. I very much want to thank my brothers Kent Morley and Scott McCracken along with my sisters Myrna and Vicki for being the bridge between me and God. My special thanks also to brother Fotis and sister Mary for this honor to be able to proclaim to you, my brothers and sisters in Gods’ beloved family, that I am a new-born Christian and this is a day filled with grace.

Brothers and sisters, my story of landing in Greece is so grievous and long that to be told accurately it would probably need to be written in a novel by someone like Dostoevsky or Tolstoi.

I have been in forced exile here for a year and a half. During this time my wife and two small children; 2.5 & 4.5 years old are forced to survive in extremely inhumane conditions. They are chased and followed everywhere by the Taliban, the great force of evil in Pakistan. The Taliban has attempted several times to bomb my family, but they have somehow, with the help of God, been able to escape.

Back in Pakistan I had an excellent job along with a private practice in my own hospital, but for opposing the Taliban’s inhumane barbarism I have had to pay a very high personal cost. Dear brothers and sisters I would like to request your help and that you pray for Gods’ intervention in getting my wife and children here as soon as possible. For a long time they have had to stay in an underground room in horrible conditions.

I thank you very much for your attention and sympathies

Your brother in Jesus’ name

Joseph

(Baptism testimony–October 2010)

Good morning, dear brothers and sisters in Jesus!

I am the most blessed and honored person today for being accepted into the family of God, through the Lord Jesus. But before I say something about my long journey to be embraced and blessed by the Lord Jesus into his family today here in front of you, I want to thank those who the Lord Jesus used to introduce me to this utterly new life, with new thinking, new objectives, new priorities, new challenges, and of course new sacrifices of unimaginable magnitude, for which I am absolutely prepared by heart and mind.

I want to thank sister Myrna and brother Kent Morley, sister Vicki and brother Scott McCracken, brother Prof Samuel Naaman from Moody Bible Institute in the USA, and sister Dr. Kholda Naaman in Pakistan for their big role of love & compassion, through which the glory and light of the Lord Jesus was revealed to me and a window of heavenly breeze opened for me.  I feel like God was speaking to me all the times through the above-mentioned brothers and sisters.  May the Lord shower His eternal blessing on them forever.

Honorable brothers and sisters, I have traveled to this point of knowing God’s acceptance for a very very long time.  Even to tell part of the story would take longer than we have today, so I will just give you a few glimpses of it.   The whole story may be told some time soon in future, if God is willing, you will read about it in a book.

Long ago, while I was a college boy, the Lord Jesus appeared to me in a dream, and asked me to follow Him.  Then I did not give any importance to it, and had no clue about Him at all.  The only thing I knew was that Christians are the followers of Jesus and He was man of many amazing miracles.

In the days following the dream,  I started feeling utter disgust and rejection of the Islam I was seeing, for the degree of its hypocrisy, hatred, sanctioned killings of non-Muslims and suspected apostates (jihad) in the name of Allah, double standards, and so many more things made me revolt and subsequently abandon Islam for the rest of my life.

In 2006, in northwestern Pakistan, the Taliban started consolidations on the behalf of the Pakistani government and army.  Overnight, I was transferred to Waziristan where, under immense pressure from the US and other western countries, Pakistan had to (unwillingly) move its army against the Taliban hideouts in the area.  Perhaps it was similar to the Apostle Paul’s situation when the Jews could not prove their allegation against him so they tried to persuade Governor Festus to transfer him for trial in Jerusalem where they had planned a plot to kill him.

Because since then, and even now, I have been leading a large covert anti-Taliban and anti-jihad organization in Pakistan.

I am certain now that the Lord Jesus was my protector then and now, who saved me during every difficult and life-threatening circumstance I was facing.

It was just a year ago when I had the opportunity to chat with brother Kent Morley and Scott McCracken in the Morleys’ home.  It was then that brother Scott introduced me to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus, the son of God.

Though honestly it was not my intention to believe in, or to follow, Jesus but after spending time studying the Bible I began to learn more, and to see more clearly with every passing day of my learning about Him, I found Him to be mine and the only true savior of all of us, and the whole world!

Dear brothers and sisters, following the Lord Jesus has totally overhauled the whole pattern of my life, my apprehensions, my outlook on world matters, my personal and family life, and my approach toward friends and enemies, through the lessons of compassion, love, forgiveness, repentance and service with love and integrity, for which I am grateful to the Lord from the core of my heart and mind.

As I mentioned earlier, I have not been following Islam for long time now, even though it is my ancestral religion and practiced by my family and the whole region of about 20 million people.  For all these people it is beyond imagination for someone to commit apostasy from Islam or conversion to another religion.

As you know, apostasy in Islam (according to Sharia law) is punishable by death.

Not only that, but the area I am from, if my conversion becomes public knowledge, unimaginable violence  will be unleashed upon every relative and villager in the whole area by the evil forces of Islamic fanatics and jihadists.  This is the only region in the world where, after the fall of Afghanistan, the barbaric Taliban version of Islamic Sharia laws were introduced, sanctioned, and ratified by the government of Pakistan.

My home in Pakistan was destroyed through bombing and arson last year.  My parents have escaped to refugee camps since then.  My father was detained twice by the Taliban for interrogations and intimidations against me, inhumanely treated, beaten, starved and humiliated.  My wife and children are persistently receiving threats and intimidations by phone.  They have to hide and are compelled to move hiding from place to place very often and continuously.  My friends and associates, with whom we have worked against Taliban and Islamic brutalities have been silenced through bombings, slaughters, and public hanging of their corpses for lessons to all.

With all this and many more very acrid unbelievable hard and tough memories and series of savageries, I hereby forgive all these Islamic apostles of Satan in the name and glory of the Lord Jesus, because He has taught us to love our enemies.  But certainly I would ask you to pray for real miracles of the Lord’s glory and path of salvation in the heart and souls of every Muslim in particular and others in general.

I don’t remember the names of all the brothers and sisters in this Nea Zoee church, except a very few like sister Litsa, Tanya, Carolina, brother Panos, and Ryan Brown who have been always concerned for me and very compassionate, and persistently praying for the safety and protection of my family from the wrath of the Taliban. Thanks to them all.

I thank all of you, and particularly brother Fotis and sister Mary for making this occasion of my new beginning with the Lord Jesus so wonderful and memorable in this beautiful resort place on this great blessed Sunday.

I thank you all for the attention and time.

Posted by Scott at 21:33 1 comment: 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

“H” is now our BROTHER!

“H” is a 24-year-old Afghan born and raised by Afghan refugees in Iran who has been living with us for the last 6 weeks.  In the first few weeks he would frequently say things like, “Scott, talk about Jesus” or “Talk about sin” or “Talk about grace”, etc. If I tried to talk about anything else, he would say, “Why did you change the subject?! Talk about Jesus!”

Two Fridays ago, while waiting together for a bus, I said, “H, talk to me…about Jesus.”  He paused with a very serious look on his face and said, “Honestly…honestly…nothing else…I see Jesus in you.”

Well, I have to say I was momentarily stunned and had to choke back my emotions.  Of course, I immediately told him that if he saw ANYTHING good in me it was because of Jesus because I know (especially in these days) how dark and sinful my heart really is.

This past Friday, while riding the us together, he turned to me and said, “…Scott, will you baptize me…?”  When I asked him why he wanted to be baptized, he replied, “Because I believe in Jesus.”  I asked, “The REAL Jesus or the Jesus of Islam?  The Jesus of the Bible or the Jesus of the Koran?”  He answered, “The real Jesus! The Jesus of the Bible!”

As we talked more that night and the next day it became clear that his journey toward Jesus had, in the last week or so, drawn him to the place where he was ready to risk being disowned by his family and rejected or hurt by others to leave the religion he was strongly indoctrinated in all his life to follow Jesus as his God and Savior.  Apparently he called out to Jesus to help him overcome some strong temptations that he had never before been able to withstand, and Jesus helped him.  To him these were like “signs” that Jesus is more powerful and he wants to trust in Him.

Please continue to pray for “H”, for his growth in Christ, for his safety, and for continued guidance from God about where he is supposed to go and what he is supposed to do.

Posted by Scott at 19:50 No comments: 

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Gm’s Story

“Gm” left Afghanistan in order to pursue an education.  It’s widely known that women in Afghanistan were denied educational opportunities under the Taliban.  In certain regions, however, even men (especially men from certain minority ethnic groups, like “Gm”) were denied much beyond an elementary education.  “Gm” was not satisfied with this.  He dreamed of learning English and French, the “languages of education” as “Gm” put it.  This hunger to learn led “Gm” to flee Afghanistan for Pakistan, and then India before eventually turning westward to Europe.

“Gm” first heard about Jesus in India.  Since then, God’s Spirit has continued to pursue him.  Now, roughly nine years later (!), “Gm” is ready to follow Jesus. As an Afghan, “Gm” faces almost certain rejection from family and friends.

When asked how his Muslim family will respond when they learn of his decision to follow Jesus, “Gm” responded, “My family will become my first enemies I will need to learn to love in the way of Jesus.”

So what can compel such risk?  Love. Legalism and moralism cannot provide the courage to risk.  “Gm” says that understanding the love of God, however, compels him to risk everything.  Jesus on the cross paints the picture clearly: God is love.  It is this love that has wooed “Gm” for nearly a decade, and now it is this love to which “Gm” surrenders his life.  Jesus lords over us in love.  “Gm” gets it, and now has given his life to it.
Please pray for “Gm”.  He asks specifically for boldness in living and sharing his faith.  Pray for God’s love to be all the more evident to “Gm” as the persecution and rejection of the world begins.  Also, “Gm” still has a great passion for learning; I know that he would appreciate greatly if you would pray that God would provide an opportunity for formal education.  Thanks for your prayers; thanks for standing with us!

Posted by Scott at 07:32 1 comment: 

Friday, September 18, 2009

“J’ ‘s Journey on the Refugee Highway

 

 

Most of “J” ’s life and experiences in Afghanistan would be the normal collection of variables that construct our lives.  His father was very religious, but also considered modern and open minded.  “J”, as a dignified and kindhearted man, defined himself as a mischievous boy and a jokester.  Like so many of us, the years that led him to adulthood were shaped by normalcy rather than trauma, by incidental moments rather than momentous incidents.  This was also the pattern of his life woven by marriage, four children, five years (required) in the military, and a life career of teaching.

However, 2006 would be the year of unraveling.  “J” had become increasingly aware of an internal searching for truth.  The Dari poetry he studied and taught asked questions about truth and God that echoed unanswered within himself and within the structure of Islam.  Even though “J” ’s favorite Persian poet was not free within Islam to write openly of the things he believed, he stirred questions within “J” that required answers. “The God is in you and near you so why are you seeking for God so far away?”  A similar message; “Why do you go so far to Mecca, the one who loves you is here.”  These questions were stirring at a time when “J” was also questioning Islamic thought.  He would wait with the poet for Islam to answer the charge, “Why would you kill a person for saying God lives in me”?  “J” inaudibly voiced his own questions.  “If we believe in the prophet Jesus how can we kill or dismember someone because they become a Christian?  How can it be true that a woman is only half the value of a man?  Why must women suffer so many injustices simply because they are not men?”

As these thoughts were fermenting in “J”, his daughter had secretly become a follower of Jesus.  She worked as a journalist for a private TV station, and was associated with the BBC.  In this role she met non-Muslim people from around the world, one of whom gave her a Bible and told her the basic good news about Jesus.  Being unsure of how any Muslim will react to news of someone becoming a Christian she gave her father a Bible and told him that she knew he was very open-minded and she thought he would enjoy reading it.  He and his wife read, studied and asked questions.  Later with the help of an underground pastor they accepted Jesus as their savior and Lord.  “J” says now with conviction and the gratefulness that characterizes him, “I praise God that the Holy Spirit brought me to the truth before my life was over.”

 

Just as the honest conviction of this decision began unraveling the pattern of his thinking, beliefs and actions so the setting in which that decision was made would set in motion the very painful unraveling of the normal, worry-free pattern of his everyday life.  “J” and his family began meeting secretly in their home every week with a small group of Christians.  Though there are many such groups in Afghanistan, they do not associate with each other for fear of drawing attention to themselves or putting so many at risk if one person is arrested.  They continue to assemble knowing that the crime of converting to Christianity is met with the swift and sure sword of beheading.   It was in the ever-present shadow of this reality that “J” answered the life-altering knock at his door that Sunday morning as the small group huddled together for worship, study and support.  Between the front door of his house that he would never see again and the small, waiting white car, he was beaten, accused of being a blasphemer and judged to be “one who needed to be killed.”  In a miraculous moment when God stepped in to be the abundant provision for “J” ’s overwhelming need, the little white car was involved in an accident.  In the ensuing, God-stirred swirl of confusion “J” found an opportunity to escape.  The remainder of that anxious day was spent knee-deep in water underneath a concealing bridge.  When the welcomed darkness assumed the role of concealing him he washed off what mud he could and found a taxi to take him to a trusted friend’s house.  The friend was not trusted enough to permit “J” to confide the true reason for his predicament, but trusted enough to be asked for shelter and aid.  His friend visited “J” ’s neighborhood the following day, claiming to be a friend who had come to stay, but was perplexed to find a large padlock on the door.  The neighbors were equally puzzled and unable to supply additional details, but the padlock and absent family members were enough to convince “J” that he would need to flee.

A three-month stay, a momentary rest in a small anywhere town was the first exit on what was now  “J” ’s personal journey down the labyrinth of injustice and peril known as “the refugee highway”.  In a few moments strangers had separated him from his family, his house and all he owned.  As casually as they had destroyed his cell phone they had also decimated his identity as a trusted and dignified teacher.  He found work at a small restaurant where he was permitted to stay until he moved on toward Mazar-E-Sharif, avoiding anywhere he might be recognized and arrested.

He spent the next year-and-a-half on the outskirts of Mazar-E-Sharif cocooned in anxiety, unsure of the fate of his wife and family, and unable to identify any landmark of hope on the barren landscape of his future.  Here he reconnected with another trusted friend from his past when he had spent time studying and teaching in Mazar-E-Sharif.  This friend was open-minded and allowed “J” to stay and work in his small shop, knowing that he was hiding because of his faith.  Even though he had quickly escaped the authorities who came to arrest him, fear and anxiety created a very real prison from which he needed to free himself.  Four thousand euros was the price of freedom, or more accurately, the price of an attempt at freedom.  No guarantees.  No credible promises.  No cash-on-delivery clause.  This was not the price of a first class ticket to Somewhere Europe.  This did not pay for a one-way luxury cruise of the Mediterranean.  This was merely a toll to merge with the other human traffic on the heavily traveled refugee highway.  The path paved with greed, striped with blood, and littered with the remains of those whose tenuous thread of hope snapped under the unbearable weight of hardship.

The details of “J” ’s journey from Afghanistan to Greece, like an echo of the trip itself, remain concealed in the shadows of secrecy.  The belief that every human has intrinsic value and by virtue of existence has worth, deserving of respect, is shown to be an evaporating mirage on this harsh landscape.  A traveler here is not a person to be escorted, but a commodity to be shipped.  They are bartered, loaded and unloaded, stacked, herded and often abandoned as “undeliverable cargo.”  “J” was smuggled from Afghanistan to Iran, then from Iran to Turkey and finally from Turkey to Greece.  He was passed from smuggler to smuggler, traveling at night sometimes in a vehicle, other times on horseback, which had cost him extra, and when necessary he traveled on foot.  The refugee highway is a grueling labyrinth meandering through treacherous territory.  Its travelers may get lost, robbed, beaten, starved, abandoned and otherwise abused.  “J” says simply, “You would have to see it to understand.”  To set foot on this path, like venturing out onto a tightrope, is to acknowledge that you may be choosing suicide.  “You must accept”, “J” states, “that this journey may lead to death.”

If the trip to Turkey is a perilous pathway it is here that it becomes a nearly vertical descent down the face of despair.  Usually by the time refugees board whatever craft is provided for launching onto the sea that surrounds the many islands of Greece, they have heard the sobering stories of sunken rafts and bodies washed up on the beaches. They have heard of heartless smugglers who threw their human cargo to the waves in hopes of saving themselves.  Their fears are higher than the waves splashing in over the sides of the boat and their hopes are riding lower than the overcrowded vessels in the water.  For “J” this journey in one of three rafts pulled by a small motorboat was thankfully uneventful, bringing them to the welcomed shore of a Greek island.

Here the villagers were helpful and kind as “J” walked with another man for two days and one night, searching for a police station where they could register to seek asylum.  The next twelve days were spent in a refugee detention center where they were fingerprinted and given temporary papers.  From here they were taken by boat to the port of Piraeus on the mainland of Greece near the capital of Athens.  To most this seems like a welcomed initiation into the European Union – the first days of a better and more prosperous life.  Unfortunately it most often is the curtain rising on a modern Greek tragedy where Act IV finds the refugees no closer to the normal life they were seeking tin Act I.

Happily, “J” ’s story stands in sharp contrast to the experience of the majority of refugees who find themselves in the bureaucratic quagmire of Greece.  However, “J”, like so many, spent his first two nights in Athens sleeping in an exposed park.  There were many other countrymen from Afghanistan who congregated there during the day.  It was during a conversation in the park that he heard the surprising good news.  His family was living

 

in a European country!   He had wondered for two-and-a-half years whether his family was dead or alive and if he would ever see them again.  Now incredibly he was being told where they lived and given their phone number by someone he met in the park!  “J” recounted the poignant scene of the reuniting phone call.  “I cried and my son laughed and laughed.  I talked and my daughter cried.  My wife and I could not speak, we just wept.”

Through a series of connections and introductions “J” walked through the doors of “Helping Hands”, a group in Athens dedicated to showing the love of Jesus to refugees.  A fellow Farsi-speaker was able to help “J” visit the embassy of the country where his family was living.  Miraculously and quickly he was granted the coveted papers that would allow him to travel.  Any attempt at explaining why “J” sailed through the often endless process and was allowed to move on from Athens legally would be simplistic and misleading.  Simplistic because there are endless combinations of factors both legal and arbitrary that intertwine in the process.  Misleading in that “J” ’s experience might cause you to naively believe that anyone who has a legitimate or compelling claim will surely meet with compassion and ultimately be rewarded with justice.

Looking beyond the insidious injustice of religious fanatics and his own subsequent suffering in the quest to survive, “J” would love to return to Afghanistan.  “Two things are always near to your heart”, he offers; “your mother and your country.”  Through the eye of the TV camera and the words of the foreign correspondents, we see an Afghanistan with its enchantment and natural beauty covered with the dust and debris of conflict.  Much of the destruction has come from outsiders, but perhaps mostly from within.  Islam has not only failed to unite these people, but sets its “holy warriors” against each other in their attempt to be the sole purveyors of truth.  At the age of sixty “J” must wonder if his hijacked country can ever be the good and safe place where he longs to return.

At the moment, “J” has found rest and safety like a ship at last anchored in a sheltered harbor, finding refuge from an unrelenting sea of hardship.  From this current vantage point he looks back on Afghanistan with a sadness fathered by frustration and nurtured by disappointments, questioning whether things will ever change.  For thirty years his country has suffered through constant conflict and repressive restrictions.  “The last seven years have seen foreign intervention and the establishment of a parliament.  Millions and billions of dollars have been spent, but where has it gone?  There is a shortage of water, electricity and jobs.    Many parents are willing to send their children on a dangerous journey, hoping they can find prosperity and send needed money back to their waiting families only to lose them to one of the many landmines of drugs or hopelessness or death hidden along the way.  “Here in Athens”, “J” summarizes, “people bring their fruit to the market to sell.  In the markets in Afghanistan they sell their daughters.”

Though hardship embitters some men, it has stirred gratefulness in “J”.  Though he knows he believed in Jesus “with an honest heart” in Afghanistan, he is grateful to his family of Christian brothers and sisters at Helping Hands in Athens for showing him the life of Jesus in action.  He wants to extend that same hand to others wherever he sees the need.  “J” and his story are for me (and hopefully for you) a nudge, reminding us of the incalculable treasure hidden within each soul we meet and the immense privilege we are granted to become for them the enlivening embrace and the helping hands of Jesus.

