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Following Jesus as an Iranian migrant

Esta* was at the lowest point in her life when she cried out to Allah, raw and uncensored for the first time in her own language.

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“I was really upset. I was really hopeless and I decided to talk to God straight for the first time, without Arabic.

“I said, ‘I want to talk to you straight with my native language whether you want to listen to me or not.’

Praying in Farsi, the words just tumbled out.

“I said, ‘God I believe you exist. You are the ruler of all the world. I know that and I believe that, I have since I was a kid. The order of the world is not by chance. Definitely this world has a creator and I believe that.’ That’s why I asked God: ‘Show me the way, show me what I have to do. I don’t want to go back to Islam so show me the way.’”

This prayer was the point when Esta began shedding her Islamic identity, prompted by anger towards years of suffering under what she felt was an oppressive faith.

Esta had grown up in a strict Iranian home where her father enforced Islamic practices within the family. Once, she had been in deep trouble when as a child she had walked home from school with a male classmate. Associating with the opposite sex was strictly forbidden, and Esta found herself cowering before a raging father.

On another occassion, the night before her wedding, Esta’s father had lost his temper because the dress she was wearing wasn’t modest enough. Not all of her body was covered, making her impure. “It was supposed to be one of the happiest times of my life – enjoying a party the night before my wedding, but instead it was awful. I was in tears”.

“I felt like someone who learnt how to play the piano in theory, but was never allowed to play.”

Incidents like these led to a build up of resentment in her heart towards Islam, but it wasn’t until she lost her job that she really began to reassess her faith.

“If I draw a graph of how I had suffered from Islam across my life, that was the pit point,” she says.

Working in IT for an organisation connected to the Iranian government, Esta was expected to obey Islamic law. And she did, except for one night when she thought she could let her hair down.

“I was at a small family party when I discovered the host of the party was a mutual friend of a manager at work. I saw my manager across the room, so we danced together, and I drank wine for the first time in my life at that party.

“I don’t know how the news of this party spread, but it did. The next week, everyone in the office knew about it.

“After that, everyone at work treated me like I was a prostitute, but I wasn’t. I didn’t do anything wrong. But drinking and dancing is “haram” (sinful) in Islam, that’s why they fired me.”

Although she had lost her job, she couldn’t tell her dad. “He would’ve killed me,” she says. Unemployed, and feeling like an outcast, Esta lost all hope, and let go of her Islamic religion.

“I didn’t practice Islam at all, I didn’t pray, I didn’t fast. I was in a really bad way psychologically. I got hurt, I lost my job, all my friends and colleagues, because they looked at me like I was a prostitute – even my close friends. I even thought about committing suicide.”
It was at this point she cried out to God for the first time in Farsi. In Islam, one should approach Allah in Arabic, the original language of the Quran.

“That prayer was a very pure prayer without Arabic language with words that came from a broken heart. I think it was at that time God started working in my life.”

With no one else to lean on, Esta’s husband became her only friend. The next year, they decided they would go on a search for “the truth”, and leave Islam behind.

“Both of us had been hurt by Islam, so together we started exploring Christianity. We didn’t know anything about it, but we found some books, which was difficult, but we found some.”

“I knew it was a dangerous decision, but when you see the truth in front of you, how can you reject that?”

Through their research, Esta and her husband came to understand and appreciate the Christian faith. But still living in Iran under Sharia law, Esta says she felt trapped.

“I felt like someone who learnt how to play the piano in theory, but was never allowed to play.”

Life in Iran continued as they kept learning about Christianity, hungry for more, until Esta decided to go to university in 2011. Wanting to do a Masters degree, she set about getting into a local university, but failed the entrance exam.

Instead of staying in Iran, the couple decided to become international students in Australia. “It was only by God’s plan that I came to Australia. It was totally by chance,” she says. “I never thought about coming to Australia to become Christian.”

When they came to Australia in 2012, Esta enrolled in a Masters of IT, majoring in Software Development, with the hope of heading back to Iran and becoming a lecturer. The work was hard, the language barriers extraordinarily difficult, but she trusted God with her future.

“I focused on studying hard, getting my Masters and going back to Iran to get a good job. But when I came here, God opened my mind. It was God who took me to a church.

“It was the first time I was able to practice what I’d read in the books about Christianity.”
While going to church, the couple made friends with a pastor who’d been in ministry for 20 years, staying with him for a week at one point. Esta peppered him with questions. “He was a really patient person and answered all my questions perfectly,” she says. Before long, they decided to become Christians.

“At that time my heart was filled with Jesus’ love, I couldn’t think about anything else, about what might happen if I returned to Iran, because I had a really deep peace. It was something that had been missing my whole life.

“No matter how much I had tried to be a good Muslim, I’d never felt peace, but when I became Christian I was overwhelmed with peace, with love and forgiveness.”

Despite the consequences for herself and her family back in Iran, Esta could not turn back to Islam.

“I knew it was a dangerous decision, but when you see the truth in front of you, how can you reject that?”

After her conversion, she couldn’t stop telling people. “I couldn’t hide it!” She even told her parents and her friends back in Iran.

“Some people told me not to tell them, but I said ‘I can’t hide it! It’s like I’ve received an extremely valuable gift and I want to share it with others. I’m saved now, I want to save them.’”

Now three years after becoming a Christian, Esta has finished her Masters and is awaiting a protection visa. She has heard of other Iranians coming to Australia and converting in order to receive protection, but she says the proof is in the fruit of their lives as to whether they are true Christians. “These people, they might go to church on a Sunday, but that is it,” she says.

There’s certainly no doubt Esta is a Christian. Her dream now is to return to Iran one day as a missionary, and if not Iran, another Muslim country. “I’m praying for the day Iran becomes even just as open as Pakistan, so that I can at least go there are a missionary.” And just in case she can’t return to Iran, she’s learning French, so she can go to a French-speaking Muslim country in Africa. It will be her fourth language.

Recently, after hearing about the persecution of Christians in Iraq and Pakistan, Esta felt compelled to do something for her brothers and sisters around the world. She’s organised a rally for this Saturday (7 February) in Melbourne outside the Victorian State Library to raise awareness around the global persecution of Christians.

She has decided to share her testimony at the event, despite the risks of being so public about her conversion to Islam.

“It’s the truth of my life and I have to say it. All the problems of those innocent people persecuted or in prison around the world, this is their problem as well, so I have to share my story,” she says.

“One of my friends said we’re having a prayer meeting on Thursday night for safety and I said, ‘Why safety?’ I put everything in God’s hands. If he wants me to die, then that’s what will happen. I could die by car crash, or by persecution. That’s God’s will.”

The Rally for Persecuted Christians will be held at 2PM outside the State Library in Melbourne, Saturday 7th February. Speakers include Vickie Janson, State Director of Australian Christians, John Haddad, spokesperson for the Assyrian community and Babar Peters, President of the Australian Association of Pakistani Christians.

* For online safety reasons, Eternity has changed the name of the woman in this story.

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