Philosopher Blaise Pascal is quoted as saying, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” What follows is the incredible story of Sean, a young Iranian who experienced that vacuum as he found his religion couldn’t fill, or satisfy, his longing for God. It’s also the remarkable story of what Sean did to fill that void.
Sean was raised as a Muslim in Tehran, Iran. Instruction in his Muslim faith began in kindergarten at age five and continued through high school. As he approached his teen years, Sean began to question his religion. He began having thoughts like, “Why is the government forcing me to believe a certain religion and follow rules I don’t agree with?* Why can’t I decide for myself what to believe? Why won’t [as he was taught] God forgive me of my past sins if I ask Him to? Why do I have to pray the same words as everyone else, and in Arabic? Can’t God understand other languages?”
In his Muslim “catechism,” Sean was taught that, according to the Koran, Jesus was just one of a series of prophets. Jesus did nothing that stood out among the other prophets. There was no mention of miracles, the calling of His disciples, etc. Jesus’s sole mission was to prepare the way for Muhammad. Sean’s curiosity about Jesus got sparked.
The more he pondered, the less satisfied he was with the answers he was given. Whether it was his religion teachers, fellow Muslims, or his parents, the answers were just not satisfying. But where could he turn? He knew some Armenian believers, but he was afraid to be seen talking with Christians. His teachers basically repeated the tenets of Islam, without any “Why?” or “How?” questions being answered. His search for answers regarding Islam actually led him away from his faith. Since Christianity is the largest religion and he already knew something about Jesus (limited as it was), Sean decided to check out Jesus.
Sean purposed to read the Bible for himself. However, in Iran, the government blocks Christian websites, including those that could be a source for access to a Bible. The harder the search became, the more persistent Sean became. Being the curious and clever person that he is, he “found a way” to download a copy of the Bible and began reading it. Little did Sean know that God was finding a way into his heart.
Sean’s search also led him to look into Christian churches, but the churches have orders from the government to only let Christians go to their services. Sean attended two different Christian home groups. He got a taste of what “could be” for him. He became drawn to the believers because of three things: 1) the prayers were actually communicating with God, and not just repeating rote, impersonal words; 2) the people really cared for each other, prayed for specific prayer requests [a new concept for Sean], and welcomed any and all who visited them; and 3) they were open to questions [though Sean wasn’t ready to ask any in public]. Although he wanted to continue attending a home group, his fear of being discovered there and arrested kept him from returning. With his options for learning more about Jesus and the Christian life in general diminishing, Sean focused even more intently on reading the Bible.
“As Sean read the Gospels, he saw that Jesus was, indeed, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. More excitingly, Jesus died for his sins, and he could be forgiven!”
Book by book, over an approximately six-month period, Sean read the entire Bible. As he read, he realized that the Bible is one story, from Genesis to Revelation. He saw that a “Promised One” was prophesied in the Old Testament. As he began reading the New Testament, he wondered who that person would be. Would it be Jesus? He wanted to see how the story would end.
As Sean read the Gospels, he saw that Jesus was, indeed, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. More excitingly, Jesus died for his sins, and he could be forgiven! His search for answers and for meaning was actually beginning to bear fruit. Everything finally made sense. He was starting to believe in the Jesus of Christianity!
Amazingly, Sean began to pray “in Jesus’s name” for vision, wisdom, and direction. [Looking back, Sean attributes this as the start of his relationship with the Lord.] Even before Sean read Philippians 1:6, he began to experience the “good work” God had begun in him and would complete.
Sean specifically prayed that he could come to the U.S. Soon after offering this prayer, Sean’s uncle, in the U.S., contacted him and asked if he wanted to come and live with his family. What an example of God working in Sean’s life, and what an encouragement this was to Sean!
Sean moved to the Redlands area three years ago and attended events with International Friendship Connection (IFC), which linked him to Trinity Church. He is active with IFC and with the Young Adults group at Trinity and is working full-time while completing his M.S. in Business Administration. Sean also obeyed what he had read about the need to publicly identify with Jesus and was recently baptized at Trinity. He calls his family weekly. Although they don’t agree with his decision to leave Islam, they have accepted it and wish him well. Sean asks for prayer that God would guide him as he makes decisions in his life.
Sean’s journey that led him to Jesus is an inspirational illustration that God delights in fulfilling His promise found in Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” God is not bound by geography. He can even reach those in seemingly unreachable areas. No GPS needed.
* In 1979, Islam became the official state religion in Iran. For those born into a Muslim family, neither the Government nor society accepts conversion from Islam to other religions. The government does permit people born to a non-Muslim family to choose their own religion, if they select one of the acceptable religions: Islam, Christianity, Judaism, or Zoroastrianism.
By Donna Walker