 

Friday, June 26, 2009

Kurdish “A” ‘s Story

It was Tuesday morning at the Athens Refugee Center when “A”, the Kurdish man showed up looking for someone who can speak with him in Farsi. He said he was a member of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan in Iraq for 4 years (where they taught them to fight with gun for freedom).

“I had no interest for religion and God but my interest was for a new gun and new tactics for fighting,” he said. It took 15 days for him to come to Athens through the smugglers who he paid 4,000 Euros. He stayed with other Kurdish people in Athens.

One night he saw a dream. In his dream somebody was calling him. He looked up and saw writing in the sky he couldn’t read. He heard again the voice calling him, saying, “Come to Me”. He woke up crying and shaking. He told the other Kurdish guys about his dream, hoping they could help him understand. They told him to go to the religious people and ask them about his dream, and they directed him to our ministry center.

He came and told me (Nader) about his dream. I was listening to his entire story and I said, “I don’t know what it means, but I knew God is calling you to come to Him.” I talked about God and told him that for many years he fought for freedom and peace that he never received; today maybe is the time for you to receive it through Jesus…not by guns, but by faith in Him. I told him several verses in the Bible and he listened attentively.

He took my hand and started to cry. He didn’t care about all the hundreds of people around us even though I tried to stop him. I gave him a Bible to read alone for himself and come back to ask any questions he had. When I was ready to leave him alone, he took my hand again and he said, “If I read the Bible and want to receive Him, what shall I do?” I said, “Just open your heart and let Him come into your life. He said, “Can we do that now?”

So we prayed and he invited Christ into his life! I was so happy and grateful to God to bring him to Himself. I was happy to see what God is doing in the heart of people. Then we prayed together. Pray for “A” and other like him who come to know the Lord. And thank you for all your prayers for every soul for salvation. May God bless you for being part of what God is doing in the Refugee Ministry here in Athens.

 

Earthquake Loss and Eternal Gain

In our last email we mentioned about the young Afghan man who raised his hand and came forward to receive Jesus without fear from people. He is an amazing guy. His name is “M,” 23 years of age. I was amazed with his story every time he spoke to me. It seems like he is very spiritual boy.

“M” Testimony: My father was always telling me to pray. Early in the morning, it became my habit to go out of the house to clean myself before praying by washing my face, hands and feet. One Friday morning, I came out to wash myself for prayer. When I was just ready to open the faucet, the earthquake came. Everything I could see was shaking. I could not move where I was standing. I trembled with fear. I saw everything was falling down and I saw the earth was opened and all houses came down and were swallowed by the earth. Everything came down, with not one stone above another. All was dust on the surface. I cried and cried and tried to dig the earth to find my family inside. But I lost them. I could not find them. I never saw anybody survive in the place where I lived. I was all alone and helpless. I just cried and cried like crazy.

I asked him, “Where did it happen? M… said “It happened in Bam. Many countries came to help us. They dug the earth and also found my family’s bodies. They showed me their pictures. They buried all the dead together. I lost my family and relatives in the Bam earthquake.

I went to Afghanistan. Some of my relatives lived there. They thought I was crazy and thought it was better for me to have a wife. But this did not solve my problem. I wanted to find my life. I came back to Bam and it looked so different. Many new houses and buildings were constructed.

So I decided to leave and I came to Athens.” “When I came to Athens, the first thing that touched me was the cross on top of the Greek Church. There was a strange feeling for me. I became interested about it to know Christianity. I came to the Persian Fellowship two times and did not come back again.

Then I had a dream about the Lord, and came back to this place and asked for a Bible, but my two uncles strictly forbade me from coming to this Fellowship again. But my uncles were not able to stop my heart’s desire to know about Christianity. For two years I have been reading that Bible you gave me. I came to know Jesus through the Bible. Last Monday, I saw that dream again. In that same dream a man told me that I must be born again. For three days I tried to find you but I could not.”

And I asked him, “What will happen if your two uncles find out that you became a believer in Jesus?” M… answered me (speaking of the Judgment Day), “In that day, my uncles cannot save me.” “In the place where I live with some friends and two uncles when they saw me reading the Bible, they spoke badly to me, but what pains me is when they speak bad words about Jesus. So, I stopped reading the Bible and waited for them to sleep. When they were sleeping I woke up and read the Bible with the small flashlight.”

I showed him a postal envelope that we had received just this past week at Helping Hands. It had his name on the return address. Inside was an evangelistic booklet with the boxes checked about wanting more information and wanting to accept Jesus.

M… said, “I sent it to the address I found on the evangelistic booklet a month ago. I found that booklet from a friend’s house and sent it back with the answers. I was touched with his situation and asked my friend to give him a space to stay with him. Pray for this young Afghan man named “M”… for his growth and that God would keep him for Himself.

 

Gregor’s Story

Gregor was a 24 year-old artist from Albania. Although open to spiritual matters during initial contact with International Teams missionaries, his English was severely limited (and our Albanian was non-existent). After viewing the “Jesus” video in his mother tongue, it was obvious that he was very moved. When asked his opinion about it he said that as a movie it was not so special but as he watched it he began to think, “What if these things about Jesus are true? What if He is really like this?” He said that there was like a battle going on between his head and his heart, and at the end of the film he had prayed the “sinner’s prayer” and asked Jesus into his heart.

Although he had prayed the “sinner’s prayer” on that day, it was really about a week later when during a follow-up visit that the message of the Gospel was clearly understood by Gregor. It was as if a light had clicked on. From that day, Gregor had an insatiable hunger for God’s Word, a passionate desire to do God’s will, and a consuming burden for the lost. Although meek and mild-mannered in his personality, Gregor has been gifted by the Holy Spirit with the gift of evangelism and has been instrumental in leading many other Albanians to the Lord.

While Gregor was still in Athens he led to the Lord his parents, a cousin, and half a dozen friends IN ALBANIA through correspondence with them. As a result they started a home fellowship in Shkoder, through which others came to the Lord. In Athens, Gregor led (or helped lead) several Albanians to the Lord, including his sister, brother-in-law, and his Muslim room-mate. Gregor’s English quickly and dramatically improved. He spent large quantities of time in prayer, discipleship studies, and evangelism training.

Before he had come to Christ it had always been his dream to leave Albania and try to get to America where he would be free to express his artistic gifts. However, now he began to sense that God was calling him to return as a witness to his fellow countrymen.

In October 1992, Gregor returned to his home city, certain of God’s calling on his life but unclear about how to implement it. He later entered a YWAM DTS (in cooperation with Frontiers) in Tirana that had a special emphasis on church-planting in Albania. A team was formed and an outreach in Shkoder resulted in a church plant that continues to grow in impact until this day. They have been active in evangelistic outreach to remote mountain villages in Albania as well as their own city. They were active during the Kosovar refugee crisis (at the request of the government and in cooperation with a few other churches) in running a transit center for 3,000 refugees a day, and developing an outreach program to them out of their church. They have been active in both evangelistic and discipleship ministry in Kosovo.

Some time after Gregor’s parents came to the Lord they entered a YWAM DTS and were both used to lead people to the Lord and help plant the first church ever in a mountain city of 15,000 previously unreached for Christ. One of the young men they led to Christ became a part of that church plant and later joined Campus Crusade for Christ where he not only actively shared his faith with others but was very active in ministry around the country training others to share their faith as well. Now he works for World Vision.

Gregor and his wife Kela, with their two young boys, moved to Kosovo in January 2004 to begin a church-planting ministry there. They currently (as of 2009) have 3 boys and are on a team with other missionaries in the area, and are all working in unity to bring Kosovars to Jesus.

 

Sunday, August 24, 2008

“RA’s” Story

An Afghan Refugee’s Story

“From as early as I can remember, I have known nothing but sadness and trouble.”

My name is “RA” and I am 19 years old. I was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 15, 1988. I am the youngest of four children. I had two brothers, who were abducted by Taliban military forces and never seen again. I will tell you more about them later. I also have one sister, who is now 25, married and living in Kabul.

I do not have many memories of my early years in Kabul. In fact I remember practically nothing. I do remember that my mother got coupons from the government that she could redeem for food and other items. She would get biscuits and bring them home, then I would sell them to my brothers. So I became a businessman from a very early age!

Once (I am told) my uncles had many guests over, and I woke up after they had left and saw a small glass of clear liquid on the table. Thinking it was water, I drank it down in one gulp. But it was vodka! Since I was very young and small, I got drunk, and everybody says I was crying and yelling and saying that I just wanted to die!

When I was about 5, we moved to Samangan in northern Afghanistan. We lived in Samangan for about 3 years, then we moved to Mazar-e-sharif in a neighboring province. My family owns property there, but we only lived there about a year before moving back to Samangan, because times were very difficult. One of the abiding memories of my early years is that we moved often.

I was basically a very quiet kid, but the second time we moved to Samangan I had some friends that I played with. We played with knives, slings, and slingshots, fighting against other teams of boys. Even though I was small, I helped prepare the stones and things like that. Some of the boys even made their own “guns.” At the arranged time we would gather and shoot at each other, but because we lived in an area where there were terrible dust storms, you couldn’t even seen the other boys or who you were shooting at. If you got hit in the face with a stone, you couldn’t tell who had shot it. It was a very rough game.

My father had been killed when I was one year old, so of course I never knew him or have any memory of him. I only know him from pictures. Though all my family were Muslims, my father was also a committed communist. He lived in Russia for six years prior to marrying my mom, and had been trained there as a pilot. After my three older siblings were born, they lived in Russia for another six years. By the time I was born my father was a high-ranking officer in the Afghan military, though some rivals in the government had stripped him of some of this authority. Still, he was head over all the airports in Afghanistan.

[Note: There were two main wings in the communist government of Afghanistan, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan: Parcham (Banner) and Khalq (the People). After an initial period of cooperation following its founding in 1965, the PDPA lapsed into factionalism. In 1978, at Soviet prodding, the two sides reunited and overthrew and killed President Daoud Mohammed, a coup that is known as the April (Saur) Revolution. The PDPA proclaimed the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, yet this marked the end of Khalq-Parcham amity. What “RA” briefly relates below took place on June 10, 1989, following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, which lasted from May 15, 1988, to February 15, 1989. President Najibullah (formerly head of the Afghan security forces modeled after the KGB) was the USSR’s puppet, having replaced his fellow Parchami Babrak Karmal in 1986, when Gorbachev had declared that Afghanistan had been transformed into “a bleeding wound.” Even within the Parchami, as might be expected, Najibullah’s support was not uniform.]

My father was Khalqi, while the president of the country at that time, Najibullah, was Parchami. My father, along with several other Khalqi leaders, were invited to Kandahar to attend some government meetings and negotiations. On the flight to these meetings, the plane apparently exploded in midair and all aboard were killed. According to witnesses, for a while the plane flew with one wing. Three people, including one of the pilots, actually jumped from the plane before it hit the ground. The rest of the people in the plane were burned up. Altogether there were 57 people who died, including women and children. We believe that a bomb had been planted on board the airplane by Najibullah’s Parchami loyalists prior to the flight, who in one blow wiped out several key Khalqi leaders. Of course we will never know for sure what happened

[Further note: “RA’s” father’s death most probably can be blamed on internal Afghan political strife, at a tumultuous time in that nation’s history, when Najibullah may have been concerned about consolidating power in the face of uncertain times following the Soviet withdrawal. There is a remarkable parallel incident that occurred on August 17, 1988, about a year earlier. President Zia-al-Huq of Pakistan, General Akhtar, who headed the ISI (Pakistan’s secret service) for most of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, U.S. Ambassador Arnold Raphel, the U.S. military attaché, and eight Pakistani generals, all died in a plane crash near Islamabad, shortly after takeoff to return to the capital after a secret mission to a desert area to watch a demonstration of the M-1 Abrams tank. Pakistani and U.S. investigators were unable to confirm (so they reported) that the plane was bombed, and some who observed its erratic flight and noted the cockpit silence before the crash, believe they were gassed. The Soviet Union, the government of India, Bhutto’s People Party, Zia’s own military, the CIA, Afghan communists, Israel’s Mossad, and Shi’ite separatist groups operating in Pakistan all came under suspicion, but no culprit was ever found. Democracy was restored in Pakistan and Benazir Bhutto, whose father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had been executed by Zia, was elected prime minister in November 1988.]

After my father died, my mom didn’t want to have anything to do with me. Somehow, she blamed me for being “bad luck” which resulted in my father’s death. Several years before my father’s death, one of my mom’s brothers, who was a commander of security guards in Kabul, had been gruesomely killed by the mujahideen. Now her grief was overwhelming, and it seemed she was crying all the time. She simply was in no shape to care for a baby, so basically she said, “Here, take him.” I was raised and cared for by my grandfather and grandmother, my mother’s parents. They were very kind to me and I became very close to them, especially to my grandfather. He was the strongest influence in my early childhood. I miss him very much even today, and I find it difficult to talk to him on the phone without becoming very emotional.

I lived with a large group of extended family. This included my mother, my sister and two brothers, my grandparents, and two uncles (my mother’s brothers), and their wives and children. After my father died, they all came to stay with us and we were always together for the remainder of my time in Afghanistan. When we sat down to a meal together, it was a large group of people! I have memories of lots of children running around. Sometimes things were quite noisy. I remember once one of my uncles and his wife had a disagreement over disciplining one of their children. He told her not to beat the child but she did anyway. He then started beating her, chasing her all through the house! Another time one of my aunts dared to gossip about my mother in the presence of one of her younger brothers. In defense of my mother’s honor, she had boiling water thrown on her face, and you can see the scars to this day.

Though I didn’t go to school at all while we lived in Mazar-e-sharif, I attended school during the Samangan years, and I was a quiet and good boy. My friends and I did our school work and always knew more even than the older boys. They bullied us and beat us, forcing us to give them the answers for tests.

One day when I was about 9 years old and in the 5th grade, I had a bad fall and broke my arm. What happened was this. A couple of older boys in the high school were taken out into the school yard to be disciplined, either because they hadn’t done their school work or they had disrespected the teacher, I’m not sure which. We all crowded around the window to watch their punishment, which consisted of being beaten with a rod on the bottoms of their feet. This was to show the whole school what would happen to anyone who misbehaved. Since I was small and the window was high on the wall, I climbed up with one foot on the window sill and one foot on the back of a chair. At one point somebody yelled at us to get down from there, and since everybody moved quickly, I fell backward and landed awkwardly on my arm, breaking it badly. I was in terrible pain. I went running up to the Koran teacher and showed him that I had broken my arm. He said, “What do I care? Get out of here!” So I went to the principal and his son took me to get help.

The unkindness and cruelty of this man made a bad impression on me concerning Islam. It was not something I wanted.

I was raised Muslim, and my mother and her parents considered themselves devout. My grandfather wasn’t a mullah, but he knew the Koran better than they did, and sometimes he would mock them. He had a special book that he kept with his copy of the Koran that he sometimes pulled down to read. He wouldn’t allow anybody to look at it or touch it, but he would read it and kiss it, then carefully put it back. My mom believes it was a copy of the Injil (New Testament). But she never talked to him or asked him about it out of respect.

We used to get up at 5:30 AM to go to the mosque to read the Koran at 6:00. That’s why I know the Koran so well. But in reality, I did not like learning Arabic and studying the Koran at all. During Ramadan, they usually wouldn’t allow me to fast because I was too young. I wanted to but they wouldn’t allow it. I used to pray to God and ask for his help when something happened or I wanted something. Sometimes I went to the mosque to pray. But to be honest, I only wanted to impress people and let them see what a good person I was. I wanted to show my grandfather and my mother that I was a godly person. I didn’t really go to the mosque to worship God or pray but to show off.

My mother’s side of the family claims direct descent from the prophet Mohammad. When my grandfather went out in public people came up to him and called him “Sir” and kissed his hand. He even had a piece of paper that showed his genealogy, that proved he was “Sayed,” that is, someone whose ancestry can be traced all the way back to Mohammad. He was quite a character and loved making people think he was crazy, by the way he dressed or the way he wore his beard. Yet, he was highly respected by the people, and he was even a friend of the king, Zahir Shah. He spent a lot of time with him and often went hunting with him.

I had a good relationship with my sister and brothers, even though they were a good bit older. Sometimes we would play fight and wrestle, or play cards, or play with remote control toys they got from Russia. But I was actually a very quiet kid and usually stayed at home and stayed near my grandfather. He used to paint and repair things around the house and work in the garden. So I watched him and was his helper. My grandmother was a very kind man.

The house we lived in was nice (in Samangan and Mazar-e-sharif). We had lots of land that we hired workers to farm. We also had many farm animals. At one time we had 500 sheep with their lambs, and one of my uncles for a while was the shepherd. We also had many goats, cows, donkeys and chickens. Before we left we sold all of these animals to help finance our trip.

Near Samangan, my grandfather owned a cave that had been fixed up like a house. It was very large and many people could fit in there. I remember we had to go hide there once, one of the few times I remember being really scared. It was very dark inside the cave and there were all kinds of noises around us. A bomb was dropped near the opening of the cave but fortunately it didn’t go off.

Mostly I remember that there was always fighting going on around us and we moved often. We actually would have had a very good life if not for all the fighting and war around us constantly. We had servants who did the washing and cleaning and bread baking, though my mother and aunts did the cooking. But there was always a cloud of uncertainty that hung over us. All of it could be taken away in a moment.

In 1997, before I turned 9 years old, we moved to Mazar-e-sharif and lived there for about a year. It was a very difficult time in Afghanistan. The Taliban had come to power, and they were still fighting to control all areas of the country. The northern areas were not under Taliban control yet, but there was heavy fighting. We constantly heard the sounds of shooting. One of my uncles was a commander with the mujahideen. Another of my uncles was a Talib. Amazingly, they often lived under the same roof.

In our home there was a shelf with a bread basket on it. But instead of holding bread it had eight hand grenades in it. This was a normal thing for many households to have weapons and munitions stored inside the house. One day I was playing with my cousins and we hit the shelf and the basket of grenades fell over and rolled on the floor. Thank God, they didn’t explode. I could very easily have been killed! Often I saw my brothers handling guns, and once one of them actually fired the gun inside the house. The adults scolded him and said, “Go outside to play with that!”

In one incident in 1997, after the Taliban had finally taken control of Mazar-e-sharif, Hazara forces combined with Uzbeks and other groups and trapped and killed around 5,000 Taliban soldiers. It was a terrible slaughter. In front of our house there were corpses rotting in the streets, with blood running everywhere and dogs eating the bodies. One day some of my friends and I looked down a well and saw at least 15 bodies in it. Many wells were full of dead people.

Following this, the new local government, controlled by the Hazaras, came and confiscated all our property and our home. We had no choice but to leave everything. You do what you are told when guns are pointed at you. We briefly stayed at my mother’s sister’s home, then moved back to Samangan.

One day when I came home from school, everybody was crying and very upset. I asked what happened, but they just told me to go away and they wouldn’t tell me anything. Soon I understood that my two older brothers, ages 19 and 21 at the time, had been kidnapped by the Taliban forces. They were outside one day and some people just snatched them. As if my mother had not had enough grief already, now she suffered the loss of her two oldest sons. We never heard from them or saw them again.

Right away my uncles realized that something had to be done to protect me. Who knew whether I might be grabbed in a similar way before too long? The Taliban regime was now in complete control, constantly on the lookout for recruits for the army. Afghanistan was a nightmarish place to be. My uncle who was a Talib warned us that Afghanistan was not safe for us and we should flee. This uncle had actually been visited in Samangan by Mullah Bourjan, a high-ranking Taliban member and close friend of Osama bin Laden. He came to thank my uncle for his service to the Taliban cause, and especially to congratulate him for his work in gathering Stinger missiles. I remember he presented him with a briefcase full of American dollars. Before we fled, he returned most of this money to the Taliban.

