"It has been a very long and difficult eight years in Turkey as a refugee. Most of the day I am depressed, thinking about all of my friends back in Iran. I miss them so much! I cannot see them or visit them at school. The memories of my childhood have nearly faded away in the chaos of my life! My teenage years have all but been forgotten! I miss the birthday parties with all of my dear friends. I miss not having my own room, where I can relax and be alone. Instead of remembering the few happy times that I had growing up, all I think about every second of every day is, "How will I pay the rent and my bills? There are no jobs for me here. It is like living hell on earth in isolation because of the virus.
Living in isolation gives me hours to think and ponder about my life. I want to share with you how this all began.......
I remember being miserable as an eight year-old child in school. I was forced to read the Quran and pray. I hated wearing the black manteau! It was like a coat that you had to wear which included the scarf or hijab that covered your hair. I hated this clothing! One day I got so furious that I tore off this silly clothing and left school. My teacher chased after me shouting, "Don't do that! You are behaving like a sinner!"
Life at home was not any easier for me. My mother, Parisa was miserable. She had no peace. She felt lost inside. Her parents had pressured her into reading the Quran and she felt no joy in doing this. My mom had the difficult task of being a single parent after divorcing my father. We were both searching for meaning and purpose in our lives.
One day our neighbor Roya visited us. She could see the misery and despair in my mother's eyes. Roya was a Christian but because of fearing the government, she was careful not to intrude too much into our lives. She knew we were Muslims. However that memorable day, she decided to reach out to us. Roya recommended that we watch Mohabat TV. Mohabat TV was a Christian channel beamed into Iran on the satellite. It featured programs about the Bible and Jesus. She also gave my mom a Persian New Testament and asked to her to read it. She agreed.
One night my Mom had an incredible dream. In her dream she was visited by Jesus. He burned a symbol of the cross on her arm and said, "This is going to be painful. Being a Christian will not be easy!"
Parisa woke up frightened. Beads of sweat were rolling down her cheeks. When she gazed at her left arm, she panicked! There was a burn spot on her arm just like in the dream!
She immediately showed her arm to Roya and Roya took a picture of it. She sent it to her pastor. A few days later the Pastor visited our home and prayed for my mom. That was the day that she accepted Christ as her savior and became a Christian.
I immediately recognized the dramatic change in my mother's life. She was no longer angry. As a Muslim she was always angry and never happy, but now she was calm. Her change in behavior was like heaven for me! The Pastor gave me a children's Bible and instructed me to read the story of Jesus. I remember how different Jesus was compared to Mohammed. Jesus was kind and compassionate. As a Muslim, all I ever remembered was anger and violence. I never knew what true love was. One story in the gospels made a big impact on my life. The night before his crucifixion when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Peter becomes angry and cuts off the ear of Malchus, one of the servants of the High Priest. However Jesus rebuked him and instead healed the servant's ear. I was so impressed by the kindness that Jesus showed his enemies! This story touched my heart and changed my life! At the age of eight years old, I asked Jesus into my heart and became a Christian!
After becoming a Christian, one of the first things I wanted to do was to share how Jesus changed my life with my friends at school. However my mother warned me not to do it. For a Muslim to change their religion in Iran is very serious. They can be imprisoned or put to death. . I was so excited about my new found faith and I wanted to tell everyone! As soon as I got home from school, I turned on the Christian music. I played it loud. It filled my heart and mind with so much joy. One of my favorite hobbies is painting. I would make paintings of the cross and decorate the walls of my room with them! For the first time in my life, I was so happy!
However, my happiness ended whenever I entered through the doors of the school. I was so frustrated that I could not share my faith with my friends.I had to pretend that I still liked Islam and wear that stupid hijab! One day I told my teacher that I couldn't take it anymore. I explained to her that I was now reading the Bible. The teacher was astonished and immediately contacted my Mom. She warned her that I must change my behavior or else be expelled from school! My mom took me aside and gently persuaded me to be patient and to obey my teacher. I reluctantly agreed. I was a straight A student at school. I excelled in all of my studies, but the day the teacher found out that I was reading the Bible, she began lowering all of my grades to a C. The living waters of happiness that I had found in Jesus was slowly drying up from the persecution at school.
I will never forget one of the darkest times of my life. When I was 11 years old I was sexually abused.
My Uncle had a friend who was a math teacher. He would often come over to our home. He knew that I was struggling in school. So he offered to help me with math and my mother agreed. He was a Muslim and knew that we were Christians, but seemed not to be offended or disturbed by our faith. Whenever my mom left me alone at home, this Muslim man would instruct me in my studies. However, for a solid year, he did more that tutor me in math!. He began touching me, putting his hands all over my body. I was terrified! I didn't know what to do! He would stare intently into my eyes and warn me, "If you tell your mother, I will report you to the government!"
