My Story: A Jew from Iran Finds Shalom
In the quiet of the night, with no one but my Creator to hear, I said, “God, if, this is not the truth about you, don’t be angry with me. Change my heart and show me if I am wrong; be my protector.” It was a cold, cold night yet I felt a tremendous warmth, as if something hot had been poured over me. It was not painful. It was comforting, reassuring. I took it as a sign from God that I had not been mistaken to believe that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel.
I was born in Tehran, Iran. I am twenty-nine years old, the second to youngest of five brothers and sisters.
My family was not especially religious, but we celebrated the major holidays. I always believed in the God of the Bible. My mother often spoke to me about him when I was little and told me stories from the Torah. She told me about Moses and Exodus, probably more than she did with any of my brothers and sisters. There is nine years difference between my older sisters and me, so she had more time with me (at least until my little brother came along). The older ones were busy with their own interests; I was the little one and lucky to have a little more of her time.
As far as I knew, I was the only Jewish girl in my school. It was a public school, predominantly Muslim. Non-Muslim students had a choice of whether or not to sit in religious classes. I usually didn’t. I had pride in being Jewish and so I had no desire to learn about any other religion.
My father had always told us, “This is not our homeland; this is not where we belong.” As Jews we were outsiders, and the idea of someday leaving Iran was always in my father’s heart. And so, in 1977 – just two years before the revolution – we left Tehran, and moved to the United States.
At 15 I didn’t want to leave friends and the familiarity of home. People who left to go to the U.S. were considered snobs. We kept our leaving a big secret and left abruptly; I didn’t get a chance to say good-bye to anybody.
I didn’t know any English, none whatsoever, so the first six months at my new school were next to impossible. I also felt the enormous difference in culture. For a while it seemed as though I would never be happy again, would never fit in. But slowly I began to adjust, becoming more outgoing and friendly than I had ever been in Iran. To my surprise, once I began learning the language, life was easier here than it had been in Iran.
After high school, I attended junior college, still struggling with the language as well as with what was being taught. I remember sitting in my science classes, feeling overwhelmed. I asked God, “What does all this mean? Where do I fit in, and what am I to believe about the universe and about you?” The answers came from an unexpected source.
I had an English tutor names Peggy, whom I admired. She roamed the campus, playing her guitar and singing. She didn’t wear shoes, her clothes were different from everyone else’s, and she lived in a commune. She was a very free person, and I liked that very much.
Peggy taught through conversation and the topic she most frequently talked about was Jesus.
Peggy actually was from a Jewish background, though her parents were not religious. After becoming a believer in Jesus, Peggy had begun studying the Bible, seeking her Jewish roots. Her being Jewish helped me to hear about Jesus in a way that was not so foreign.
Peggy attended a messianic congregation, Ahavat Zion, and when she invited me to come with her, I accepted. I found everybody there to be friendly and kind; they were people I wanted to know.
Soon after, the congregation was having a retreat at Big Bear Lake in the mountains, and I was invited. I really wanted to get out and see the world. But sadly, I thought I would never be allowed to go. We were not even allowed to stay out late, much less spend the night away from home. So I was shocked that my father gave me his permission.
Each night we would sit around on the floor and on couches, and after some singing, somebody would get up and teach. One night, the person teaching began talking about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
My mother had always taught me that there is one God, one Creator, and that teaching has remained with me. It seemed to me that they were talking about three gods and I was offended! I began arguing with the speaker, who stopped and agreed with me that there is only one God. He explained that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not three different sources of power in the universe, or three different gods to be worshipped, but that one true God in his infinite “otherness” exists in all three ways.
Suddenly there was no argument to be won or lost. I had a peace within me, a big peace in me that seemed to crowd out all anxiety and doubt. I didn’t know where this peace came from or why, but it had to do with what this man was telling me about God.
When he asked if I wanted Jesus in my life, it made sense to me and I prayed to God receiving Jesus as my atonement, my covering, and my Messiah. Tears of relief rippled over a deeper calm in my soul than I had ever known.
Later I began to wonder if I could have made a mistake. I kept asking my roommate, Peggy, “What did I do? What in the world did I do? Is this right or not?” Peggy did not try to convince me or anything. She simply said, “Go pray. Talk to God and ask him.”
In the quiet of the night, with no one but my Creator to hear, I said, “God, if this is not the truth about you, don’t be angry with me. Change my heart and show me if I am wrong; be my protector.” It was a cold, cold night yet I felt a tremendous warmth, as if something hot had been poured over me.
It was not painful. it was a comforting, reassuring. I took it as a sign from God that I had not been mistaken to believe that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel.
Within a month I felt that God had answered my prayer to show me if I had chosen the wrong path. We read from the siddur every week at Shabbat services, and as we read from the eleventh chapter of Deuteronomy, I was struck with these words:
So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today – to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul – then I will send rain on your land in its season…. Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. Then the LORD’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain… and you will soon perish from the good land the LORD is giving you. (vv 13–17)
That passage comforted me. I knew my heart was not drying up. I felt I was being “watered” though I had not yet read Jesus’ promise: “…but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).
As an eighteen-year-old, perhaps I was drawn to Yeshua by the fellowship and kindness of other believers. I didn’t know enough about the Bible or theology to know if my decision had been sound. I knew enough to ask God to show me if it wasn’t true. I knew if it was a lie I would have withered away, and my faith would have fallen by the wayside. It didn’t. Instead, God continued to refresh my spirit as I learned more about him, more about the Messiah. I was suddenly much happier, not self-absorbed and depressed like before.
I have been a believer for ten years now. And it is no longer a matter of finding fellowship or acceptance. It is truth. It is the word of God. With each year I grow to love God more, to sense more deeply his reality in my life and the truth of his promises that are found in the Bible.
When I was a child, my father said we would someday leave Iran because we were Jews and as such, we were outsiders, often unwelcome and unwanted. In the United States, I suppose we were more welcome but coming to a country where we did not know the language did not exactly help us to “belong.” Yet sometimes it is good to be an outsider – it keeps you longing for that special place where you really do belong. I not only found that place, a peaceful place amidst all the craziness of this world, but I found the One to whom I belong.
I hope you will find the peace of belonging to that One, as I did, through Yeshua, the Messiah.