Once the decision to leave had been made, things happened quickly. We sold all our livestock and many of our possessions, and we buried under the floor of our house some important documents and pictures. (We have never recovered these documents.) We didn’t have much time to pack, leaving one night under cover of darkness at 1:00 AM. A sense of urgency was in the air. Everything was “Hurry up! Hurry up! Come on, let’s go!” There were 13 of us in all, including my mom and sister and I, my grandparents, two uncles and two aunts, along with four cousins. We made it to Kabul and quickly hired cars and drivers for the six-hour trip to Kandahar. After very little rest, we changed cars and left for Pakistan. The next day we made it to Quetta. We lied to the border guards, pretending to be crossing the border for a wedding. We made it across the border with no problems. Our journey as refugees had begun. It was about a month past my 10th birthday.

* * * * * *

Life in Quetta was really not too bad. My uncles got some work and we had plenty of money to buy food and save a little bit. Then my uncles starting managing a big hotel and making good money. Unfortunately, one of their main employees, a man they really trusted, cheated them out of a lot of money and then disappeared. We were broke again! So my uncles had to get other jobs; one of them worked as a cook. Slowly they were able to save a little money.

They came up with a plan for the two of them to go to Iran, get jobs and send us money until we had enough to pay the smugglers to take us to Iran. It is more expensive and dangerous for families to be smuggled than for singles. So, after a very difficult journey, they made it to Iran and found decent work. They began to send us money and we started saving for the trip ourselves. Though life was much nicer in Quetta than Afghanistan, it was not the kind of place where we could make a permanent home, or where I could get an education.

In the meantime, I was working with another uncle who lived in Pakistan and had now joined us. We had a watch repair shop. Also, during Ramadan we sold water and various sweets for when people broke their fast. Business was pretty good. After a few months we had enough money to start the next leg of our journey.

Once the time was right to leave Quetta, everything was rush, rush, rush. There was no time to waste. It was a very long, hot, and bumpy bus ride from Quetta to the Iranian border. The trip took about 13 hours. I was really miserable, because I get very dizzy and sick when I am riding. So it was awful for me.

At the border, we got onto a very fast, flatbed Datsun truck. We were warned repeatedly to hold on tight because if we fell off, the truck would not stop for us. Whenever it was time to depart, we were given exact times and told that if we were not there, if we were even one minute late, we would be left behind. I was always by my grandfather’s side and even slept with him. He tended to me and made sure I was always ready to go. Once we were in such a rush to get on a bus we had to leave our bags behind. When the signal comes to go you cannot wait for anything or you will be left behind and the police will catch you. Anyway, we crossed the border in this truck at night without using any of our lights. It was very dark, but of course the police realized what was happening and they started chasing us. We could hear them behind us but somehow we outran them and made it to a prearranged hiding place. We stayed there for a long time, while the police went by and searched for us. Finally we made it to the town of Zahedan and stayed at the smuggler’s house.

The remainder of our journey to Tehran was by bus. We were the only Afghans on board. The bus was quite nice. Occasionally it was boarded by the police, but we were never questioned or checked. Nevertheless, from the time we left Quetta, it took us one and a half to two months to get to Tehran. We considered ourselves very lucky that we had made it that fast. For most refugees it takes much longer than that.

We all continued to stay together as a family throughout our time in Iran. We lived in a very large, very nice house, arranged for by one of my uncles who had gone before us five or six months before. We made many friends, since as Tajiks we looked a lot like Iranians. My uncles had good salaries, and the women worked at home making things to sell. We kids were not able to go to school, so we just had a good time playing and watching TV, things like that.

After about two years in Tehran, my uncles and their families and my grandparents moved into a separate house from my mother and me. My sister, who by this time had gotten married to an Afghan boy she met there, also lived with us. This was the first time I had been separated from my grandparents since we had left Afghanistan. I had started working some, first at a sewing factory where I was learning how to make shirts, then later at a big shop that sold bulk containers of rice, oil, tea and so forth. I did cleaning for them at first and got to know them well. They liked me and trusted me, but I stole from them and it gave us lots of extra money.

It seemed that the situation in Afghanistan was improving, and we were all wanting to go back. (By this time it was 2002; the Taliban had been overthrown, and the Americans were there.) Once we had actually applied at the Canadian embassy to immigrate there and within ten days, my mom and I were accepted! But she refused to take this opportunity, thinking that if things only got better at home we would go back. My uncles and my grandparents all wanted to go back, and we said that we wanted to go back too! But they said no, let us go back first and see what conditions are like, and if everything is favorable, we will send for you. We agreed to that. But my sister, who was pregnant with her first child, and her husband returned also. So only my mother and I remained in Iran.

It was a very sad and difficult time for my mother. She was separated from her nineteen-year-old daughter for the first time since she was born. She cried often, missing her daughter so much. Suddenly she was left alone with me, a son whom she really didn’t know, who was like a stranger to her. Of course I missed my grandfather very much. (Even now I miss him terribly.) Then we got word from Afghanistan that conditions were not good there, especially for a widow and her thirteen-year-old son. Returning home was out of the question for us. We were keenly disappointed.

My uncle told us that the only thing for us to do was to continue and try to make it to Europe. (Still the goal was to find a place where I could go to school and get a proper education.) My mom called Afghanistan and talked to her lawyer, giving permission to change her will and sell our apartment in Mazar-e-sharif. So they sold it and my uncle came to Tehran (this time he came straight there and made it in one week) and brought us the money. He arranged for us to meet a smuggler, an old acquaintance of his. We moved in and lived with this smuggler—I still have his phone number to this day; he became like family to us. My uncle stayed with us as a guarantee that the smuggler would be paid. Once we were safely in Turkey, we would contact him and he would then take the smuggler back to Tehran where the money was being held.

We all went to a Kurdish village in northern Iran, close to the Turkish border. We stayed with a family there, along with the smuggler. We all became good friends, and we gave them many things that we had brought with us from Tehran. I became friends with the family’s daughter and taught her some things on the computer. From then on, the smuggler treated us more like family rather than just people from Afghanistan who wanted to be smuggled into another country. Besides his financial interest, that’s why he wanted to make sure we were in good hands and that we would have a successful passage.

After about a month, we were put on another flatbed truck. I’ll never forget that truck. It was a high, big truck, but it was very cold. We ran through several police checkpoints in this mountainous area. We were taken to another village a little closer to the border, where we waited for a while, and then one night we were transferred to another house. We were told, “Get dressed!” and we understood that we needed to put on our warm clothing. The next thing we knew we were on horseback in a caravan of about twenty horses. We rode these horses, at night, about six hours to the next Iranian village, closer yet to the border of Turkey. The snow was very deep, and the wind and snow were blowing so hard you could not see what was in front of you.

We reached a small village, but were warned that the cops were coming. Apparently they had been tipped off that some people were being smuggled. We had to hide on the side of a mountain, exposed to the wind and the snow. It was extremely cold, and we were freezing. We stayed there until the police were gone. Finally, frozen and exhausted, we reached the village and stayed there three or four nights. We were fed and cared for, though of course we had to pay. At any home we stayed in along the way, we had to pay.

At this point my mother and I were separated. As it turned out, she had a rather easy trip to the next village, but I almost didn’t make it. My mom bore a strong resemblance to the smuggler’s mother, so he used her passport and crossed the border with my mom in the car, posing as his mother. It didn’t hurt that the smuggler had a policeman friend who was riding in the car with them! So, she made it easily to the city of Van, Turkey, on the eastern shore of Lake Van, and waited for me to join her.

Meanwhile, my journey across the border was much more difficult and perilous. As I’ve said, it was wintertime, and the mountains were extremely cold and snowy. The only way across for us was to walk as we tried to sneak past the border guards. By this time, in addition to our guide, there were six of us refugees, all Afghans. As we crossed the border and were walking through the first small village very close by, the guide was ahead of us and we followed two by two, with some distance between us. Suddenly, we heard a commotion behind us and the man with me said, “They got them! Look behind you!” I looked back and could see some very large Turkish policemen in the process of apprehending the other four guys. They were treating them very roughly. (I found out later that on that very same evening they were deported back to Iran. Basically they showed them the way back to Iran across the mountains and said, “Here’s the way to go. If you’re lucky, you will make it and the police will catch you and send you back to Afghanistan. If you don’t make it, you will freeze to death and the wolves will eat you. Sorry!” Fortunately, these four guys made it back to Afghanistan, and as far as I know, they are still there today.)

[Note: “RA” explained to me, after I expressed a bit of confusion, that there were numerous police checkpoints on both sides of the border. People who are from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and other countries from that area of the world, do not think of a border as one imaginary line that once you have crossed is behind you. A border is something that has to be continually crossed as you deal with numerous police checkpoints from the two countries who share that border. He said that many Afghans have expressed amazement to him that, for example, when they crossed into Holland, “There was no border!”]

We walked as fast as we could and suddenly a car pulled up beside us and we got in. I was small and they practically threw me in as the car was still moving. They drove us for about 20 minutes, then stopped and showed us a place on the side of the mountain to go hide. We had some biscuits in our bags, but we had no water, so we could only eat snow. So we waited in that spot for two or three hours, while the smugglers went to do whatever business they needed to do for our continued journey (probably bribe some policemen). We weren’t afraid because from our hiding place we could see cars going back and forth; it was a big street.

When the car came to collect us, we were told that it was not possible to make it to Van that day, so we went to stay in a house in another village. That night we were told to sleep near oven where they bake bread, called a tandoor. After we were there for a couple of hours, talking and relaxing and getting warm, we saw a snake. We killed it, but after that we couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night!

There were also lots of chickens in this place, and the smell was horrible. I can smell the stench even now. In the morning the door was opened and we were given some bread, a very small amount of cheese and two tiny glasses of tea. After that, nothing! We stayed in there all day, without any other food except for the biscuits we had in our bags. Finally, around 7:00 PM the smugglers came and picked us up, and once again our journey started. They drove us to a place where we started walking over the mountains again.

We walked for about eleven hours. It worked like this. We had to walk, sometimes run, around every police checkpoint, led by a guide. A car, carrying a fresh guide, would then pick us up and drive us about 20 minutes or so until we neared the next police checkpoint. Then we had to get out of the car and walk around the checkpoint, which usually took about three hours. The snow was very heavy and the wind fierce. We were cold and exhausted, not having had any sleep the night before, and very little food. We were not given any food or water, so we survived by eating snow and eating our biscuits, which we carefully rationed.

We got very close to Van, but the smugglers put us out of the car and told us to wait at a spot next to a small river. We had been sweating heavily from exertion, though it was very cold, and we were exhausted. We were complaining a lot in our language, but of course they couldn’t understand what we were saying. But they knew we were upset. They told us that Van was very close and that we should be quiet. I was so tired I went to sleep, and my companion was afraid I had died. He tried to wake me by hitting me and talking to me but I didn’t respond. He was really scared that I was dead, and began thinking, “How can I go to this child’s mother and say, ‘I’m sorry, but your son is dead?’” Finally the car came and he said “Wake up!” and to his amazement, I stood up and got in the car.

They told us that this was the last leg of the trip. We were so tired we complained about having to carry our bags. They told us to leave them in the car and we could get them later. (Of course we never saw them again!) So we started our final trek over the mountain before reaching Van. We went up and over two hills, then came to a third one. My companion said, “I cannot walk anymore. I can’t go any further.” The guide said, “Well, if he can’t come, just leave him! Let’s go! Let’s go!” He tried to scare him by saying that if he stayed there the wolves would eat him. But he insisted that he couldn’t walk anymore.

I thought, I cannot just leave him like this! So I turned around and put his arm around my shoulder, and we walked together. When the guide saw this, he came to his other side and supported his arm on his shoulder, which made it much easier for me, of course. Remember that we were in very deep snow, so the walking was extremely difficult. In some places the snow was very hard on top, but in other places is was soft and you would sink down in it. It was sort of like quicksand. The harder you tried to get out, the worse it got, or so it seemed. Finally this man became warmer and he was able to walk on his own.

We knew we were getting close and we were beginning to feel a little alive again. It was then that we heard the police dogs. Suddenly it was like we had just begun our journey, as new waves of fear and energy came over us. We started running as fast as we could. We could hear the dogs barking but couldn’t see them. Then the searchlights started. When the light came near us, we would stop and duck down, and when it left we started running. It was just like in the movies. At some point, the police stopped the chase and called off the dogs. Somehow, I can’t explain how, we outran the dogs and made it to safety. We arrived in Van at the smuggler’s house, cold, hungry, and utterly exhausted.

I stayed there for about two weeks, and after a few days I was reunited with my mother. She was very close by, but we had to wait for a good time to be brought together. At this point my companion wanted to continue on his journey, so he asked for his bag. They told him his bag was gone. In his bag he had several hundred dollars, many pictures and some very important documents that he hoped to make his case with. Of course my bag was gone too. He was very upset and disappointed, but what could he do?

(Even today, I sometimes see this man I crossed the mountain with on the streets of Athens. Once when he saw me he said, “Do you remember that night? I will never forget that night! How did we ever make it? How could we have crossed such a mountain under such conditions?” We laugh and shake our heads in amazement.)

My mom and I stayed one month in Van. After paying the smuggler, my uncle had also sent us some money, so we didn’t lack for anything. I enjoyed my time there. I had a girlfriend and started learning Turkish quickly. We lived in a nice house, had our own TV, ate good food, and had lots of nice things. We even did some sightseeing. After one month, when we left, we gave it all away.

Before we left Van we presented ourselves at a UN office to be officially accepted as refugees. After ten days we got the acceptance. They were going to send us either to Norway or Canada, but my mother didn’t want to do that. She only applied so we could get the official refugee card. So, as long as we stayed in Van we were legally recognized refugees, but the minute we left, we were illegal again.

[Note: This makes the third time that “RA” and his mother were accepted for immigration to a western country (once in Quetta, once in Tehran, and now here) and the third time she turned it down. Apparently the sight of this widow and her young son moved people to help her. It is unfathomable to me that this dear lady turned down the opportunity to go to Canada not once but three times! I wish I could explain it to you, but I for one cannot grasp it. What was going through her mind only she knows. “RA” told me that after being accepted in Van and turning it down, her mom said that they had made it so far on their own and they could continue in the same way. Apparently she was influenced also a little by the smuggler, who had a financial interest in seeing her continue on her journey. So there was an element of pride involved, as well as, unfortunately, serious ignorance about how the system works. It seems also to reflect the fact that in Afghanistan all decisions were made for her. There, women have no say so at all. Now they are stuck in Greece in a bureaucratic nightmare, still illegal after four years. “RA” has no identification at all, and his mom is not much better off. Any time “RA” is out on the streets there is the distinct threat that he will be stopped by the police and asked for his papers. This is a potentiality that we all hope never takes place. Meanwhile, “RA”’s mother continues to wait for an answer to her green card application, but for reasons too complicated to go into, it looks very grim indeed. A bureaucratic miracle is needed.]

We got on a bus headed for Istanbul. It was a very nice bus, but we had to stay in the bathroom of the bus with two other Afghan guys, often for hours at a time. It was beyond miserable. We were sweaty and smelly, and there was no fresh air. During the times they let us come out to sit in the bus, they brought us tea or whatever we wanted. One of the Afghans, who spoke Turkish, translated for us. They even had a waiter! It was very nice; I will never forget it. This lifted our spirits considerably, and we spoke of our hopes and dreams for a better life. Finally we made it to Istanbul.

Our living conditions in Istanbul were good. We had enough money to rent a nice house. We bought all the furniture and things that were in the house, including genuine Afghan carpets. But our goal was not to stay in Istanbul. We wanted to make it to Europe, to some country where I could go to school. We expected to be in Istanbul at least six months, but it turned out to be a stay of only about two-and-a-half months.

I had several jobs in Istanbul. Once I was waiting in the square and they took me to work in construction at a big mosque, which also had a school for studying the Koran. Just before prayer time one day, a man approached me and started asking me questions about where I was from, my age, and so forth. (By this time I knew how to speak Turkish pretty well.) He asked me how long I had been in the country, and when I said about two to three months, he said, “In two or three months you speak this much Turkish? Wow!” He was amazed. Then he told me that he was the principle of the school at this mosque, where they taught English, French, Arabic, and of course Turkish. He suggested that I should come to school there, where I could learn to use the computer and most importantly, learn to study the Koran and become a mullah. He said I didn’t need to be working and should be in school. He said they would even pay me each week so I could buy the things I wanted.

I knew if I told my mother of this opportunity, there was a 100% chance she would say yes. When she heard “English” and “Koran” she would say, “Let’s stay and you can go to school here.” When I realized what was happening, I lied to my mother and told her that the car that had been coming to take me to the mosque no longer came. I never went back to get my paycheck for that week. I did not want to become a mullah! No way! Naturally, my mother was very disappointed.

I had several other jobs, such as making t-shirts or washing dishes at a hotel. One day the smuggler showed up unexpectedly, and without really understanding what was going on, I found myself on a bus leaving Istanbul. We reached an area near the sea where you could see a Greek island in the distance. There were several people there who had been waiting for over a month for the right time to leave. But we didn’t even have time to finish our tea before a van came along and they told us, “Hurry! Hurry! Get in, let’s go!” It was like in the movies when they are robbing a bank, exactly like that. Everything was always in a big rush.

The van took us to a speedboat. There were eleven of us, and because I was small, they put me up in the front under the deck. My mom sat in a comfortable chair by the helm. The odor of petrol was very strong and I was cramped with my knees against my chest. I wanted to throw up, and as the boat bounced up and down against the water, I either banged my head or my knees. But thank God, the trip lasted only about 20 minutes. Soon we were dumped onto the shore of a Greek island. I don’t even know what island it was.

My mom and I, along with another Afghan guy, got separated from the rest of the people on the boat, who were Kurdish. We hid under a big bush until morning and then started walking. We wanted to turn ourselves into the police. We signaled for several cars to stop but nobody did. We walked about four or five hours on a very hot day—it was the beginning of summer. We had no water and no food, so we were extremely hungry and thirsty. The olive trees were just beginning to have some green olives on them and we tried to eat them but that made us even worse. We were getting desperate, because for over four hours we had nothing! Finally, we came to a hotel and decided to go in and see if we could at least get some water.

I couldn’t speak a word of English or Greek, but this other guy at least knew the English word “water.” When we went in to the hotel, a beautiful place, and a slightly fat Greek guy was sitting there having coffee and smoking. He spoke to us and my companion said, “Water, water!” He motioned for some water to be brought to us. We decided to ask him to call the police so we could turn ourselves in. So we gestured and made noises to communicate that to him, and he said something like, “Problem, problem, no, police problem, don’t go to police.” He called his wife and two daughters, who were very kind to us. They gave us some coffee, my first cup ever, and some fruit. (This was before tourist season started, so there was nobody in his hotel or cafeteria.) He asked us if we had any money, and my mom showed him all she had left—one hundred American dollars. He arranged for a taxi driver to take us to the port and buy ferry tickets for us. We were at this hotel for several hours, and we were overwhelmed by the kindness of this family. It made a huge impression on me. It was a sharp contrast to how we had been treated in the Islamic countries we had been in along the way. I’ll never forget the kindness of these people. They cried and hugged us when we left.

At the port the dollars were exchanged to euros and the tickets purchased. The taxi driver gave us our change—about five or six euros. We thanked him and were going to leave, when he said, “Hey, what about me?” My mom took off her gold earrings and gave them to him. He accepted them as payment. We boarded the ferry and started the long, overnight trip to the port of Pireas. It was the spring of 2003.

* * * * * * *

We called a contact who had been arranged by a relative who is now in Norway. He took us to a “refugee hotel” at Omonia Square in the heart of Athens. There were many Afghans there as well as lots of Africans, but it was mostly single men, and definitely not an appropriate place for a widow and her fourteen-year-old son. I remember it smelled terrible! After a few hours he came and took us to another “Afghan hotel,” and after a couple of days we started staying in a small place up on the roof. It was then that we met a man from Mazar-e-sharif who went by the name of Navid.

