Trump’s executive order regarding immigration, including restricting travel to the US from my home country of Iran, has put refugees back in the headlines and on the lips of everybody I meet.
Everyone has an opinion.
Here’s mine. Yes, refugees represent a challenge. But they also represent an opportunity. An opportunity for the church to welcome them and share Jesus with them. An opportunity for the refugees to be blessed, and for the community to be blessed in return.
I know. I was a refugee myself.
I first heard about Jesus at home in Iran. A friend sent me some verses from the Gospel of John. John 3:16 shocked me to the core. I had always been told God hated me because of my sin. But here was a God who loved me so much that he sent his son to die for me!
My thirsty soul drank it in and I cried with joy for hours. I was a drug addict, so my family thought I was high again. I didn’t fully understand what I was reading, and I had no way of getting a Bible or finding a church. I just knew I needed this Jesus.
So I resolved I would somehow get to America where, I believed, everyone was Christian. There I would be able to get to know this God who loves me.
God had other plans. Rather than New York, I found myself in Yorkshire.
"Why did I end up here?" I complained to God.
But then a church opened its doors to me. My new church family laid the foundation of my Christian faith. Without them, I don’t know where I would be today.
I was so thirsty to learn about Jesus that I was always the first to arrive and the last to leave the meetings. After leaving all my family and friends in Iran, this church was my new family. Through God’s strength and the support of my church family, I broke free of my addictions to drugs and pornography. And in 2012 I got baptised.
This is a divine opportunity to share the good news with people who wouldn’t otherwise hear it
I always wondered why I ended up in England, until God showed me I was here to be a blessing to other people. Everyone needs to hear the good news of Jesus. It has become my joy to share him with others. Now I preach the gospel wherever I go. In Costa, the train station, anywhere!
A few years ago, I did a three-month training programme with Elam, a ministry devoted to strengthening and expanding the Persian-speaking church. There I was equipped for ministry. Today I serve as part of the Elam team, encouraging and equipping British churches to reach out and disciple Persian-speaking refugees.
In the last five years I’ve met over 800 refugees from Muslim-countries who have been welcomed in by British churches. When I ask them how they find life in the UK, so often their answer is the same: "Life is unkind to refugees. But in the church we’ve found kindness and peace."
A blessing for churches
They’ve found a new family, just like I did. Many of them are now following Jesus. Many have shared the Gospel with family and friends back home.
And the churches that open their doors to refugees are blessed too. As they become more diverse they get a little foretaste of heaven, where every tribe and tongue worship Jesus together. What a beautiful picture!
It is true that with the arrival of refugees come many challenges. I understand there’s a lot of fear. And certainly, the asylum system needs to be handled with great care and wisdom. But it's my prayer that more of the Church in the West would sit up and notice that this is a divine opportunity to share the good news with people who wouldn’t otherwise hear it.
This is my story. I’m convinced it can be the story of so many others, if the Church really gets on its knees in prayer, gets to its feet in action, and opens its mouth to share Jesus.
To find out more about the ministry of Elam and the growing Iranian Church, visit elam.com