By Mark Ellis
He grew up in a Muslim family that was less than rigorous about their faith. When the still small voice of the Lord began to call him he resisted, but ultimately, he could not challenge the beautiful truths he found in Jesus.
“[My family] were Muslims, but never very strict,” Mehdi* told World Watch Monitor. “My parents were both teachers and my father had some small businesses aside from that. My father was always busy finding ways to earn more and more money. He always followed Islam, except when it had to do with money; money was more important than religion,” he says.
Like his father, Mehdi also loved money because he thought it would give him friends, respect and satisfaction. He tried to be a good Muslim, but found it difficult.
“Sometimes I would try to say my prayers regularly, but I soon forgot about them or skipped them to sleep in, or have fun with friends,” he notes. “As a Muslim, I often had the feeling that I was failing on so many sides.”
One day he had an unsettling thought: I’m lacking in so many ways. I will not go to heaven anyway. What is the point?
Then one day the still small voice of the Lord called him: Go and find out about Christianity.
Mehdi was startled by this strange thought. Why would he find out about Christianity? He didn’t know any Christians. He heard Christianity was outmoded and Christians were odd people. On top of that, in Iran it was dangerous to be a Christian. Why would he choose the possibility of prison or death when he had a good life?
The unusual thoughts continued, urging him to find out more about Christianity. One day, out of curiosity, he took a bus to a church in a different part of the city.
When he finally reached the church, he asked the pastor if he could inquire about Christianity.
“No,” the man replied firmly.
Mehdi left the church and rode home on the bus, thinking he confirmed that Christians are strange people. Later he discovered the government had forbidden church members to answer Muslims’ questions about faith.
He tried to visit other churches, but got the same response. He was ready to give up when the Lord spoke to him once more: Go and find out about Christianity and learn how these people think about God.
Mehdi wondered if he had too much alcohol to drink that evening. He tossed and turned that night, unable to sleep, conflicted by his seemingly futile search.
Then he remembered a friend who worked for a security force investigating illegal ‘underground’ activities, including ‘underground’ Christianity and illegal evangelism.
Mehdi thought this might be his last chance, but he would also be taking a huge risk. “I knew that my friend could get into a lot of trouble by helping me to contact with someone who could tell me more about Christianity, so I decided to bring up the issue playfully so he wouldn’t notice I was actually being serious,” he told World Watch Monitor.
Amazingly, the risky gambit paid off. His friend gave him the address of a church that he knew was open to Muslims.
With anticipation building in his heart, the following Sunday he went to the address his friend gave him. When he got close, he could hear a worship service going on. Feeling uneasy, he decided to wait outside until someone came out.
Finally the service ended and a man came out. “Can I ask you a question?” Mehdi implored.
The man looked down at his watch and said, “Sorry, I am in a hurry now, but please come back next week and ask for me.”
The following week, Mehdi stood by the door of the church again. He looked for the same man, but didn’t see him and started to feel uncomfortable.
Then someone else came up and asked: “Can I help you?”
“I’m looking for a man who told me to come back…”
“Unfortunately, he’s not here right now,” the man replied. Mehdi started to walk away. He was surprised when the man said, “Do you want to come in and enjoy the service?”
Mehdi knew this would be something you just don’t do as a Muslim in Iran. His first thought was: ‘No, no, no!’ But at the same time he knew this was the moment he had been waiting for.
He took a deep breath and said, “Yes.”
The man opened the door and Mehdi walked inside. “The feeling I had when I entered the church was something I’ve never felt before,” he told World Watch Monitor.
“It felt so peaceful,” he recalls. He sat down in a pew, feeling overwhelmed with emotion.
After the service a man came up to him and asked, “You’re here for the first time, right?’
“Yes,” Mehdi replied. Can I ask you some questions about God?”
“Not here,” he said hesitantly, “but please come to my home.”
Mehdi went to the man’s home and peppered him with questions. The answers seemed strange, but in “a good way.”
The man talked about heaven as a place in God’s absolute presence, a place in which your spirit is totally at peace with your Creator.
“In Islam heaven is a place where you can have all sorts of things you can’t have on earth – different sorts of women for your satisfaction, wine, etc. I hadn’t heard about the Christian idea of heaven before, but somehow his words about heaven made complete sense to me,” Mehdi observed.
“[He] also told me that God isn’t a far-away person but someone who created the earth and put us as humans in the center. He made us in his image. He even gave us a piece of his very own Spirit.
Mehdi compared this Christian God to Allah, who seemed far away and got angry about little things. “With the Christian God I was welcome the way I was. He created me with my weaknesses; he even used my weaknesses to be more like Him. This was a big difference from Allah, who would punish me for any small thing.
It seemed amazing to him that this God was like a loving Father, someone who knew him as a person.
“Still, my Muslim background was too strong to just let go. It took a lot of struggling. I told God: ‘If you really care, please show me the way.’
As Mehdi wrestled in his heart about his faith, one of his friends became alarmed by his sudden interest in Christianity and sent him to a religious leader specially trained to help Christian converts from a Muslim background return to Islam.
But everything the religious leader told him about Islam, Mehdi found an alternative in the Bible that seemed much better.
“It wasn’t a specific moment, a lightning flash or a dream. It happened gradually that I became a Christian. It was like the curtains that had been hanging in front of the truth for a long time had been opened for me. What I saw was beautiful,” he confesses.
“I didn’t tell my family: ‘Surprise! I am a Christian now!’ They discovered gradually. I had always been a bad boy and I started behaving differently. For instance, I brought the JESUS Film home and watched it with my little brother. They’d expected me to go on drugs, or get in trouble with the police. They didn’t expect me to become a Christian.”
His parents weren’t happy about his new faith, but they didn’t give him a lot of trouble. After being discipled, Mehdi eventually chose to leave Iran. “If the authorities would have found me, it would have led to those who discipled me, and they would have been in big trouble,” he says.
“I was 18 when I left home. Now I am 27. I haven’t been back in Iran since. I haven’t seen my family in 10 years. It’s a big sacrifice. But despite everything, I am undoubtedly happy and thankful.”
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