Navid showed us kindness and actually was saying good things about life in Greece. The next day he brought us some potatoes and cherries. I had a tape of Iranian music that I loved, and he let me use his tape player to listen to it. He told us that he had some books he wanted to show us, and it was then that we understood he was a Christian. He gave us these books, saying that they would help us understand more about the Bible and about God. We took the books and Mother took a copy of the Bible and we said thank you. I didn’t realize at the time what my mom was thinking, but she told me later that she believed that we would be able to read some of this material and then convince this man that he was going down the wrong path. This material was not the truth. Navid was terribly wrong and he was headed directly for hell!

Mom read the Bible a little, opening it at random to see if God would say something to her. She would read a page or two and put it down. I glanced at the beginning of the other books but quickly handed them to my mom, leaving it to her to look them over. But she was not particularly impressed with anything at first.

The first issue we had to face was whether we wanted to stay in Greece or not. One Afghan man we met wanted to help smuggle us to England. Two of my cousins in England contacted us and suggested they could help us come there. They talked with a smuggler, and I even colored my hair yellow in an attempt to disguise my nationality. But though we showed we were really serious about wanting to do it, our cousins began making lots of excuses, saying that they couldn’t trust the smuggler and this and that. So the deal fell through.

Navid continued to visit us and bring us food. He came so often it even started to bother us! He began to explain to us more about Christianity, and it was from him that I first heard the gospel, that Jesus was the Son of God and he died for my sins and through him I could have eternal life. We thought he was crazy! Here’s this guy who brings us fruit and talks about Jesus all the time. He’s really nuts!

I remember when I was very young, probably during the time we were in Kabul, one of my uncles on my father’s side had a cross on a necklace. He had brought it for my aunt from Germany, where he worked as a policeman. I liked this necklace very much and wanted it, so according to the customs of our culture, they were obliged to give it to me. I wore this necklace with a cross on it while I was at their house, but nobody ever said anything about it or explained what it meant. Of course I had no idea what it meant. Apparently neither did anybody else, or at least it didn’t bother them that I was running around the house wearing it.

It was from Navid, a man from a town in northern Afghanistan where my family had lived, that I first heard the name “Isa Masi” (Jesus Christ in Persian). I had traveled thousands of miles over the course of almost five years and never heard the name “Isa” along the way. At first it didn’t mean anything to me. When we arrived in Greece, of course we saw all the churches and we knew this was a “Christian” country, but we didn’t know anything about Christianity. The symbol of the cross was a complete mystery to us. We had no idea what it meant.

He didn’t say much to my mom, but he asked me to compare Islam and Christianity and see the differences. He knew the Koran pretty well and so did I, so it was easy for him to point out contrasts between it and the Bible. I remember one thing that bothered him was the language of the Koran. Why didn’t they allow us to read it in our own language? Why did it have to be only in Arabic? Don’t they want us to understand what’s in it? I told him that I did understand a lot of what was in it, and he told me that I should know even better how to compare it with the Bible. He said that I had a big advantage over other Afghans who were trapped in their ignorance and couldn’t think for themselves. When he found out that my dad had been a communist, he encouraged me even more by saying that even my father was a smart person who knew there was something better than Islam!

I enjoyed Navid’s company and the conversations with him, and I did a lot of comparing of Islam and Christianity. But mostly my mind was preoccupied with what we were going to do. Would we leave and go to England? If not, where would we live in Greece and how would we survive? Navid was one of the few people who seemed to be interested in being friends with us, so I thought, at least while we are here, it’s good to have such a friend. But I was not giving serious thought to our talks because of the more pressing issue of survival.

Since we were having trouble getting our cousins in England to cooperate with us, Navid began suggesting that we stay in Greece. He told us about the Greek Council of Refugees (GCR), who would give us a “house” and money every month. So we made an application with them and because we had a good case, we were accepted right away. When they offered us their congratulations that our application had been accepted, we thought they we going to put us in a house! But instead we were given bus tickets for a refugee camp in Lamia. Navid came to say goodbye to us and promised to stay in touch. He gave us his phone number and gave me his portable tape player. The next morning, with difficulty, we found our way to the bus station and went to the camp.

At the camp, my mom continued reading the Bible, trying to find things she could use to convince Navid how wrong he was. She read the Song of Solomon and was horrified by all the things about love and sex! She said, “Look! It’s impossible for the Word of God to contain such things! I can prove to him that this is not the Word of God!”

After we had been in the Lamia camp for a little over a month, Navid called us one day and said, “Why don’t you get away from there and come to Athens and we’ll have some fun together?” So we said OK. He told us to save the receipt for the train ticket and we’d get reimbursed. When we arrived in Athens, we were running late. Navid met us and we hurried to a building downtown (the Athens Refugee Center operated by Helping Hands) where there were many Iranians and Afghans. They were having a church service! This was Navid’s idea of fun? (If he had told us why he wanted us to come we would have never agreed.) An Iranian man was preaching and saying many things that were unfamiliar to us. It was incredibly boring to me.

They had taken our bags when we entered and put them in a small room called “the clothing room,” used for giving away clothes to needy refugees. Later that evening we discovered all our clothes were gone! They had been given away! My mom was so frustrated and angry. The next time we were invited she didn’t want to go because of that. But at least they gave us money, each time we came, for the train tickets to and from Lamia.

The second time we went to this church, called the Persian Christian Fellowship, my mother was impressed by the love she saw in that place. People were kind to one another, they called each other “brother” and “sister,” and talked to each other politely. By this time, she was no longer reading the Bible by opening it randomly, but was reading it from cover to cover. She knew all the stories of Abraham, Moses, and so forth. It was beginning to make sense to her, and as we were on our way back to the camp that night, she told me that maybe there was some truth to all this. Maybe this was why Navid showed such love to us. I was still quite fuzzy about it all, but when I saw my mother’s openness, it helped me overcome my fear about possibly becoming a Christian. Though this was only our second time to visit this place, I was already thinking about becoming a Christian. But it was not because of any sense of guilt over my sin or understanding that Jesus died on the cross for me, but because I saw the love and warmth of these people and thought maybe they had something I didn’t. I thought, maybe it would be a good thing to be a part of that. It was so different from anything I had ever seen before, whether in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, or Turkey.

Conditions were crowded at the Lamia camp, but all in all we were well taken care of there. The food was good and we had everything we needed. I was able to work, and by the time we moved to Athens about five months later, we had saved about €2,000. After three months, our initial “white paper” that we got from the police had expired, so they took us to officially register, get fingerprinted, and get our “pink card.” This made us legal in Greece for six months and officially recognized us as refugees.

My mother had wanted to convince Navid he was wrong, but now she was becoming convinced herself. God was speaking to her through her reading of the Bible, which she was doing totally on her own. (I was not reading the Bible at all.) Also, the love we received from Christian people was unlike anything we had ever experienced before. It made a huge impression on us. There had to be some reason these people were showering us with such love!

The third time we went back to the Persian Fellowship, we were ready to accept Christ as our Lord. We met with Navid beforehand, and my mom had several questions for him. He answered them in his characteristic way, with great enthusiasm and feeling, and we were satisfied with his answers. He told us that later that evening they would ask us to come to the front and they would ask us some questions about what we believe. He said, “Whatever they ask you, just say ‘Yes!’”

After the preaching was over, Navid took me by the arm and led us to the front. They asked us questions like, “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God?” and “Do you believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins?” and “Do you believe that Jesus is able to save you?” We answered all the questions and then they prayed for us and welcomed us into the family of God!

Soon we attended a special class for baptismal candidates. We did not give very good answers to their questions! The leader told us that we weren’t ready and there was no way we could get baptized that day! Yet he told us more clearly what it meant to be a Christian, and for the first time, I understood. We went with the group to the sea, not expecting to be baptized. But after talking to us some more and realizing our desire, they agreed to baptize us. They asked me to give my testimony. I was a little scared at first because I had never spoken in front of people before, but then the words just flowed out. I don’t remember all that I said, but I’m sure I talked about comparing and contrasting Islam and Christianity, because that’s a lot of what I was doing in my mind. I told them about how Navid shared the love of Jesus with us and how slowly I came to see the truth.

At this point, I had a very undeveloped understanding of Christianity. I did believe that Jesus was God, that God existed as three persons, and that Jesus had died on the cross for my sins. But only in the months after that, as I grew in the faith, did I come to understand the concept of repentance and apart from Christ, my absolute guilt before God as a sinner.

After the baptism, some policemen came to the beach. They called us over to show our papers to them. Navid said as we were going toward them, “Oh no, I don’t have any papers!” He started praying and declaring the greatness of God. I think he was just trying to reassure himself, because he probably thought he was going to jail. The police then checked everybody’s papers—except Navid’s! It was a miracle before our very eyes! It made a very big impression on me and my mom. On the way back to Lamia that night, all we could talk about was how God had protected Navid, and how he had protected us all along our journey. It became clear to us that we had been prevented from going to England so that God could show us the true way of life. We were amazed, and we rejoiced together at God’s hand on our lives.

After three or four weeks, we moved to Athens to live in “the Nest,” a place for new believers and seekers operated by an organization called Helping Hands. Here we continued to see love among the Christians (and the arguments!) and many other things that strengthened me in the faith. I began attending Bible studies and learning many new things. Day by day I understood more about Christ and Christianity.

By the time the Olympics came to Athens that next summer, I had grown cold in my faith. I was doing some pretty wild things, like stealing things from shops and other shady activities. Up to that time Navid had been the main influence in my Christian life, but now another man from Iran named Mohsen reached out to me. He knew I was hanging out with some guys that were not a good influence. He asked me to come talk to him, so we had juice together. (I’ll never forget that evening.) He told me he knew I was a good boy and that I should forget about the past and press ahead in my growth. He invited me to go running with him the next morning, even though he was having many health problems. So every morning we got up at 5:30 and would go to the Acropolis or a big nearby park. We had great times talking and sharing about the scriptures.

Gradually I began to invite some of the other kids who lived at the Nest to go with us. So after running to the Acropolis, we would sit down to have juice and refreshments. Mohsen would hand me a Bible and have me read a passage and ask me to explain it. If I answered incorrectly, which was usually the case, he would help me see the correct meaning. During this time Mohsen and I became very close and I really began to grow as a Christian. One of my old friends tried to get me to start hanging out with him again, but I wouldn’t. I told him I had found a better way.

I thank God that he provided Mohsen for me at that time. I was heading down a dangerous road, but he helped show me the way to go. I realized he was very sick, yet he cared for me and God’s love became more real to me through him. Though Mohsen didn’t have much money, he always bought us juice and snacks and was willing to get up early and spend time with us. It was a very special time. Besides developing my relationship with Mohsen, I grew deeply in my relationship with God and my relationship with the church.

One day I was on the way to church and one of the leaders was walking with me and talking about the story of Moses and the burning bush. Moses saw this bush that was burning but not burned up, and when he went closer to look at it, a voice told him to take off his sandals because he was on holy ground. I began to see that my experience in Greece had been something like that. Starting with the experience at the hotel on the island where we were shown such kindness, then God bringing Navid into our lives who introduced us to the love of Christ, I realized that God was telling me to take off my sandals, and my sandals were my religion. Once I took off my sandals, it was like God said, “OK, now I am going to talk to you.” And all during that period when my heart was far from God, still God was working on me. So he brought Mohsen into my life to bring me back and focus me on the right way. I began to read the Bible for myself and ask God as I was reading what it meant, and he would show me!

When I read the story of Moses, it was as if God were saying to me, “Because I have heard the cry of your people, I have brought you all this way for you to go back and free them!” I realized that God had brought me through all these difficulties and had now brought me to himself, not for my own happiness and personal gain, but so I could go back to Afghanistan and tell my people the good news about Jesus Christ. This, I believe, is the call of God on my life. This is the ultimate result of my journey as a refugee.

God has encouraged me several times over the past few years with “miraculous” signs. Once I was invited to a birthday party, but I didn’t have any decent pants to wear, and we had no money to buy any. My mother and I were walking home from somebody’s house one night (we had gone to comfort a man whose mother had died) when it was very late—all the buses had stopped running. I was talking to my mom about needing some pants to wear, but I complained about us not having any money. She said, “Yes, if you stay at home and don’t work, you lazy person, of course we are not going to have any money and of course you will not have any pants for the party tomorrow!” I said, “Oh, but God is great!” She said, “Yes, God is great, but he doesn’t want you to be lazy. He wants you to go out and get a job and make some money. Do you think he’s going to throw you some money from the sky?” I said, “Don’t worry, he will provide. You will see!”

As we were walking, I saw a large box that wasn’t very near the garbage bin, so I kicked it to move it closer. She told me to be quiet so I wouldn’t wake people up. Again I kicked it and again she said, “Shhh!” I became a little angry and kicked the box a third time, this time a little harder. It slid over close to the bin, but as it did, a plastic bag fell out. I picked it up and looked at it under a streetlight—it was a brand new pair of jeans still in the bag! I said to my mom, “Now do you believe that my God is the Provider?” She just looked at me and said, “Get out of here!” When we got home, I took the pants out of the plastic and saw that they were very nice jeans, and they fit me perfectly! My mom and I were both amazed. She said, “Now I know that God is the provider. Sorry!” I was so excited I couldn’t sleep that night. Not only was I able to go to the party, I wore those jeans for many months after that.

This little “miracle” and other answers to prayer greatly strengthened me in my faith. I saw that just as God had performed many signs for Moses, so he was clearly showing me that he is God and he is true. He has now given me a vision for returning to Afghanistan to establish churches and Christian camps and schools. Our country has none of these things, no Christian hospitals, no avenues for reaching out to people with the love of Christ. I hope one day to see that as a reality.

Most members of our family back in Afghanistan don’t know about our conversion. My sister knows, and she accepts us for the decision we’ve made. Some of our relatives in Europe who know we are Christians no longer have any contact with us. We haven’t told other family members, not because we are ashamed or don’t want to tell them, but we know they will reject us immediately and tell us never to call them again. Even if they were interested, for their own protection they would have to reject us and say bad things about us. We don’t want to inform them of something as important as this over the telephone. One day we hope to share the gospel with them face to face. We have a plan for how we would do that if the Lord enables us some day to return.

My life has changed completely since I’ve become a Christian. I am aware of God’s presence with me, and I communicate with him in prayer. In Islam, for me, there was no sense of personal communication at all. Because of the Holy Spirit within me, I am sensitive to sins, such as lying and stealing, whereas before I didn’t care about those things at all. I was full of anger and hatred, but now my heart is full of his love. Now my life is directed by the word of God, which tells me to respect and love my neighbor, not to look lustfully after women, and many things such as that, things that are not talked about in the Koran. Many of my Islamic ways of thinking have completely changed! For example, in a family the head of the household is an absolute dictator and is only to be feared and obeyed. I no longer think that way.

Navid, my mom, and I were the first outspoken Afghan Christians in Greece, as far as I know. I lost many friends as a result of my conversion. We were well known among Afghans because we didn’t care what any of them thought about us personally—we had accepted Christ and he was our Lord, and popularity and acceptance among the people didn’t matter to us. Only once did I suffer any physical violence against myself. A Pashtun guy whose name I didn’t even know saw me at an ice cream factory where I was working. We started talking and he asked me my name. When I told him, he said, “Oh, are you the one who became a Christian?” When I replied yes, he hit me in the jaw so quickly I didn’t even realize what was happening. I never told my mother about it, but for one week I couldn’t eat anything. I could only drink juice.

Probably the biggest discouragement in my daily life is that we have not been able to get legal papers. The police lost our file which had all our papers and our case inside. Since then we have had a very difficult time. My mother applied for a green card over a year ago, but we haven’t received an answer. It’s a challenge to keep walking by faith in this discouraging situation.

It is so amazing to me how God has brought different men into my life at important times to help disciple me. It always seems to be just the right person that I need at the moment. He knows the way to take me and when to take me there! Sometimes at night as I’m thinking about my life, I see the hand of God in so many ways, and I am so thankful and amazed. It is difficult for me to explain. I am so blessed in this way.

One prayer request I have is that God would help me fulfill my vision of going back to Afghanistan, not underground, but to publicly proclaim the gospel and plant churches. My most immediate needs are: to be able to go to college (I will graduate from high school in June, 2008) and to get legal papers. Both of these things seems almost impossible. But with God all things are possible.

As told to Sam Holdsambeck, July 2007

 

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 theU.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 theUnited 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 MinistrySchool. 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 Torontoarea. 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?

 

Sunday, June 18, 2006

“O” ‘s story

He lost his mother when he was seven and within three years, his father also, and was left to the care of the extended family. He was sent to school, but could not find his place in it. He escaped and lived as a street cat for a few years, looking after himself, until an uncle discovered him and took him under his wing. The uncles ‘wing’ and the job he offered to teach him was drug trafficking! It was just a matter of time before falling into police hands. He escaped a couple of times and eventually joined some men who were leaving behind the calamities of Afghanistan searching for a better world.
He entered six different European counties, was caught without papers and expelled. So he ended up in Athens and one day came through the gates of Helping Hands. Bewildered, hurting, with no walls within him, despaired yet daring to hope, craving for true love and affection.

He was only 16 and a bit!!!!! Survivor and fighter but damaged.

He was loved by all here and was introduced to Jesus. He took some steps towards Him but he faltered. The conflicts within him and an amazingly sensitive heart made his sorrows unbearable at times, and so, last September, his life, he felt, came to a dead end and he suddenly took off and left us, ending up in Holland.

Prayers, many prayers followed him.

Here are some of the messages some of the messages that came through my mobile phone during the months of August and September last year, at the height of his distress.

Aug 04
Dear Kallia, my name is hope but I have not hope to life. I miss you. I want to see you. Love from “O”

Aug 04
BROKEN HEART IS FOR ME. ALONE IS FOR ME. BUT GOD IS FOR WHO? God forget me. ALONE is for me, sad is for me but God is for others. I want dead.

Aug 04
Dear Kallia , please do not forget me. You are my last hope. I cry. You love me or you kill me. I am alone , my mother.

Aug 04
FORGET ME FOR EVER. Angels death say Hello to i. Come with us.

22 Aug 04
Forget me. I died.

Sep 04
Dear Kallia, how are you. Love from my deep heart

Sep 04
Dear Kallia and Jim, today I went to see baptism. I want to change myself but everytime I am sad. I am thinking about before, future, time and life. Every people they think bad about me. I sit in park and I thinking. Some people saw me and think I am crazy.Yes I am.

Sep 04
Dear Kallia, today I spoke with brother Jim. He listens to me like my father, all day I was thinking about this. I am not fighter, I am weak. I swim but until when

5 Sep 04
Mountains can fly,
Ocean can dry,
You can forget me,
But never can I.

And here is, a year later, his latest e-mail message found in my computer, sent
from a refugee complex, in Holland!!!!!!!

25 Aug. 05
Dear Kallia and Jim. How are you? I am good. How is life with you? I hope you have a good time. I love you for ever…
If I can do anything for you just tell me, I have God now.

A lady who is looking into the possibility of adopting him wrote, ‘…he is in the Word constantly and I truly believe he is walking in the path of God…A lady missionary working in Holland writes, ‘during one of the projects in Amsterdam he personally led two Muslim boys to the Lord’!!!!!

Dear brothers and sisters, is any tragedy in this universe bigger then the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and is any wilderness more desperate than the desperate pursuing of the Divine Lover?

Dear partners in this ministry, please continue to intercede on the behalf of this young man until Christ is fully formed in him. His name is “O”.

AND HERE IS O’s STORY TOLD FROM HIMSELF…

My father was born in Kabul and lost his father when he was 10 years old. They killed his father and he was a policeman in Kabul. When he was 12 years old his mother fell from 2nd floor of the house when she was hanging out the clothes, and she died. My father grew up with different families. When he was 18 he started working for politics. He was first a soldier and when he was 20 years old the government sent him to Russia to special politic university in Moscow. He met my mother there and a relationship they started. After 4 1⁄2 years he finished university and moved back to Afghanistan but he was already married with my mother. He was 6 months in Afghanistan andthey sent him back to Moscow to keep him working…. like making bombs… like the different projects they had between different countries. After 10 months I was born in Rjazan, Russia (1988?). (“The calendar years in Iran are different than in the Netherlands calendar.”)

