As a young person in the Middle East, Hashem* assumed he was a Muslim. He was born into a Muslim family and was taught about Islam in school. But, he recalls, “I was always angry. I was not joyful. … I tried a lot of things, but they were temporary—lasting for a couple days, weeks or, at most, months.”
After leaving his home country for another Middle Eastern nation as an asylum-seeker, he noticed a friend reading a book for several hours every day. Hashem asked his friend if he could read it as well, and his friend closed the book and handed it to him. Only later would Hashem discover that his friend had given up the only copy of the Bible he had.
Although Hashem initially struggled with all of the unfamiliar names, dates and details, after a month and a half the Lord prompted him to ask his friend to read God’s Word with him. Together, they began working through the Gospel of John.
“During that reading, I found a totally different God than the one Islam introduced to me,” shares Hashem. “In Islam God is angry—always angry at you because you are a sinner. You are a failure, and you make mistakes all the time. God is waiting to give you punishment because of small things you do wrong. But, in the Bible I found a God who is love, a God who you can call ‘Father.’ He’s not far away! You can talk to Him face to face.”
Hashem’s friend helped him find a fellowship of believers planted by a Christar worker, and on Christmas Day 2005, he took a 4½-hour bus ride to attend church for the first time. From his seat in the back corner, Hashem scanned the room and was struck by the joy and happiness he saw in the others attending. But, he argued in his mind, the members of the church were from many nationalities, and he tried to convince himself that the difference he saw in them was merely cultural.
But when a member of the pastoral team, who came from Hashem’s homeland, invited Hashem to participate in Bible classes, he agreed. The church also gave Hashem several workbooks about the Bible, with hundreds of questions and Scripture references where the answers could be found. He began working through them and started to understand the story of redemption found in God’s Word.
On the first Wednesday of 2006, Hashem sat with the Quran on his right side, the Bible on his left and the workbooks in the middle. For the first time in his life, he began to pray directly to God, rather than going through a prophet. He recalls, “I told God, ‘God, as my creator, I love you. I want to know you as God, where you are. If the Quran is yours, the Bible is supposed to be wrong. If the Bible is yours, the Quran is supposed to be wrong. These two books don’t match together.”
He went on to tell God that he struggled to understand the Holy Spirit, whom he couldn’t feel. “If you are here, please show me a sign to help me understand it,” he asked. And then he closed the books and went to bed.
Around 3 a.m. Hashem awoke to a shiny, warm light in his bedroom. Assuming it was from a neighbor, he rose to cover the window. But, the glass was already covered. “I was scared,” he says, “because I remembered what I had prayed for!” He crawled back into bed and began to pray again. “God, if you are here, please show me again. I want to be sure.”
A half an hour Hashem felt the same warmth and light in the bedroom. “I told God, ‘God, now I can feel your presence here. I don’t want to open my eyes because I want to stay in this moment! Please come and please change my life as you want. Now I can understand your Spirit in my heart.’”
Hashem recalls this moment with praise in his heart. “God started changing my life, and He’s faithful. What He’s doing still is changing me.”
As a refugee, Hashem saw the Lord transform his own life and the lives of many others. In partnership with Christar workers, he began a refugee church in his apartment, starting with just five people. These workers discipled him in his newfound faith and helped him attend Bible school. He grew from being a new believer to a leader in this fellowship.
After nine years as a refugee, Hashem was able to resettle in Canada. There, at a fellowship of Persian believers, he met his wife, Ava, a woman he calls “the fruit of prayer and gift from God.” She and Hashem share a heart for ministry and a call to serve in the Middle East.
By the end of 2018, they hope to begin ministry together in the church in the Middle East in which Hashem served as a leader—a church that has grown to a thriving fellowship with 120 to 150 people worshiping together each week. Hashem looks forward to being involved in ministry at this fellowship once again, perhaps by preaching and leading Bible studies, and Ava anticipates ministering to women and children.
“When I share my testimony and I take a look in my past, I’m encouraged because I see how God worked in my life and how God still works in my life!” Hashem exclaims. “It pushes me, ‘Go, Hashem, go and walk more with God.’ I’m so excited to go back to the Middle East.”
Hashem and his wife now face the challenge of raising support in a country where they have few connections with churches, but they’re confident the Lord will make a way for them to minister in the Middle East. Hashem declares, “We believe God opened a door for us, and He will provide everything for us.”
How can I get involved?
- Praise God for bringing refugees to faith in Him and for calling them to serve in places where few have heard the gospel.
- Pray for wisdom for Hashem and Ava as they share their ministry with churches and build a support team.
- Ask God to call churches and individuals to support their ministry through prayer and giving.
Your gift to the Persian Outreach Project will help Christar workers and Persian believers plant churches among Persian immigrants and refugees.