I sit up in the pew and say, this time in English, “Welcome to Paris.”
My next question might seem frank but, under the circumstances, it doesn’t feel so. “Are you a Christian?”
“Not yet.” She grins at me. “Soon.”
The Iranian church service is about to start, and I want to ask more questions, but I hold back. The pews in front of us are full of young believers, mostly recent immigrants from Iran who, until coming to France, have never had the liberty to worship in public. Because of their Muslim background, some have never admitted to following Jesus until walking through these doors. You can taste the freedom in the room as voices join together in Persian, praising the Lord in song along with the beating rhythms of the djembe being played on stage. It feels like we have all come home. But this isn’t home for everyone. At least, not now. And soon I begin to understand why.
Two men take to the stage and explain that they have just flown into Paris from Iran only to spend four days to worship with other believers. In Iran, this is impossible for them. They say about their homeland, “There is no one there to disciple us except the Holy Spirit.”
The men, Sajad and Kamran (not their real names), tell us that they own a small chain of fish shops in Tehran. Each of them left Islam and became a follower of Jesus at the lowest point in his life.
Sajad shares his testimony first, about when he and his wife found out that they couldn’t have children. He was literally brought to his knees before Jesus. At that moment, he was walking down a street in Tehran and, from the sidewalk, he looked into a building and saw a cross. He needed answers. But how could a Muslim pray to Jesus? “Friends,” Sajad speaks with compassion, “we cannot be afraid to show our brokenness. This is how I came to know Jesus. He met me in this place. He was the answer.”
Then Kamran shares his story about how he was on his death bed a few years earlier and asked Jesus for a miracle. The doctors had told him that his life was over, but Jesus healed him. God had plans for his life.
These two brothers in Christ tell us about an older woman in Tehran who stops by their fish shop regularly to pray with them. She is a bold believer who has been thrown into jail on numerous occasions. She comes regularly to buy fish.
One day, the woman brought them a copy of the Lord’s Prayer. They taped it to the inside of a fish cooler where no one else looked, and each time they opened the lid, they asked the Lord to teach them how to pray.
Whenever the two men need the prayers and wisdom of this old woman, they ask, “Can you come pick up some fish?” When it is safe, she comes to them and gives them whatever help she can. She tells them that, even though there are many closed doors in Iran, she is staying in the country because she believes that all things are possible with God.
Sajad and Kamran have recently begun to take more risks. When they finally received a Bible, they knew they couldn’t keep it to themselves. Eventually, they found a safe place to make copies, where they spent two days printing hundreds, which they hid in their homes and in the fish shops, distributing them whenever possible. They knew these books needed to go out, to give their people an opportunity to read the Bible for themselves.
I look at these two men on the stage: Sajad speaks with tears about God’s gift of a child while Kamran thanks God for healing and health. Together, they say to us: “Please pray for us. We need help. We need your prayers. We cannot do this alone.”
The brothers tell us that they will return to Iran the next day, where they will continue to share the Good News and seek understanding of the treasure that they have found.
I look at the young girl beside me in the pew. She is singing along with the closing song. I still do not know her name. Not yet. I think to myself, “Soon.”