My mother died in the hospital from operation when I was born. When this happened it changed my father inside and he decided to stop his work. Then he told the government I don’t want to kill more people. It’s enough to kill people by making guns or bombs for killing people. And the government told him that he must work for them because they sent him to university.

For the time they can use him and he must not stop the work. Also he knew what project they wanted to do, and when this happened my father took the stuff he had, like papers and documents that he had from his work. We went and we were refugees in Iran because they told him that if he didn’t work they will kill his son and they will kill him also.
We lived in Tehran and I grow up in Tehran. We had a very hard life. My father was going to work in the shop making watches. I was going to school. We were hiding ourself and every house we were living in we were using other names. In the house we had a gun because he was afraid. We moved every year to other houses. In Iran we were really afraid. We did not have contact with anybody.

One time 10 pm in the night the phone in our house was ringing. I was 13 years old. My father took the phone and after he answered he was really nervous. He went very fast and took the keys for his motorcycle, and his wallet, and his phone book, and some papers and told me go hide in the closet and not to come out until he is back. He went out and after a few minutes he came back again and said I must go with him. He was really afraid. I was asking him what is wrong. What happened? He said don’t worry I am here. I won’t leave you. We got on the motorcycle and we went to downtown Tehran. He told me to sit on the motorcycle and told me he would be back. If somebody comes near you and something happens, or you hear a voice or something, just run away. After 20 minutes my father came back. His face was white and on his forehead was blood. On his left hand was blood. He was not normal. He was dragging his foot.

I asked him what happened. He didn’t tell me. He said to just jump on the motorcycle.
We rode to the street that was going to Khavaran. When we got there in the middle of the street he stopped and he said to me to get off. I did, and right after I got off he fell down with the motorcycle. His face was really white and his eyes were red and from his mouth was coming blood and some yellow stuff. Also from an ear was coming blood. Also when he fell down he was shaking all over his body and suddenly it stopped. The people in the street helped me take him to the hospital on that street. The doctor said this man is dead. After 30 minutes a police car came and took me to the police station.

I was 1 week there in the jail with all kinds of people like killers. I was really afraid. In the jail was 5 men they hurt me so much. The room was dark and they raped me. After 1 week a soldier came and told me to come out. I went out and I went to the office there and they told me I could go.

I asked him what happened with my father. He said to me you must be happy we let you go from here and forget your father. If you know what problem your father had you would not go out from this police station. In the one week when I was there they were asking me what I know about my father and what happened. I was saying I don’t know. They asked me do you think your father had a heart attack or something like that. I asked where is the body of my father and they didn’t answer me. They gave me back the key of the motorcycle and the wallet of my father, but they did not give me back the telephone book or the papers that were with him.

After that I was going back to Khavaran to my house. When I went the door was closed. On the door was a paper from the bank saying we didn’t pay and it was closed. That day was the 3rd of the month and we payed already on the 1st. When I was coming out from the house one car came near me and they pushed me in. They covered my eyes and put something on my head. They tied up my hands and my feet on one chair. They started hitting me. And they startedasking questions from me, about the work of my father and what I know from him. And about where are the papers, the documents he was taking from Russia. They hit me and they broke my right hand, my left foot from inside was bruised from the hitting. My ribs were forced down from being hit in the chest with wood, something in their hand, and the man kicking me. Also they took hot water and poured it near my left knee. They cut with scissor my pinkie finger and on my index finger on my left hand. On the right they did the same. They were hitting me with brass knuckles and asking me the same questions. After 5 days one time I was on the floor. The things over my eyes were coming off. I saw the face of them – 3 men and one woman. They were just talking to each other in the room. Two of them look like Afghani people. The woman and the other man looked Russian – blond hair. After that they understand that I saw them. They put me on the chair again and started using electricity and a cable with wires on my chest and on my neck. After that I fainted again.

Next day one of the men came to me and he said this is your last day. If you tell us where are the documents we will let you go. If you don’t tell we will kill you. I had fallen down near the windows. My hands and feet were not tied. The window was open and the man busy with some books on the other side of the room. Something in myself said just jump from this window. I was really afraid. I was on the 2nd floor of the house but I jumped and I came down on the grass. The house was like a villa. I was just running far, as far as I can from that place. I went to one park and I sleep three days in a park, cold weather. I sat on a bench and I couldn’t move. My foot was swollen and it could not move. All my body was in pain.

Somebody came and said my name. I saw it was the friend of my father. He asked me what happened and I tell all the things to him. He took me to a hospital. I was 1 month in the hospital. They did an operation on my hand and my foot, and treated my burns. After that the friend of my father said he was going to Turkey and he asked me if I wanted to go with him or not.

Actually he said I must go with him or these people will take you and kill you. Also he made a photo of my injuries. He said if you go to another place you will have something to show to them.

From Iran to Turkey we were one month on the way. First we took a bus from Tehran to Kordestan. We crossed the border with a horse. After that we were walking in the mountains and after we went with one truck to Ankara. And from there we went with another truck to Istanbul.

I was in Istanbul 4 months. First in Haghsarai and after another house in Zatunbornu. After that the friend was leaving to Greece. He took me and we were 5 days on the way. First we went by truck to the border. We crossed the border with a boat. In that time so much people died because of drowning, but we made it. We were in Athens and the friend of my father left earlier than me from Greece. He went to Norway.

I was living alone in Athens. It was there I became a Christian. I was baptized and grew in my faith.    Then was beginning other problems for me with Muslim Afghanistan people about the religion. I was talking with so many people about Jesus. Also I was going to Helping Hands. They gave me a house because I had nothing. I didn’t have clothes, even I was taking food from the garbage and eating that, from hunger.

When I became a Christian everything changed. The Muslim Afghanis were trying to tell me to leave this religion. If you don’t do it we will kill you. One night a group was coming and they were just hitting me. In the middle of this time I decided to leave Greece. I try to do that. I asked one smuggler to make a passport for me. That time was the Olympic Games 2004.
Near the end of the Olympic Games one time in the night I was walking to the house, I was living at the Helping Hands house. A bunch of people came and they had something hiding their faces. They put me into something… like plastic… like a tarp… my hand was tied and my feet were tied. They put me in the trunk of a car. They took me to a place near the sea and they threw me into the water. I was lucky because at that time a boat… God saved me… the boat of the police was crossing there. They took me out from the water and asked me who did this to you? I did see their faces. I didn’t know what to tell them.

That time I was afraid and I took the passport and I went with the bus to one island of Greece. From there I bought a ticket to Italy. I tried first time, and second time, but I couldn’t. They understand that the passport is not mine. I came out from where the ship is and two boys tried to take me to a dark place to rob me. Again I was lucky because the police were crossing there. God was with me. After that I went back to the harbor and bought the ticket of the last ship. I prayed and I went inside the ship without a problem.

After 15 hours I was in Italy, Ancona. From Ancona I took a train to Rome. When I was in Rome I only had 2 euros and I was sleeping in the street for one week. I remember a woman I met in Greece from America and she was living in Virginia. Her name is Darlene. I went to a calling center where after the phone conversation you pay. My call was exactly 2 euros so I could pay when I came out. Darlene sent me about $300.

With that money I bought a ticket to Paris. From Paris I bought a ticket to Amsterdam. In Amsterdam I called a woman living in Netherlands. I had her number from the friend of my father. She said to me if I say I was in Greece they will send me back to there. I must tell some other thing. I was afraid to go back to Greece because I tried so much to live there and I had so much problem with the Muslim Afghanistan people. That is why I lied. Also I was thinking if I tell the story of my father the police of Netherlands will get me and put me in prison. For me police is the same as those Iran. I keep that in myself.

About two months ago I had a phone call from Norway at 4 am. Somebody in the place of the friend of my father was calling me. He was trying to know where I am living, but I understand it was not my father’s friend but another man. I had so many phone calls in these two months from them. In the first phone call he told me I have something for you. I asked what is that. He said it is the phone book of your father and it has your picture
in it.

They told me my father was a terrorist and they asked me what I know about my father and if I have those documents from my father I must send back to them. They said to me if I know something about my father or if I see what is inside the document I am one of them. If somebody is in this work they can never get out of it. Like your father–he wanted to stop but we killed him.

The last phone call I had was 1 December. They gave me one week time to send the documents back to them. They said if I don’t send back to them they will kill me. And they told me exactly what they were doing in that villa in Iran to me. I am really afraid of them. I don’t want to start again running to other country because when I came in Netherlands was beginning a big rest for me. Netherlands was a paradise for me. Here I can go to school. They give me house, food, clothes, I don’t need to be afraid from people. I had very nice time till now here with so many friends from church and school.

I decide to trust God and the government and that is why I tell all this story. Till now I saw so many things from God and now I trust Him. He has blessed me with so much. When I have trust in Him I must tell the truth. Now I just tell the truth.    I am sure God is with me and He is helping me. Also I pray He touch the heart of the person who is reading this also.

 

Monday, June 05, 2006

“A” ‘s story

My name is ” A” . I’m 28 years old, and I from Tehran, Iran. I am married and I have a one and a half year old son. I’ve lived outside Iran for almost 7 years. I was in Turkey for 6 years. I have been in Greece now for almost 7 months.

4 years ago I returned to Iran to get married, then I returned to Turkey with my wife. After 2 years, God gave us our son. I gave him as a gift to God to use him anywhere. Because of the economic problems in Turkey, I sent my wife and son back to Iran 9 months ago. I came to Greece by myself.

I grew up in a strict Muslim house. When I was 16 years old, I started work as a tailor in a shop that employed 40 people. The owner of the shop was an Armenian Christian. One day he came to visit the shop. He came up to me-it was a Thursday, the last day of the Muslim week, when my week’s work was already over-and I was just sewing a pair of trousers for myself. When he saw my job, he asked if I would like to work with him privately. Two weeks later, I quit that job and started working for him in his house. His customers were Armenian as well. His house was far from our house, so my employer decided to let me sleep at his house and I would go home on weekends. When I told my parents, they didn’t want to let me go because they believed that my employer’s family was unclean (because they were not Muslims), that I should not eat with them, and that I shouldn’t even accept their money. But I told my parents, “I know them, and they are really polite, and I love them.” My employer had 2 children. His son was 4 years younger than me, and his daughter was 6 years younger, so we became exactly like brothers and sisters. His wife loved me like her children. She didn’t let me wash my own clothes but would do my laundry herself. I worked for them for 5 years, and during that whole time, they would talk about Jesus. His wife was a wonderful believer. She wanted to make sure that I knew that Jesus was the Son of God and He is the only way to salvation.

When I got older, I was had to go into the army. I became friends with my fellow soldiers and became more like them. I can say that, before, when I was in my employer’s house, I didn’t sin, but in the two years I was with my fellow soldiers, I sinned enough to send me straight to hell. After a couple of months, I was reassigned in the army to the religious police division, where I was taught how to interrogate and brainwash people. There was a mullah (Islamic religious leader) there who encouraged us to engage in Sighe, a sort of “short” marriage, blessed by a mullah, that only lasts between a man and woman for a certain period of time (from two months to one year). [The orphanages in Iran are mostly filled with children from these kinds of “marriages.”] So I did. But after a couple of these Sighe, something inside me told me, “Don’t you know anything about Jesus? Why are you doing this?” So I decided to walk separately from my friends. It was difficult because I was in the army.

When I got out of the army, I went to Turkey. I didn’t know there was an Iranian church in Turkey. I’d never been to church because my employer was afraid to bring me to a church back in Iran. [It is forbidden for Muslims to enter a church or for Christians to speak about their faith to Muslims.] After I had been in Turkey for 4 years, I was walking in the open-air market with my wife when I saw a man and a woman approaching us. They had heard us speaking Farsi. They gave us a book called What Is Christianity?and invited us to the church. I had talked to my wife prior to that about Christianity and my employer, and she was interested in Christianity too, but she didn’t know anything about it. So we were so glad to find the church in Istanbul. We went to the church and Sister Gity from England was there. That was our first day in church. We were so impressed. After ten months, we saw the fruit of Jesus in our lives. We also saw a lot of miracles in our child’s birth. So we decided to give our lives to Jesus and ask Him to use us and live in us. Last year, we got baptized.

I want to share some of the things that have happened since I’ve believed in Jesus. Recently, my wife was sick because she was alone because we had been separated for so long. She was so depressed that she couldn’t move half of her body. She couldn’t sleep at all for a whole week. It was during the First Timothy Project, and Brother Themis asked us to all pray for each other. Brother Sam prayed for me. Two days later, when I came back to Athens from attending the Project, I called Iran. It was 10 o’clock at night, and I woke my wife. She told me that she had been able to sleep for two days, from exactly the time that Sam prayed for her. I thank God for that.

I believe that all of our problems can be taken to God by faith. I wish for all the believers to refresh their spirits with faith and prayers. And I pray for unbelievers to open their hearts to have Jesus’ love and peace inside. The Grace of our God, Jesus Christ, be with you forever.

 

“E”‘s Story

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?

 

“D” ‘s Testimony

A New Life

When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a new person inside.
He is not the same any more. A new life has begun!
– II Corinthians 5:17

As a young man in Afghanistan, I knew something about Jesus. Like other Muslims, I thought He was a special prophet and an amazing person. I respected Him and even believed that He rose from the dead, but I didn’t believe that He was God.

Gradually, my interest in Jesus grew and my ideas changed. This began when I had a dream about Jesus. I’d been thinking about my future, and told my parents that I wanted to change my religion and leave Afghanistan. You can imagine how they responded! They said the same thing that your parents would have said: They told me I was crazy. I had been a very religious Muslim so they couldn’t understand my change of heart; but they loved me and didn’t forbid my pursuits.

Then I had a second dream: I dreamt that I left Afghanistan, converted to Christianity, and was being baptized in the sea. This dream was really outrageous since I had little hope of escaping Afghanistan and no reason to change religions. But that dream never left me and it kept my interest in Jesus alive.

When I was 17 years old, I rejected Islam and began searching for another religion. Some of my friends who knew of my search called me an atheist.

But Afghanistan is not the place for religious experimentation. I knew that if I wanted to learn more about Jesus, I would need to leave my country. To prepare me for the journey, my sister’s husband suggested that I learn English. My parents, who had never learned to read their own language, cheered me on. If my dream of leaving Afghanistan became real, I wanted to be ready.

As I studied, something wonderful happened: I met an American family of Christians in Afghanistan. They welcomed me like a son and soon I could see that their lives were different. They were honest, gracious, and full of hope. I was attracted to their optimism and wondered how I could find the same joy. In those days, as I dreamt about the future and tried to find the truth, I felt as if there might be a door through which I could walk to begin a new life. I didn’t know how to find that door, but I felt that these Christians were closer to it than anyone I’d ever met before.

I loved that family and wanted to become like them. I though that I could do this by going to America. I asked the mother how I might accomplish this. It isn’t easy, she said. Go step by step. If God wants you to go to America, He’ll lead you there.

Step by step, my journey began. From Afghanistan, I went to Pakistan, and then on to Iran. There, my curiosity about Jesus grew. How could I find out more about this forbidden faith? I found my answer in an unlikely place: on the street. As I wandered in the markets, I saw a vendor selling Bibles. I bought one and marveled that I hadn’t been caught, since buying Bibles is illegal for Muslims in Iran.

I began to devour that Bible, reading first the Old and then the New Testaments. Much of what I read mystified me but I continued my search. I tried to attend a Christian church in Iran, but the Christians feared that I was a Muslim and wouldn’t let me enter the building. I waited outside, tried to listen to the message, and then went on my way.

As I traveled west, other significant events helped me to understand more about Jesus. In Iran, I saw a movie that claimed that He was the Son of God, and that He died on the cross to pay the price for the sins of the world. When I arrived in Turkey, I went to Catholic and Orthodox churches and learned a bit more.

When I arrived in Athens, my search took on a new urgency. I slept in Alexandreas Park for two months and was relieved when someone there told me about Helping Hands in Omonia. At Helping Hands, I ate soup and met other guys my age who were traveling west. I went to the English and Bible lessons, and I liked the friendly Christians who ran the center.

I especially liked the Bible teacher. I learned many good things about Jesus and got a clearer understanding of the Bible by attending his classes. The teacher told us often that Jesus could give a person a new life. He read from the Injil: When someone becomes a Christian he becomes a new person inside. He is not the same any more. while going to America might give me a better life, knowing Jesus would give me the best life.

That wasn’t the answer I wanted to hear, so I took matters into my own hands. I joined a group of men who planned to go to Italy. As we waited for the ferry boat in Patra, a woman approached me and handed me a book about Jesus. I was stunned. There are hundreds of people here in the crowd, I thought to myself. Why did she give this book to me?

Meanwhile, passengers were boarding the ferry boat and my friends urged me to follow them. But I realized that I didn’t want to follow them, and felt an urge to return to Athens. I was sure that an important encounter awaited me there, and so I returned alone as my friends sailed west.

When I got back to Omonia, I marched into Helping Hands. I told the Bible teacher about the woman in Patra and said that I wanted to become a Christian. The Bible teacher listened patiently and then asked me why I wanted to change my religion. Do you want to become a Christian to go to America, or to know Jesus? he asked.

That was a hard question, and I didn’t know the answer. I realized that my motives were mixed. I asked God to show me which religion I should choose. Oh God, I prayed, Show me the way! Soon I had a third dream: I dreamt of the cross of Christ, and I heard Jesus say, I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father, but through me. (John 14:6).

Shortly after that, the Bible teacher asked me to translate some of the Koran into English. As I read the passage describing Jesus’ birth, I compared the Koran’s account with the Injil’s, and was convinced that Jesus wasn’t only a prophet, but the Son of God who came to earth to die for my sins and to give me a new life.

That moment of belief was the important encounter that awaited me in Athens — the most important encounter of my life. Soon I was baptized in the sea, thus fulfilling my boyhood dream.

What have I gained from following Jesus? First, joy. I’m very happy because I know that Jesus has saved me from the sins that should have condemned me. I’m also happy because through Jesus, I can know God, and can talk to Him like a son. God also encourages me during the hard times when the realities of the world bring me pain. Last year, for example, I had a bad accident in Athens and I was tempted to doubt God. But I learned that suffering builds my faith.

Trusting Jesus as my Savior has also helped my attitude. Before I was a Christian, I was a good, hard worker who minded the law. But I was also very proud and I judged other people harshly. Now I am humbled that Jesus took the punishment for my sins and that I am only saved by His grace. God has given me love for my enemies, patience, and the peace that my life is safe in His hands.

One of my favorite stories in the Injil is the story of Jesus and the demoniac who lived among the tombs. The man, tormented by demons and darkness, was hopeless. But Jesus healed him and gave him a new life. Before he left the man, Jesus said to him, Return to your house and describe what great things God has done for you. The man went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him (Luke 8:38, 39).

I feel like that man! Jesus has given me a new life, and He can give you a new life, too.

As you read this, I am somewhere in Italy, or perhaps I am even further in my journey. I don’t know if I’ll ever see America, but that isn’t important to me now. I have found the Door to a new life, and His name is Jesus.

 

Sunday, April 23, 2006

“Q” ‘s Testimony

“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.

 

Saturday, April 22, 2006

“Iranian M” ‘s Story

I am from Iran. I left my home country because I wanted to go to university and it is very difficult to get accepted there. Out of the one million people who take the entrance exam each year, only 100,000 are accepted. I also wanted to find a good surgeon to operate on my foot, which hurts.