All I knew how to do was to pray and cry out to Jesus...and Jesus answered my prayer!
We loved meeting with other Christians in our home. We were part of a house church movement meeting secretly for fear of the government. We played our music loud in celebration and raised our voices loudly in prayer at every meeting. One day the police came to our house while we were on vacation. Fortunately we were not there. When we returned home, our pastor told us that we must immediately leave and go to Turkey. We were in danger of being arrested. Instead of going to Turkey, my mom took us to a small town named Miandoab where we hid out from the government for a year and a half. It was then that I realized that Jesus had answered my prayer. He had allowed the police to come to our house so we had to move. When we moved, the sexual abuse ended. It was the last time I would ever see that Muslim man. I was finally safe and protected. The nightmare had ended!
In 2013, we finally moved to Turkey after an undercover agent came to our home looking for my mother. We sold everything that we had and left our homeland. It is so sad to say good bye to the people that you love just to find freedom. We lived for two months in Istanbul with my mother's friend Afsaneh. As refugees, we were prohibited from getting jobs, so my mother secretly opened up a bakery at home and began selling delicious pastries to all of the Iranian tourists. We desperately needed a place to live and one of my mother's friends connected us with an Iranian man. The Iranian man agreed to help us find a place. This was one of the worst mistakes that we ever made. This man became controlling and abusive. He demanded money from us for the rent, groceries and bills. It was like living back in Iran. Then one day, he tried to sexually abuse me. Horrible memories of abuse flooded my mind from when I lived back in Iran. He tried to kiss me but I resisted. He even tried to sexually abuse my mom. We quickly packed up our few belongings and left!
A year after living in Turkey my mother received her first interview with the UNHCR in Ankara. Her interviewer was a Muslim woman. For five or six hours, my mother explained why she became a Christian. She shared with her the incredible dream and how Jesus had changed her life forever. Unfortunately she was rejected. The interviewer didn't believe her story. We found out later that unless we had documents about our baptism that the immigration board would continue to reject us.
Living in Turkey as refugees was extremely difficult. Struggling to provide money for rent and food and waiting forever to be interviewed took a toll on us emotionally. It was during this time that I spent most of the day praying and gazing at the beautiful gold cross that I proudly wore around my neck. I was comforted whenever I gazed upon the cross. However, wearing my cross necklace in public brought much conflict and persecution to me. I was harassed by many young Muslims, but I refused to hide or cover up my necklace. I loved Jesus. I was unashamed to wear it. I told every person that I met that, "This is who I am. I am a Christian. I love Jesus! One day while at the shopping market, the owner saw the cross around my neck and threw me out of his store. He scolded me and said,
"You are a sinner. You need to return to islam. You are going to hell!"
I was never afraid to share my faith In Jesus. I would always look at my cross and proclaim, "Jesus is with me all of the time. I have no fear."
This personal declaration of faith that "Jesus was always with me" proved to be an incredible reality that saved my life!
In 2018, I was finally offered a job in a hotel working as a translator, selling suites to customers. I waited for hours to speak with the manager. It was almost 2 am in the morning. I had no way home and there were no taxis. Finally the manager appeared and offered to drive me home. I sat in the back seat. I remembered feeling very nervous. Something didn't feel right. Something was wrong. A few minutes later, he pulled the car over and asked me to sit in the front seat next to him.
I said, "No," feeling uneasy and afraid. "Are you scared?" he asked me.
A few minutes passed by and he forced me into the front seat next to him. I was terrified. My mind was filled with the horrible memories of being sexually molested years ago in Iran.
"Are you a Christian?" He asked me, "Don't you ever have sex?"
My whole body was trembling. I grabbed my cell phone, but couldn't get a signal to call my mom. "No I don't have sex," I replied, my voice trembling, "That's a sin before marriage."
I looked down at my necklace and nervously began praying, mumbling the words, crying out for Jesus to save me!"
He began to put his hand on my legs, when suddenly his cell phone rang. It was his wife! She demanded to know where he was! His wife became my angel. He finally drove me home and said he would see me again the next day, but I never went back!
That is my story so far. I turned 22 this year.
It's been another long day in the city of Yalova, Turkey. Another long day in isolation, but as I think back to when I was eight years old and remember the day that Jesus came into my life, I am no longer depressed. Deep down in my soul I am grateful. I have joy. I know that Jesus is always with me. He will never leave or forsake me. He has a special purpose for my life. I am holding onto my faith in Jesus. I can honestly confess to you that if I wasn't a Christian I would have ended my life a long time ago. But thank God, I didn't. In the midst of turmoil, I have peace. I have peace because I know God has a purpose and plan for my life. He has made me a light in the darkness of Turkey.