I left Iran for Turkey, legally with my passport. Then I made several unsuccessful attempts to enter Greece from Turkey by walking across the border, but I was finally able to come by paying a smuggler to take me on a big ship; that worked very well. I made my way to Athens, where I moved into a downtown house packed with Kurdish people. The rent was only $36 a month, but it was a dirty, old, decrepit building that shook whenever you walked in it. A Greek man leased each room to a different Kurd, who then sublet his room to as many people he could squeeze inside. There were three floors, six rooms on each floor, and twelve or more people in each room. There were about 270 people living in this one building! There was only one bathroom for one hundred people, and all of us had to shower to go to work, but there was never any hot water. I stayed there for a month and a half and tried to learn Kurdish, but it took me until the day I left to be able to communicate in it.

I found a job the very first day I came to Athens. Finding a job was essential because my family could not possibly send me enough money with which to survive. My first day, I got paid twelve dollars for two hours of work. I thought to myself, I can make good money working here, so why should my family have to send me anything? I decided to work in Athens and repay the money my mother had borrowed from the bank for me. Then I decided that I could get even better work in another country.

But the next day, I couldn’t find a job anywhere. The following day was a Sunday, and a friend told me there was a place that offered free English classes. When class was over, I came out and heard Nader preaching in Farsi and discovered that a church meeting was taking place. My friend was from Kurdistan and couldn’t speak Farsi. I told him, “Let’s go sit and see what’s going on here.”

But he said, “Oh, it’s all garbage about Christianity.” I told him that I didn’t know much about Christianity and I was curious to learn more. But he told me that listening was unclean and that God would curse me. I responded that I wanted to sit there and know more and increase my knowledge. Didn’t our Prophet say the same thing, that to increase your knowledge, you should be willing to go as far as China? So why should I go to China if I can sit right here? So he sat with me, unable to argue with that.

Nader was preaching about all of the difficulties of life, and all my hardships came to my mind. As I sat there, I prayed that God would find a job for me. I told God, it doesn’t matter where I am, in a mosque or a church, I can still ask you. It’s your house, and if you answer my prayer, I promise I will come to wherever your house truly is.

When the service was over, I wanted to leave, but I realized they were serving Iranian food afterward. The food was horrible! A man named Hamzeh, who didn’t know how to cook very well, had prepared the food. It was so bad, that I couldn’t eat. Later, when I had become friends with Hamzeh, I told him so. (He is getting better at cooking now.)

After that day, I found a job very quickly. Since then, I have worked the whole time I have been in Greece. The first five months, my employer paid me. But the last two months, even though I have worked hard despite my painful foot, he has refused to pay me, offering only to give me a third of what he owed me “as a gift.” I am still trying to get him to give me what he owes me.

The first time I came to Helping Hands, I didn’t know what they offered… food, English classes, etc… From the first day, I sat because I wanted to learn more about Christianity. It wasn’t until the next Sunday that I came again, because I had been working the whole week. I tried to find out about more classes about Christianity and then attended all the Bible classes and some of the English classes, but the Bible class was more important to me. I tried to take time off from my job when the Bible studies were going on. My knowledge increased about Christianity little by little. When all the Kurds I lived with found out that I was coming to Bible classes, they told me Aybeh, aybeh, “No good, no good. Christianity is heretical and all the people are infidels.” I couldn’t give them answers or proof, only calm them down. I took a Bible from Helping Hands, but I hid it in my suitcase so no one would see it. But they found out when they searched the suitcase and found it.

I didn’t work at Helping Hands at that time. I asked God to use me as his servant somehow. The only way I knew how to serve was to come and grow in Jesus. One Sunday, Hamzeh called me. From that day, I started to help him in the kitchen each week. My life in the house was very difficult, them fighting with me all the time about Christianity, so I packed my suitcase one night at eleven at night. I lived on the 3rd floor, and the people in one of the rooms on the 1st floor told me they would not let me leave to sleep in the park that night, so I spent the night with them. I stayed in their room for two weeks. I didn’t have any choice because I didn’t know any Iranians with whom to rent a house. I found one place, but the people there told me I had to pay a $500 deposit and then the rent. I had the salary to pay the rent but not enough for the deposit. One Sunday, I came to church and asked Nader to pray so that God would solve my problems about a place to stay, to provide an apartment. I was searching everywhere for an apartment I could afford. One day I was in Bible study, and brother Themis called Nader over to translate and said, “I hear you have problems with housing.” I thought, “He has found a house I can rent.” But he told me about a shelter where we could live and leave our clothes, a place called The Nest. In this way God helped me a lot so that I could send money to my parents instead of using it to pay rent. Three months later I accepted Jesus in my life in that house. I can say I believed in Jesus from the beginning, but it wasn’t with strong faith. Those three months in that house helped strengthen me in my faith so that I could say I believe in Jesus.

I asked to be baptized with the next group who was going to be baptized, but the baptism teacher and his translator wouldn’t let me because they thought I wasn’t ready. I was really upset, because there were people being baptized that had been believers for a shorter time than I had, so why should they have papers to prove their belief? But the teacher asked me to attend the next baptism class, and after the class it was really funny that I received my baptism certificate one day earlier than the people in the group ahead of me!

As for the future, I want to go to Canada and attend university. I think God wants to train me by sending me to university and helping me learn more about him so I can be his servant. I want to go to a Christian university. But if God wants me here in Greece, I could go to university here. I believe God has a call on my life, but I don’t know what it is yet.

I can say that the good attitudes of the team helped me to grow in my faith. I have problems, but I ask God to help me, and I know he will.

 

“F” ‘s Story

The Testimony of ” F”

I was born in a religious family. I started to use drugs when I was fifteen years old. When my family found out, I left home, but after some months I returned to my family. My life has certainly been an adventure. It was incredible how I came to Greece. It was really a miracle. On my first day in Greece, I went to Helping Hands. It was around two o’clock. There, we watched the Jesus film with four people, one of whom was Nader. Nader said that Jesus is the Son of God. That made me angry, so I left saying, “They made a son for God.” After that day, Nader and I met many times, but we could not understand each other.

At that time, I lived with two Kurds from Iraq. They believed that the bread served at Helping Hands is unclean. They said if you eat bread in a bar it is better than eating it there, so they didn’t let me go to Helping Hands. When we gathered together at night, we talked about Nader and what he said about Jesus. We were so angry because we couldn’t find any answers to his challenging questions! We decided to get some more friends, go find Nader, and beat him up to the point of needing a long hospital stay.

Our house was near an area full of factories which produce various alcoholic drinks. Every night we went and stole from the factories and we drank until morning. We slept with homeless women from Albania and Hungary. We even used drugs! One night, we were drunk and we went to a bar. Around one o’clock one of us took off his clothes and started to dance without any clothes on. (The bar owners called the police.) We fought with the police and we broke everything there. Then we went back home and used opium until morning.

One day, we went to Helping Hands and heard a sermon preached by an English pastor who was visiting Athens. He could speak Farsi and we met him afterwards. His name was Malcolm. We went into a classroom and talked about the Koran and Christianity, but we didn’t understand each other.

After Malcolm returned to England, I talked with Nader several more times. I wanted to know more about Jesus and what it meant that he was the Son of God. Nader told me to go and read the Bible for myself instead of listening only to him, so I did. I left my previous house and moved in with a communist named Khaled. We read the Bible together. At the same time, we found a lot of information about many religions. We also had a lot of immigration problems. We decided we would do anything we could to solve our immigration problem. Khaled and I went to a seeker’s class at Helping Hands. After that, we went to a Baptism class. Each time I went to the Baptism class, I used a different name. One night, Khaled and I prayed together. I said, “Lord, please show yourself to me and show me your true way.” After that night, I have had no desire to do drugs or steal things.

I began to believe in Jesus with all of my heart. And my roommate and I began to ask for only the things that we needed. That is the feeling which all believers in Jesus have. I have experienced it. Jesus came into my life as my saviour and my God. We read the Bible every day and I go to church every week. I’ve prayed in church and He answered all of my prayers quickly. I prayed for a place to live and he gave me one. I am free now from my sins and I am not the same person I was before because Jesus has changed me. I found hope and eternal life through Him. I have given up smoking completely because I now believe that my body is the home of the Holy Spirit. I would like to thank Brother Scott, Themis, Ilir, Nader and all the sisters here. I ask God to bless them.

Our Lord Jesus Christ be with you forever,
“F”, from Iran

 

“Nh” ‘s Story

April 10, 2006
The following was written by our Iranian co-worker Nader…
In the Tea House Ministry…
Joel 2:28 – “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughter shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; and also on My manservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.”

It was Thursday, same as any other day we are open at the A.R.C. Before we open the door we have a prayer time. Scott said, “Time to talk to Father!” And in that time we are prayng for the people who are lost to come to know Him. And for several months we are praying for the Arabic-speakers to come to the Lord. Recently, an Iraqi came to Jesus and continues to grow in Him, but on this particular day God answered our prayers again.

Another Iraqi guy came to the Lord and told us his story. His story will show you how God is working among the refugees, and also how in this ministry we need His active presence, and apart from Him we are nothing.

“Nh” is from northern Iraq. He was a communist and his father was a fanatic Muslim. They were always arguing about God and His existence. Here is his story in his own words…

“I left Iraq for many reasons, and I went to Iran. After one year I left Iran and went to Pakistan and applied for political asylum. They accepted me at the United Nations, and they gave me a small salary but my life was insecure. Many Islamic groups have activity there and many of them invited me to their meetings and spent time with me. But they were not successful. I never accepted that God exists and I thought for myself to have a good life and come to Europe.

10 days after I arrived Greece, I became very sick. I was shaking, coughing, with fever and I couldn’t eat nor drink. It was difficult even to swallow. My roommates brought me medicine but it did not work. I thought I was going to die.

After 7 days in bed, I saw a dream. A voice said, “Open your eyes and look up.” In my dream I opened my eyes and looked up. Somebody was standing there with a white robe shining bright around him. He told me, “If you want to get up from that bed, you should open your eyes and stop what you’re doing. If you want to be healed, you should follow me.” He showed me a beautiful garden, and he said, “If you want to experience this garden you should be my disciple.” And I asked him, “Who are you? What is your name?” And He said, “I am the Christ. He said, “There is no other name in heaven or earth for salvation except Me. Whatever you have, leave and follow me. If you please the earth, the earth will please you. If you please me, I will please you.” MANY things He said to me, and in the end He put his hand on my head and said, “Peace be with you.” And I woke up.

When I woke up I was sweating and started to cry. Not from sadness, not because of pain, but crying with PEACE and JOY in my heart! After I told my roommates (who are communists like I was), they could not believe it! They said, “Go back to sleep–you have a high fever”.

A couple of days later, I woke up from my bed and told my friends again that I saw Jesus! And I told them the things He said to me. I promised Him that I would follow Him so I needed to find out from the Christians how to do that. I went to the Orthodox Church and I did not find the answer. An Iraqi friend told me to go to the “American church” (Helping Hands is frequently called the American church by the refugees). So I came here to ask some questions. What did He mean when He said, ‘Follow Me?’ What does it mean to be disciple of His? How can I be good disciple? Who is really Jesus? How can I know Him better? What did this dream mean?”

Eddy from the short-term team and I gave him the information about the Truth of Jesus, and Scott also joined us in the conversation. He accepted what we shared with him and prayed to receive Jesus! We were also able to show him places in the Bible that echoed the words Jesus had spoken to him in his dream. “Nh” said that he had never read the Bible before. We prayed for him and gave him Bibles in a few of the languages he speaks. He asked for more Bibles for his friends who live with him.

The next opening day Tea House, he brought with him TWO MORE people and they all attended the Bible study, and then stayed after to talk with me about the Bible! On Sunday, at Persian Christian Fellowship, he came with his two friends! They are hungry for the Truth. He told me, “All that I heard from you in the preaching was very new to me. I have never heard that.”

He has never read the Bible but the Word spoke to him in His dream. We have an amazing God! We are seeing the wonderful works of God among the refugees. He is always adding souls to be saved for His glory. Apart from Him we can do nothing. He alone is worthy to be praised. For to Him alone belongs all the glory, all the power. Once again we see that the Lord is the one working in this ministry to refugees.

 

“R” ‘s Testimony

“R” ’s Testimony, March ‏2002‏‏-‏03‏‏-‏28‏

I am from Iraq, but from the time I was six years old, I have lived as a refugee in Iran. My father was a Kurdish rebel. I lived in Iran for 29 years. My wife is Iranian. My three children are Iranian. But when I asked the Iranian government for citizenship, I was rejected. I asked them to issue me a passport, but they wouldn’t. I wasn’t even allowed to leave the country and travel. I couldn’t buy anything, like a house or a car, because I was not allowed to work. I had to go to the police and re-register as a refugee, every three months…for 29 years! I even tried to go to Iraq to get an ID card, but the Iraqi officials told me that I was not registered in Iraq, that they had no idea who I was. I have no nationality.

I wanted to be able to support my family, so I left Iran illegally. I walked, shared a horse, even paid a smuggler, and finally got to Greece.

When I came to Athens, I was looking for a place to eat, a place that provided food for refugees. I slept in the park. My friends I met there told me about a place they called “The American Church” (but I found out later it is called Helping Hands). They told me I could get food there, but the first time I came, Scott wouldn’t let us in. The place was already full. The next week, I was able to get in, and little by little I met the different people who worked there. And after a while, I started coming to help, and I became a regular volunteer. I don’t know why, but something was prodding me to help. I was going to go to Italy, but God didn’t want me to go. There was a seekers’ class, and I went there to ask questions. I wanted to know more about Christianity, because I was curious. While I was asking questions, I was also translating for the other people, from Farsi, the language of Iran, to Kurdish, the language of the area of Iraq where I was born.

I didn’t want to become a Christian, but Helping Hands gave me a place to stay, even though I wasn’t one. It was one of the rules of the house to go to Bible studies and discipleship lessons, so I went obediently. Little by little, I learned more about Christianity, and the more I learned, the more I wanted to know. I started to love going to class, instead of just going because I had to. I read the Bible. Then I started to pray, talking to my God, and I asked Him to show me the right way, the true way. I found reality in the Bible, so I believed in it. But nothing special happened in my life to change me. In Islam, I was taught that if you did bad things, God would send you straight to hell when you died, and God was not a God of love, but of fear and wrath. But when I read the Bible, I discovered that God is a God of love. So I chose the God of love instead of the God of fear.

I have tried to go to Italy ten times. I tried different methods, different smugglers. I used to want to live like I lived before, to be a Muslim as I was. I wanted to go to Italy and then on to another country and apply for refugee status there and continue my daily life. I didn’t know that being a Christian means that I can have God close to me.

I am convinced Scott is preventing me from going to Italy until I attend the Timothy Project, (a weekend retreat with other new believers held outside Athens). I made him promise that he would pray I could go to Italy after I came.

I haven’t told my family that I believe in Jesus. If I told my parents, they would probably kill me. It’s possible that the love of parents would keep them from killing me, but they would disown me from their family, my brothers and sisters as well. I don’t know what my wife will do. She is a very good Muslim. I think I can only tell my wife after she comes to join me in the new land where we will live. Perhaps I will drop hints first. I will tell her I am a Christian, present her with all the information, and then let her decide.

God help me, I want to go to a country where I can live as a human being with human rights. I can’t live in Iraq, because I have never lived with guns, and I can’t live that way. I want to live somewhere where I will have freedom, where I can live like a normal person. I want to bring my family there, legally. I miss them so much. I used to be very depressed before I became a Christian, sad because I was away from my family. But now I have peace.

 

“S’s” Testimony

“S” ‘s Testimony
I was born in Tehran, Iran into a very wealthy family. My father was not religious at all, and his skepticism rubbed off on me. I even had to attend a private high school (made up of mostly Christian students) so that I would not get in trouble at the public high school. My Armenian Christian classmates would ask me questions about my religion, questions I could not answer. I was interested in learning more about Christianity and even attended my friend’s sister’s wedding just so I could see the inside of a church building.

One day an American woman wandered into the expansive enclosure around our house. I was surprised to see that anyone had managed to get by the four guards, not to mention the guard dogs, that usually watched our gate. She was lost, so I walked her back to the street and pointed her in the direction of the address she was seeking. “Thank you,” she said, “and, here, I have something for you.” She gave me a New Testament in Farsi, my native tongue. When I asked about her later, no one in the area had seen her or knew anything about her.

The New Testament sat on a shelf in my room for a long time before I finally picked it up one night after discussions about Christianity with my classmates. I began at the beginning of Matthew and read straight through. When I got to Mark, I realized that it was telling the same story, but I couldn’t put it down. When I had finished John, I realized it was four o’clock in the morning!

This Jesus character fascinated me, and I wanted to learn all I could about him. One day I telephoned my cousin and told her I wanted to talk to her about something interesting. I stuck my New Testament and a book criticizing Islam, which my friends at school had given me, into my bag and left for her house. I would always take a cab when I went to see her, but this time I walked. I was stopped by the religious police, who investigated my bag. Then they immediately arrested me.

When my father found out, he went to the police station and talked to the guard on duty. “How much do you make in a year?” he asked the young soldier. The guard told him. “How would you like four times that amount right now?” The guard released me.
Since we had been to Greece before on vacation, it was not very difficult to get a tourist visa. My father gave his half of his factory to his partner. My father, mother, and I got on a flight to Athens three days after I was arrested.

Life suddenly became very difficult. We lived with my uncle’s family and worked in his restaurant. Three months after we first came to Athens, I realized I would never be able to return home. Around that time, my uncle cheated my father out of his money, and one of my cousins in Iran died. I was tired of living and tried to kill myself twice, but both times I was interrupted.

The next day after my second attempt, I passed by the First Evangelical Church of Athens and saw the cross and remembered why I had come to Athens in the first place. I came home and announced that I would be attending church that Sunday. To my surprise, both of my parents said they would come with me. From that day, the three of us attended church every Sunday, starting with Sunday school at ten o’clock.

Even though I went to church every Sunday, I was still afraid to change my religion, afraid of being the only Iranian to stop being Muslim to become a Christian. But one Sunday I met an American woman who said that she knew a lot of Iranians. I didn’t believe her, but accepted her invitation to her English class at the Athens Refugee Center. The place was packed full of men, and I was scared I was the only woman there! Then the office door opened and one of the women who worked there asked, “Can I help you?” She took me to the English class, and, yes, there were many Iranians there. Afterward, the teacher introduced me to an Iranian who had converted from Islam to Christianity. I finally realized that I was free to listen to my heart.
When I got home, I prayed and said, “Okay, God, I’ve heard everything, now show me the truth. Which one is right? Show me who you really are.” I fell asleep and had a dream, someone was telling me, I told you that I am the Truth and the Life and the Way. No one comes to the Father except by me. I woke up and cried and knew which one was true. In the morning I called my pastor and asked, “How can I get baptized?”

I continued coming to the English class at the A.R.C., and when my teacher left to return to America, I took over her class! In fact, I was getting very involved in volunteering at the A.R.C., despite telling myself I didn’t need to go there anymore. Something inside me wouldn’t let me stay away. It was there, working with other believers, that I discovered what it really meant to be a Christian, through their example.

I believe God has a call on my life to bring His truth to my people. Right now I am doing that by translating, teaching English classes, and developing relationships with Iranians (and Afghans!) here in Athens. Refugees are more open than people living in their homeland. But one day, when there is a second revolution in Iran and the government finally changes, I want to return to my country and tell people about Jesus. If they could only read the Bible for themselves, I am sure Iranians would see the truth about who God really is, just as He revealed Himself to me.

 

“H’s” Story

“H” ‘s Testimony
August 2002

Seven years ago, I was an atheist. I didn’t believe in any god. I said there was no god, and I had a lot of reasons for why he didn’t exist for anyone who asked. Then I realized I was lying to myself, that there was an empty place in me, a hole that nothing could fill. I sinned a lot, and I wasn’t happy sinning. I wanted to stop, but I didn’t have the power. Every time I would do something wrong, I would tell myself, “You said you would stop! Why are you doing these things?”

Four years ago, I left Iran to look for a better life. That was my plan, but I’m sure with all my heart that God had a plan for me to bring me to Istanbul to meet Jesus.

I traveled to Turkey, my life constantly changing as I constantly traveled. I was living sometimes in the joys of the world and sometimes in its sadness, but everything I knew was of the world. Two and a half years later, I was still in Turkey, living in Istanbul. I had money, but I had a lot of troubles in my life too.

I was walking in the street with my friends one day when two Iranians came up to us and began talking about Jesus. That day was Sunday, and I went to a church that evening. First, it was very strange for me, worshiping God with joy and happiness. All of my life I’d thought, if you want to know God, his way is full of sadness, and he will drag you far from joy.

From Istanbul I moved to Ankara, staying there for a month. I didn’t go to church the whole time. When I returned to Istanbul, I went back to the church. They gave me a Bible in Farsi. I started reading it, and when I got to the miracles and the love Jesus showed, his kindness made me cry. Simply seeing this love of Jesus in believers drew me closer to accepting Christianity. They helped me, even though they knew I wasn’t one of them. That made me believe in what they did.

From the time I believed in Jesus and accepted him in my heart, he has changed my heart and life a lot. My actions, thoughts, and words were completely changed. I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t the same person, immediately! I could feel that all of my sins were forgiven. I felt like God had given me clean clothes to wear. That feeling kept me from sinning, because I didn’t want to get those beautiful clean clothes dirty. From that time on, when I prayed to God and asked him for something with all my heart, he answered my prayers.

I can tell a lot of ways that he answered my prayers. A month ago my father came to Istanbul on business. He is very old and frail and doesn’t know how to read and write. He didn’t know that I believed in Jesus, and I was sure that he didn’t know that Jesus is God. I prayed one night with my friends, asking God, “God, show him and guide him, since he will not accept anything from me because I’m his son.” The next night, I was sitting with my friends, two other believers and a nineteen-year-old unbeliever. At about midnight my father woke up and told us, “I had an amazing dream. It was very strange. I saw that they put God on a cross.” My father continued, “I was asking myself, ‘How could they put God on a cross? It’s impossible!'”

I said, “Well, what was God? What did you see?”

“He was light, very strong light.” We told him that Jesus was the Son of God, but he said, “How can a man be God?” But he went around telling everyone that he dreamed God was on a cross anyway. He’s not a believer…yet.

The nineteen-year-old unbeliever, one of the five people living with us in one house, had come to Turkey to pass the examination to go to university, studying for his last year of high school. One day as he was going to class, he told me, “I didn’t study for my exam this morning, and I knew I wouldn’t pass because I didn’t study, I started to pray, I don’t know why, but I said, ‘O Lord Jesus, you know I can’t pass this exam because I didn’t study, but help me,’ and I was crying as I prayed.” He was not a believer, but he was praying in Jesus’ name.

He went to school for the exam, and the principle of the school told him, “Sorry, we didn’t have your phone number to call you, but the exam is cancelled, and it will be next week instead.” He wasn’t a believer, but he told us about how Jesus had helped him! But the most amazing thing is that this nineteen-year-old’s father in Iran heard all these stories, about his son as well as my father, and he accepted Jesus! He’s now reading the Bible and going to church.

I wanted to come to Greece but I didn’t know how or which way I should come. Two of my believer friends and I wanted to come together, so we decided to leave on a Sunday evening after church. On Saturday all of us fasted and prayed, “God help us. Where we should go, where we should stop, you be our leader, and we’ll obey you.” Saturday night, I saw in a dream somebody telling me, “You don’t have to go Sunday evening. You should go Monday morning.”

I told my dream to my friend Ali, and he said, “That’s amazing, because I had a dream that we left Turkey on Sunday, and on the way the police caught us.” So because two of us had dreams that were similar to each other, we decided to try to leave Turkey on Monday afternoon. It was amazing because with just a little money, just a little time, and no problems, we were in Athens. It only took us a day and a half. That was a miracle! And we thank God because that was from him. He helped us to come here. Because he is willing to help everybody, he helped us because we asked him with pure hearts. We only paid for the train and bus tickets…that was the only money we spent. We believed he would help us because we gave our lives to him, and he knows how to take care of us.

I believe that anything God wants me to do, he will put along my way, and if I listen to him, I will do it. Anything that I decide to do in my life, if it’s from my flesh, won’t happen. But when I gave my life and future to his hands, I believe that in his hands all of my problems will be solved. So I don’t know what will happen, but I know wherever God sends me, he has a plan to use me.

 

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

“B” ‘s Testimony

I grew up in a family that was indifferent about religion, not irreligious but not too religious. My family is Sunni not Shiee (Shiite). All of my family members are teachers. Because of that, growing up, I was only concerned with lessons and being a good student. In our city, in the Kurdish part of Iran, it was traditional in the summer to have a Koran class for all the young children taught by a mullah. I attended this class every summer for seven years. I have read the whole Koran three times through in these classes. I have also read the two books that one has to read to become a mullah in the Sunni branch of Islam.

Until I graduated from high school, I didn’t have any problems, but after I passed my final examinations, I thought my God was far away from me, that He was high up in the sky, we were down on the earth, and there was no way to really talk to Him. There were some things that were sin in my life, but I couldn’t stop doing them, I couldn’t stop being a sinner. That really hurt my faith. When I passed the entrance exam to university, I went to Tehran. From that time my bad life began. I was hopeless and nothing bothered me, no matter what I did. I enjoyed being a sinner. The sin was one of the habits in my normal life. The only thing I didn’t think about was God. I had emotional problems. I couldn’t sleep at all. I would go to sleep late at night and rise early in the morning. I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I think now that this was because my sin was bothering my conscience, but I didn’t think about that then.

I studied in Tehran for four years, the last two of which I was a member of an opposition political group. Because of that, the university kicked me out and didn’t give me a degree. I stayed in Iran for nine more months, and then I decided to leave the country, since I wasn’t allowed to do anything because of my political affiliation… I couldn’t work or study or do anything. I wasn’t in prison but it was like a prison.

When I left Iran, my plan was to go to Bulgaria and then to England. Everything was set. I wasn’t supposed to come to Greece. I stayed in Bulgaria for four months and had been accepted to be given a Bulgarian passport. But before I was issued one, September 11 happened, and the law was changed. I wasn’t allowed to have one, so I had to leave. I decided to come to Greece with three other Iranians.

The first couple of weeks in Athens, we slept in the park and found out about a place the other refugees called “The American Church” (Helping Hands), where we could come to eat. Later we decided to help. I started to read a Bible I got there because it was the only Farsi book I had. I was reading it like a newspaper, not caring about it at all because of my religion. I talked to Nader privately and attended the Seekers’ Class, Persian Christian Fellowship, and a local church, that my friends had begun attending because they were interested in Christianity, just to fill my free time because I didn’t have anything else to do. When I would think about Christianity logically in my mind, I could accept it, but I still couldn’t accept it in my heart.

My friends and I went to Argos in southern Greece to work, picking oranges. There I met a friend from Bulgaria who spoke Turkish. He had been Muslim but he had converted to Christianity. We would work together picking oranges, eat together, spend all of our time together. Every day and night during our free time he read the Bible out loud. Before each meal he prayed for us. His good attitude impacted me. One day he came to me and said, “Tomorrow is Sunday. We haven’t been to church in a long time. We should go together.” So we returned to Athens to take him to the church we had been attending. In church he prayed for us, crying as he prayed. When the work season was finished, he left for Bulgaria. But before he left, said to me, “Open your heart to Jesus. I will pray for you every day.”

The opportunity arose to go to Italy, so I left Athens and went to an island to board a boat. Everything was set, everyone was ready to go, but something didn’t let me go, something wasn’t right. When I returned to Athens, I had no money left, and I was lost completely. It was the hardest time in my life. At that time I asked Jesus, “If You’re real, touch me.” On a Thursday, I went to an Iranian fellowship at the church my friends attended. I was not ready. I entered the church to find the congregation singing and worshiping God. I suddenly felt another feeling in my heart, like it had completely changed. I felt different. All the words they sang were like a wooden board hitting me in the head, reminding of my childhood. It was like a cinema, seeing all the things that had happened in my life. I was weeping, and I couldn’t stand up straight, and I knelt to the floor. Afterward, I went back home… not really a house, just a ruined building where we were staying. We slept on the concrete floor, and it was very hard, and we each had only one sleeping bag. And yet that night was the first time I could sleep through the night in years.

Ten days after that day, I was baptized, earlier than my three friends! I didn’t have emotional problems anymore. Instead, I had peace in my heart. Sin was slowly exiting my life as I lost the desire to sin. The best thing is that I can talk with my God directly. My God is not far away in the sky anymore. I know that my God has a wonderful plan for my life here on earth. Now I have the opportunity to leave Greece and live with some relatives in another country, but I know that God is calling me to work in Greece and be here. So I will not go anywhere until He will let me go. I can feel that He is trying to teach me each day through His Word. I am very grateful for His plan, and I will obey Him, step by step. I confess that He is the only one who can give us peace, and that He is the only Savior.

 

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.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

“N” ’s Story

I was born into one of the most politically powerful tribes in Afghanistan. My grandfather was a good friend of the king and was himself the governor of northern Afghanistan. My grandfather’s highest hope for my father as he was growing up was that he continue the family tradition of political and religious leadership. But my father wasn’t very interested in religion, and he felt honored when he was one of a few students handpicked to be trained at the prestigious army university. His decision to join the army upset the entire family, but on the day he was to start university my grandfather died, so no one in
the family was there to oppose him.After he had been at the university for two years, the Soviet army chose some people to go to Russia for more military education. My father and all his classmates were transferred to flight school to become pilots. After finishing his education, my father returned to Afghanistan and married my mother. My mother was the daughter of one of the most powerful people in government at that time.Soon after my parents’ marriage, Russia gained more influence in the government, and decided to put the people they had trained into positions of power. My father was made the commander of the first military airport. In April of 1978, he and many of the others who trained in Russia started a successful Communist revolution and took over the government. One of my dad’s best friends was killed in the revolution, and to honor his memory my father named me after him when I was born later that year. Two years later my brother was born, and my dad chose a name for him from another of his fallen friends.

A while afterwards another Communist movement started and my father was put under house arrest for two years. After the two years my family was moved to Kandahar when another political faction wanted to use my father as a political symbol. They gave him a job, but no real power.

Yet another revolution happened, and the new group in power sent my dad to study in Russia again. They were afraid to have him in the country because they thought he might try to overthrow them. He studied political science at Lenin University in Moscow. In the first year he was in Russia one of his friends was called back to Afghanistan and killed by the government. My youngest brother was named after that friend. During the year that he was in Russia without us, my father worried that we were in danger, that something like what had happened to his friend would happen to his family. My mother was afraid too, so she kept me at home and taught me herself rather than sending me to school where I could be harmed. In 1985 my father asked us to join him in Russia, where we would be safer. I started school there in Moscow.

In 1990 my family moved back to Afghanistan. Again my dad gained power in a political group, and he became a leader of the air force. He became a
leader of the Defense Ministry. One of the mujahidin (the group that later became the Taliban) wrote to my father asking him to come work with them, to change the government. He refused their offer.

The mujahidin successfully took over the country, and when they did most of the people who had been in power previously ran away from Afghanistan.
Because my dad was from one of the most respected tribes in Afghanistan, he returned to his home city, hoping that fear of his family and tribe would keep others from harming him. Considering his history, he feared that he would be a target, but remained confident that no one would want to defy his family.

I loved to visit my mother’s parents, who lived about 100 km away. When I was 13 I went to stay with my grandparents for a month. After I had only been there for two days someone came to take me back to my parents’ house. I was angry that my vacation was interrupted, and didn’t want to go. When I arrived home I saw a huge crowd gathered around my house. I saw my uncles and thought, “Why are they here?”

My memories from that day are the worst, saddest pictures of my life. I had been brought home to attend the funeral of my entire family. I learned that people had gathered in front of my house at night and killed everyone inside—my father, my mother, and my two little brothers. Worst of all, my parents had desperately wanted to have a daughter, and my mom was pregnant. I wouldn’t talk to anyone. My grief made me crazy. I was sent back to my grandparents’ home, and from that day my grandmother and grandfather became my parents.

Since I was the only one in my family left alive, my uncle was afraid that I was in danger. He took me to Kabul so that I would be safe.

In 1992 the situation in Afghanistan grew even worse, so I went with a younger friend to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. I started studying the martial arts, and as my love for them grew, so did my hatred. I thought that if I grew stronger and more powerful in the martial arts, I could kill whomever I wanted to. The son of one of the previous leaders of Afghanistan started the school I attended in Uzbekistan, hoping to train people who would one day go back and retake power. He encouraged me in my hatred, and told me that one day I would be powerful and could punish the people who had killed my family. I
started counting the days. How much longer until that day when I could finally take power and have my revenge?

After a year the economy in Uzbekistan worsened, so I moved back to Afghanistan. I went to Kabul, and dedicated myself to school, knowing that education would help me gain power. In 1995 I joined the Youth Islamic Group, even though I was not really a Muslim. I was the only one who was brave enough to speak in front of people, so I started being given leadership roles. In my last year of high school I became a vice president of the group. I started reading the Koran and other books about Islam, and daily became more interested in learning about the faith. The former king hoped that the Youth Islamic Group would one day take over the government. The group chose several students to go to university in Egypt, and I was among those selected. They sent me to Pakistan first, and there I was rejected for the university because I am not Pashtu. They saw my past and rejected me. This time in Pakistan was
very difficult for me.

When I went back to Afghanistan the Taliban was gaining strength. I went to Mazar-e-Sharif and registered for law school. The political situation got even worse, so I went to Iran. I sold two of the houses that my family owned to be able to start a shop importing rice from Pakistan. I had a great life in Iran for the five years I lived there. I connected with the previous government of Afghanistan, which had an embassy in Iran. With their help, I opened an office of the Islamic Youth Group.

I read a great deal, studying the lives of strong leaders who threw off their oppressors. I loved reading about Hitler, Nelson Mandela, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Patrice LeMumba. I began to idolize Adolf Hitler. My vision was to become like him, to achieve what he achieved. I learned everything I could about him—I could probably write the definitive book on Hitler, I know so much about him. I think I didn’t even love my father or my best friend as much as I loved Hitler. I wouldn’t smoke, drink alcohol, or have relations with any woman because I wanted to be like him.

When America went into Afghanistan after the attacks of September 11, 2001, all the Afghans living outside the country were filled with hope. I went back to Afghanistan thinking that we would finally have democracy. I thought, “With everything happening now, I can really take power. It’s a great opportunity for Afghanistan!” But soon I saw that there was no real change. Everything just stayed the same; they just substituted one person’s name for another. Everyone who had power before still retained their power. The man who killed my family is the leader of the military in north Afghanistan—he has more power now than ever before. My uncle warned me that my existence was a threat to that man, that he would try to kill me because he knew I would stand against him. So I left again, and went back to Iran for two months.

My family in England encouraged me to come to Europe. They paid a smuggler to take me to Turkey. We walked from Tehran to Istanbul, walking for 9 days over the mountains.

In the room where I was staying with a friend, I found an old and torn-apart book. It was the Gospel of Matthew. I read it not because I was interested in it, but because it was the only thing I could find to read in Farsi and I really missed reading. A few things in the book caught my attention. I read that if
anyone slaps your face, you should turn the other cheek. I also read, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” Muslims are always swearing that they will do something, but then they don’t. The more I read the more I realized that even though Muslims view Jesus as a prophet, the teachings in the Koran are exactly opposite to what he taught.

After staying in Turkey for a month and a half, I paid a smuggler about $2,500 to take me to Greece. When I arrived in Athens I only had one phone number, and the person I called took me to the Afghan Hotel (an apartment filled with Afghan refugees). I was just planning to stay for as long as it took for my family to find someone to smuggle me to Belgium and then on to Germany. While I was waiting I talked to an Iranian man named Hamid, who also lived in the hotel. I asked him if he would take me to a church. He said, “I will show you, but I will never, never enter that place.” I came to Helping Hands in the afternoon, and the only person there was Mohammed. From the way that he greeted me and talked with me, I felt like he had known me for ages. He was so friendly, and it was really touching. After I had come to Helping Hands several times Mohammed gave me a Farsi New Testament and Josh McDowell’s More Than a Carpenter.

I knew a lot about Islam and the Koran from studying so much and from leading the Islamic group. I knew that Islam is about killing and hatred. Many times in Afghanistan I saw people killed and mutilated in the name of God. When I saw the difference between the two religions, I accepted Christ. I had missed my family for a long time, and when I was around Christians I felt that I was part of a family again. The Christians I met were so open and loving that I felt like I belonged, and I needed that.

My family sent a smuggler to take me to Germany, but I didn’t want to go with him. I knew my family wouldn’t be happy that I became a Christian. I knew they would try to change me. I decided to stay in Athens so that I could study more about the Bible. As my heart grew stronger in faith I realized that I had never felt so good, and that I needed to learn more about God. I thought, “I have this great gift of peace, and I need to share this peace with others. If all the Afghan people felt like I feel now, there will be no more war. All the fighting will end.” That was when I decided I would stay and study more and grow stronger, and then return to Afghanistan instead of going on to another country.

There have been many big changes in my life since I invited Jesus into my life, and am free from the bondage of sin. Also, I feel like I am not alone any more, and I don’t long for my family like I used to. I used to do whatever I wanted to do, but now I know that there is a person that I can trust holding my hand, and he will help me walk in the places that he wants me to go. I have also forgiven the people who killed my family. I hold nothing against them now.

I feel a lot of responsibility toward my people in Afghanistan, and I want to give them the things that I have found. My country has been at war for 25 years. Thousands and thousands of people have been born into war and have grown up in war, and that’s all they know in life. The only thing they know is hatred. I was one of those people, but now I have found love. I believe that for Afghanistan there can only be one solution, only one doctor that can help the country—and that is Jesus Christ. No one else could take away the hatred that fills the country.

My vision is to gather a group of believers unified by the same goal and return to Afghanistan together. We can spread out to different cities, reaching more places for Christ in the country at the same time. I plan to build a church and an orphanage on the family property that I still have in Afghanistan. I want to give all my life, until the last moment that I am here, for God.

If my story has touched you, please pray for Afghanistan. Pray also that God will continue to grow my heart, that the things He has planted there will grow deeper and deeper, stronger and stronger.

Nader

Nader was born in a small city in Iran. In the mornings Nader would study to be an auto mechanic, and in the evenings he attended high school. During his military service, he worked in forgeries making false documents, but he also got into trouble for forging some papers for some friends and he had to leave the country. From Turkey he phoned his father who told him not to come back because a five-year jail sentence was waiting for him.

In Turkey, Nader continued to forge documents and also started using drugs. One night, he was using heroin when the police raided the hotel where he was staying with other Iranians. Nader was arrested, and after 8 days in jail prayed, “God, if I get out, I won’t use drugs and I won’t spend time with the Iranians who are bad influences on me.” The next day Nader was released.

Nader kept his promise. His time in prison had detoxified his body from the heroin and when he was released he could not find his friends. He worked at a job for 19 months cleaning machinery by hand because the owner couldn’t afford cleaning chemicals. But the temptation to start forging again could not be resisted. Nader made a passport for Germany.

Before he had a chance to use the passport he met an Iranian named Abraham who wearing a cross necklace. Nader asked the man if he was a Christian. He answered “yes” and told Nader that he was attending an Iranian church in Istanbul. When Nader asked him how he had changed his religion, he answered, “I don’t know how. God changed me.” He encouraged Nader to read the Bible and to bring his questions to the pastor of the Iranian church. Nader had a two-pack-a-day smoking habit so he stayed up late the night before going to church, smoking and reading the New Testament, but he was not able to understand it. In the morning, he got up early to go to church, but as he looked in the mirror while shaving he thought in his heart that God is holy and so he should take a shower to cleanse himself. And suddenly the Bible made sense to him, and he believed it!

When Nader walked into church that morning, a believer named John approached him and asked if he was a Christian. “Yes”, answered Nader. Had he been baptized? “Yes!” answered Nader again, thinking of his morning shower after understanding the meaning of the Bible. “I was baptized in the house today.” John looked
at him strangely, but he and the pastor prayed for Nader. They told him that he really ought to be baptized “again”. Two months later he quit smoking, but was still not baptized.

Nader wanted to use his false passport to leave for Germany, but the pastor told him, “God told us He wants you to go to Greece…go, pray, ask God.”

Initially resistant to the idea, Nader eventually agreed to go to Greece with Abraham. Arriving with nothing, they slept in the park and began attending an international fellowship. He met Ella there (a Filipina to whom he is now married) and she introduced him to HELPING HANDS volunteer Joel Scarborough.

Since then, Nader has grown stronger in his faith and has been a faithful servant in the various programs here. He has been a house leader in our Nest ministry, he shares the Gospel with all who will listen, trains new believers in discipleship and evangelism, and is currently the primary leader of, the Persian Christian Fellowship in Athens. Through his character, behavior, and use of his spiritual gifts we are seeing the kingdom of God advanced in him, and through him, for the glory of the Lord.

Yasmin

Yasmin shivered in her cell as she reviewed her desperate circumstances. Her husband Rezar was confined in another part of the Greek prison. What was he thinking right now, she wondered. Did he regret fleeing persecution? Was he remembering the time he’d spent in an Iranian jail for playing in a band at a Christian gathering? Though a Muslim, he was still beaten for the offence.

Yasmin, a teacher of the Islamic catechism for women and children, had also run afoul of the government. She had gotten into trouble for wearing the wrong colour of clothing and for allegedly teaching little girls to remove their head coverings, though in reality she was only checking them for lice.

The couple finally decided to escape to the West. On their way through Turkey Yasmin had a dream about Jesus, where she saw herself walking behind Him as His servant. Several months later, the couple arrived in Athens, and that’s when their hopes began to unravel. First they lost all their money, and then the police arrested them.

“Greece is a Christian country,” Yasmin reasoned in her cell. “Perhaps I should pray to Jesus because He will have power here.”

Later that night, Yasmin’s cellmate told of a dream she’d had in which four great shining angels surrounded Yasmin as she was praying. The angels prayed for Yasmin and Rezar and then the dream ended. Twelve days later Yasmin and Rezar were released from jail together.

After their release, the couple went to the only friend they had in Athens, who just happened to have a Bible in Farsi as well as the address of the Athens Refugee Center. Yasmin couldn’t stop reading the Bible, and even read parts of it aloud to Rezar. It seemed so wonderful! At the A.R.C. she met others who also believed in Jesus.

One night Rezar had a dream where the Lord came, placed His hand on Rezar’s head and said, “Follow me.” That was all the man needed. He woke Yasmin, told her of the dream and decided that he too must become a Christian.

On a sunny Athens beach not long afterwards, a crowd of refugees, believers and curious sunbathers listened as Rezar passionately sang his confession of faith in his native Farsi. Then he and Yasmin were baptized as the multitude looked on.

Since that moment, Yasmin and Rezar have continued to grow in faith and are finishing their second term at the International School of Ministry. During this time they have suffered through two miscarriages, haven’t had a permanent place to live, nor been able to find work. Despite the problems, when asked how she felt about being in Athens, Yasmin’s face lit-up. “We have lost everything, but have found Jesus,” she said.

” G” ‘s Testimony

I grew up in an Islamic religious family in Iran. I was doing all of the things I was supposed to do as a Muslim until four years ago, praying five times a day, fasting during Ramadan, weeping and crying on Moharam (“Unclean Month” that commemorates the death of an Islamic leader). But four years ago, when I was still in Iran, I heard a little bit about the Bible. I heard that Jesus died one time for my sins and I don’t have to play a game, I can worship God with all of my heart, it doesn’t matter how. Anything from the heart, God accepts.

I was a chef in a 15-story hotel in Tehran for seven years, but while I was getting divorced, I lost my job.

I found a new job working for a mosque, making tea and watching the shoes of the faithful who entered the mosque barefoot. Normally, I caught a bus to go home, but on that day I started walking home instead. I was close to Tehran University, when suddenly a large crowd of people spilled off the campus and into the street. The students had been striking, but the school kicked them out off campus so the police could arrest them. I didn’t know what was going on. The police arrested about 500 students, and I was in the middle of it. They separated us from the women, put us in a prison and kept us in the dark; we didn’t even know which part of Iran we were in. All they gave us to eat was bread.

A policeman came in, laughed at us, and asked, “Which do you prefer, to have your head broken or your fingernails pulled out?” Then one by one, the guards would come and take someone to another room to be beaten and tortured. Some of the people taken into that room never left it alive. Others ended up in the hospital. Others simply disappeared. I prayed in my own language (not Arabic, like Muslims are supposed to do), and I called out to God, asking, “What’s my fault? Why should this happen to me?” On the 20th day of my imprisonment, while I was praying, they called me into that room.

I knew I was going to die. I could hear women screaming from another room. I was interrogated, asked what I had been doing there near the University. They would ask me a question and then hit me. They discovered that I was simply a normal worker, and they knew that I didn’t know anything. I knew that the university had security cameras all around its campus and that there had to be photographic evidence that showed my trip home. But they kept asking to see if they could find anything else out. They were waiting for me to say one word. They tortured me like this for seven hours. The only way I knew it was that long was because the sun shone through a tiny window; at the beginning it has straight up above, noon, but when they finally finished it was completely dark.

The interrogator couldn’t find anything out from me, so he picked up a board. As he swung it toward me, it hit the light bulb that lit the room and then my head. As the light bulb exploded, I blacked out. I didn’t know what happened after he hit me.

They moved me to the hospital. When I finally woke up, I found out which hospital I was in and that I had been out for 15 days. I was not allowed to contact any friends, and no one could visit me. After 20 days in the hospital, I found out a way to contact my parents. They came to visit me and told me that during the month I was gone, they had been searching everywhere. The authorities let my parents come because, by then, they realized that I was not with any group, I had just been passing by. Even though we tried, we couldn’t go to the judge for justice for what had happened to me because the judge is part of the government. Nothing became of it. We paid a lawyer a lot of money, but he couldn’t do anything. The only thing the lawyer did was get my name off the list of members of the particular party in trouble so that I could get a passport. To this day, I still don’t know what the students were striking about. Through all of this, I still loved God, even though He let this happen.

Nine months later, I left for Turkey. I didn’t have any money left after paying the lawyer, and I wanted to find a better job with better pay, so I left Iran. I have a 9-year-old son. I left him with my parents. When I moved to Turkey, I saw a lot of bad places, and I prayed, “God help me and protect me. Don’t bring me there.” And from that time, God kept me pure. Whenever I asked him to do something for me, he would do it.

When I moved to Turkey, I met a person whose name was Amir. Amir invited me to go to church with him. I had heard something about Christianity in Iran, so I was curious to see the inside of a church. One Sunday, we went to the church. When I went into the church, I saw that they were singing and dancing while they were worshiping. I had to take a step back and say to myself, “Oh, God will curse me,” because I wanted to worship with song. (In Islam, music is considered worldly, never to be used in connection with God.) But I loved that kind of worship, and something didn’t let me leave.

When I came back from the church, to my home, my roommates found out that I had been inside the church. Before that, I had been cooking for the 15 people living together with me in one house. I was a cook. After they found out I was in a church, I still cooked for them, but they wouldn’t let me sit and eat with them. They would just call for me to clean up afterward. All of my roommates were strict Muslims. I continued to cook for them for seven months but never ate with them after that first visit to the church.

I was tired of their behavior, so I decided to leave Turkey and come to Greece. I had been in Turkey for almost 3 years. I arrived in Greece on June 21, 2001. It was on my second day in Greece that I met a boy whose name is Pejman. He brought me to Helping Hands where I met Brother Nader. Nader showed me the baptism class because I was interested in getting baptized, so I attended the class. The teacher was a man named Joel. I was in the class for two months, and then one day I woke up and felt I had received something in my spirit. So I decided to get baptized. From that day Helping Hands has helped me a lot to grow. I thank Brother Scott, Brother Nader, and Brother Themis.

My hope is to bring my son to join me and live under the power of God, no matter where, except in Iran. I want to be a servant. The only thing I can do is cook, so I want to cook for God. In Greece, America, anywhere, it doesn’t matter.

If one person in America reads this, maybe they can help me and my son. Thank you.

“G” still has a hole in his skull from being beaten in the head; he suffers from intense, periodic headaches. Despite this, “G” regularly volunteers for Helping Hands and cooks a meal for the Persian Christian Fellowship every Sunday at the Athens Refugee Center.

A New Life

When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a new person inside.
He is not the same any more. A new life has begun!
– II Corinthians 5:17As a young man in Afghanistan, I knew something about Jesus. Like other Muslims, I thought He was a special prophet and an amazing person. I respected Him and even believed that He rose from the dead, but I didn’t believe that He was God.Gradually, my interest in Jesus grew and my ideas changed. This began when I had a dream about Jesus. I’d been thinking about my future, and told my parents that I wanted to change my religion and leave Afghanistan. You can imagine how they responded! They said the same thing that your parents would have said: They told me I was crazy. I had been a very religious Muslim so they couldn’t understand my change of heart; but they loved me and didn’t forbid my pursuits.

Then I had a second dream: I dreamt that I left Afghanistan, converted to Christianity, and was being baptized in the sea. This dream was really outrageous since I had little hope of escaping Afghanistan and no reason to change religions. But that dream never left me and it kept my interest in Jesus alive.

When I was 17 years old, I rejected Islam and began searching for another religion. Some of my friends who knew of my search called me an atheist.

But Afghanistan is not the place for religious experimentation. I knew that if I wanted to learn more about Jesus, I would need to leave my country. To prepare me for the journey, my sister’s husband suggested that I learn English. My parents, who had never learned to read their own language, cheered me on. If my dream of leaving Afghanistan became real, I wanted to be ready.

As I studied, something wonderful happened: I met an American family of Christians in Afghanistan. They welcomed me like a son and soon I could see that their lives were different. They were honest, gracious, and full of hope. I was attracted to their optimism and wondered how I could find the same joy. In those days, as I dreamt about the future and tried to find the truth, I felt as if there might be a door through which I could walk to begin a new life. I didn’t know how to find that door, but I felt that these Christians were closer to it than anyone I’d ever met before.

I loved that family and wanted to become like them. I though that I could do this by going to America. I asked the mother how I might accomplish this. It isn’t easy, she said. Go step by step. If God wants you to go to America, He’ll lead you there.

Step by step, my journey began. From Afghanistan, I went to Pakistan, and then on to Iran. There, my curiosity about Jesus grew. How could I find out more about this forbidden faith? I found my answer in an unlikely place: on the street. As I wandered in the markets, I saw a vendor selling Bibles. I bought one and marveled that I hadn’t been caught, since buying Bibles is illegal for Muslims in Iran.

I began to devour that Bible, reading first the Old and then the New Testaments. Much of what I read mystified me but I continued my search. I tried to attend a Christian church in Iran, but the Christians feared that I was a Muslim and wouldn’t let me enter the building. I waited outside, tried to listen to the message, and then went on my way.

As I traveled west, other significant events helped me to understand more about Jesus. In Iran, I saw a movie that claimed that He was the Son of God, and that He died on the cross to pay the price for the sins of the world. When I arrived in Turkey, I went to Catholic and Orthodox churches and learned a bit more.

When I arrived in Athens, my search took on a new urgency. I slept in Alexandreas Park for two months and was relieved when someone there told me about Helping Hands in Omonia. At Helping Hands, I ate soup and met other guys my age who were traveling west. I went to the English and Bible lessons, and I liked the friendly Christians who ran the center.

I especially liked the Bible teacher. I learned many good things about Jesus and got a clearer understanding of the Bible by attending his classes. The teacher told us often that Jesus could give a person a new life. He read from the Injil: When someone becomes a Christian he becomes a new person inside. He is not the same any more. while going to America might give me a better life, knowing Jesus would give me the best life.

That wasn’t the answer I wanted to hear, so I took matters into my own hands. I joined a group of men who planned to go to Italy. As we waited for the ferry boat in Patra, a woman approached me and handed me a book about Jesus. I was stunned. There are hundreds of people here in the crowd, I thought to myself. Why did she give this book to me?

Meanwhile, passengers were boarding the ferry boat and my friends urged me to follow them. But I realized that I didn’t want to follow them, and felt an urge to return to Athens. I was sure that an important encounter awaited me there, and so I returned alone as my friends sailed west.

When I got back to Omonia, I marched into Helping Hands. I told the Bible teacher about the woman in Patra and said that I wanted to become a Christian. The Bible teacher listened patiently and then asked me why I wanted to change my religion. Do you want to become a Christian to go to America, or to know Jesus? he asked.

That was a hard question, and I didn’t know the answer. I realized that my motives were mixed. I asked God to show me which religion I should choose. Oh God, I prayed, Show me the way! Soon I had a third dream: I dreamt of the cross of Christ, and I heard Jesus say, I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father, but through me. (John 14:6).

Shortly after that, the Bible teacher asked me to translate some of the Koran into English. As I read the passage describing Jesus’ birth, I compared the Koran’s account with the Injil’s, and was convinced that Jesus wasn’t only a prophet, but the Son of God who came to earth to die for my sins and to give me a new life.

That moment of belief was the important encounter that awaited me in Athens — the most important encounter of my life. Soon I was baptized in the sea, thus fulfilling my boyhood dream.

What have I gained from following Jesus? First, joy. I’m very happy because I know that Jesus has saved me from the sins that should have condemned me. I’m also happy because through Jesus, I can know God, and can talk to Him like a son. God also encourages me during the hard times when the realities of the world bring me pain. Last year, for example, I had a bad accident in Athens and I was tempted to doubt God. But I learned that suffering builds my faith.

Trusting Jesus as my Savior has also helped my attitude. Before I was a Christian, I was a good, hard worker who minded the law. But I was also very proud and I judged other people harshly. Now I am humbled that Jesus took the punishment for my sins and that I am only saved by His grace. God has given me love for my enemies, patience, and the peace that my life is safe in His hands.

One of my favorite stories in the Injil is the story of Jesus and the demoniac who lived among the tombs. The man, tormented by demons and darkness, was hopeless. But Jesus healed him and gave him a new life. Before he left the man, Jesus said to him, Return to your house and describe what great things God has done for you. The man went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him (Luke 8:38, 39).

I feel like that man! Jesus has given me a new life, and He can give you a new life, too.

As you read this, I am somewhere in Italy, or perhaps I am even further in my journey. I don’t know if I’ll ever see America, but that isn’t important to me now. I have found the Door to a new life, and His name is Jesus.

from slave to son

“Therefore, you are no longer a slave, but a son …”
– Galatians 4:7Before I trusted Jesus as my Savior, I didn’t know God. I grew up under fanatical Islamic and knew that He existed; but I saw Him dimly, hidden behind dark veils of mystery and wrath.God both inspired and frightened me. I had been taught that He was just and that on the Day of Reckoning my life would be judged. On that day, I’d been warned, a book containing my deeds would be opened. The Koran affirmed this: “Every man’s actions have we hung around his neck, and on the last day shall be laid out before him a wide-open book.” (Sura 17:13) Since childhood, I’d imagined invisible scribes recording my every action into that book. I dreaded the day on which it would be opened.

I was afraid of the future and frustrated by the present. I had been taught to work for my salvation, but I had also been taught that I might not be saved. Likewise, though God was merciful and sometimes forgave my sins, one couldn’t be too presumptuous. My fate and my forgiveness depended upon His will. “Allah sendeth whom He will astray, and guideth whom He will”, says the Koran (Sura 14:4, 16:93, 74:31). I felt like a slave to a faraway Master. Indeed, slavery is the ideal of Islam according to the Koran: “There is none in the heavens and the earth but cometh unto the Beneficent as a slave.” (Sura 19:93)

Like a slave, I followed my Master out of fear, but I never knew if my efforts would change my destiny. All of life’s events — whether big or small, good or bad — were attributed to God’s will. Thus, I reasoned, obeying the Islamic laws seemed unimportant if my every move had already been ordained. I grew fatalistic and further alienated from God.

But Islam was all I had ever known, and so it was the road on which I traveled for more than 30 years.
Then, my route changed. First it changed geographically, when I came to Athens; and then it changed altogether when I learned about the God of the Bible.

My first lesson came in Omonia, at Helping Hands. There, I listened to a video about Jesus, attended Bible classes and was introduced to an entirely different God than the God I’d known before.

I learned that some similarities exist between the God of the Koran and the God of Christianity. For example, both Islam and Christianity teach that God is the only God, and that He alone is powerful, wise and just. And, like the God of the Koran, the God of the Bible desires that men serve and obey only Him.

But the similarities end there. The Bible teacher said that while God demands that my sins be punished, He sent His holy Son, Jesus Christ, to take my punishment. I read the Injil, with its wonderful and almost unbelievable news of Jesus’ salvation. “But God demonstrates His love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Jesus Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we will be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” (Romans 5:8,9)

Saved from the God’s wrath? The wrath that I’d feared all of my life? It was too good to be true, and amazing in its implications. For if Jesus died for my sins, then I was a sinner who needed salvation. If Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave, then He was the holy Son of God, because only God could rise from the dead. And — best of all — if Jesus saved me, then I did not have to try to save myself. As the Scriptures say: “For it is by grace that you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, and not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8,9)

I saw the Jesus film many times. I was amazed at His miracles and moved to see Him suffer the most disgraceful punishment on the cross for me. Here was the holy Son of God, without sin yet dying to pay for my sins. Before becoming a Christian, I believed in Jesus as a prophet. But once I began to listen to the teachers, read the Bible, and ask God for understanding, the truth became clear: Jesus is the only Savior.

I also learned that God doesn’t want slaves — He wants sons. Slaves are driven by fear and their lives depend on the whim of their master. The best that a slave can hope for is survival. So it was with my relationship to God before I learned more about Him in the Bible.

I learned that God loves like a Father. He loved us so much that He sent Jesus. When a man believes in Jesus as his Savior, he has access to God as his Father and he is called a “son of God.” (Ephesians 1:5). I learned that God thinks about me constantly, as a father thinks about his son. (Psalm 139:17,18) The Bible says, “I will be a father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:18) God grieves when his children grieve and rejoices when they rejoice. When His children sin, God doesn’t condemn them; He is compassionate and gracious, and He always forgives them, when they ask (I John 1:9, Psalm 103:8, Psalm 103:10-13).

As God’s son, I can tell Him all of my problems and concerns. He listens and cares. He knows me and has engraved my name upon his hand (Isaiah 49:16). He even knows how many hairs are on my head! (Luke 12:7) “Cast all your anxieties on him,’ says the Injil, “Because He cares for you.” (I Peter 5:7). As a son asks his father for necessities and even blessings, I can ask my Father God to supply my needs. “How much more will your Father who is in Heaven give good things to those who ask Him.” (Matt. 7:11)

I learned about the Holy Trinity, too – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit — how each is holy and how they work together in a Christian’s life. I learned that when a man believes in Jesus as his Savior, God’s Holy Spirit comes into his life, giving him faith, hope, love, joy and peace. I also learned that if a man believes in Jesus as his Savior, he will live in Heaven with Him forever. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him will not die, but will have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Soon, I believed in Jesus and asked him to save me. Since then, God has given me a new life. Knowing that God loves me, that Jesus saved me from my sins, and that God’s Holy Spirit lives within me has replaced my old fear and pessimism with peace and optimism. He has given me mercy and compassion for people, even for my enemies. I have joy for the present and hope for the future. I am no longer a slave, but a son of the living God.

Now I am not afraid to face the Day of Reckoning. By believing that Jesus saved me, my name is now written in another book: the Book of Life (Mal. 3:16-18, Daniel 12:1). The other book, the one I was so afraid of confronting on the Day of Reckoning, no longer frightens me because my every wrong deed has been pardoned by Jesus. My debt has been paid by His death and resurrection. “Rejoice that your names are recorded in Heaven,” says the Injil. (Luke 10:20).

I rejoice that my name is written there. Your name will appear in one of those books, too. Which book will you choose?

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?

 

Summer 2017