You won’t hear the Bible read just in English in the weekly service at Creek Road Presbyterian Church’s South Bank campus, but in Farsi too. This accommodation of cultural groups through translations isn’t unusual in Australian churches. But, at Creek Road in Brisbane where Nathan Campbell works, the church has invested in cross-cultural evangelism by hiring M*, an Iranian who arrived in Australia as an asylum- seeker in May 2013. This is his story as told to Nathan.
Tell us about growing up in Iran?
I was born in a city called Shahrekord. I have a big family – two brothers, and five sisters. My father died when I was eight. I finished school and joined the army for my compulsory military service and then went to technical school to train as a mechanic. I worked in a factory for two years before changing career to sales manager for Sony. I was very good at my job, and I loved it very much. Then, I lost my job because of sanctions placed on Iran. I was unemployed for six months. I was very angry with the government, and I shared my disappointment on social media. I was arrested and taken to court. After that I decided to leave Iran, my home. This was hard. I miss my home, but most importantly, my family, especially my mother. In Iran, family is everything.
Why did you come to Australia?
I wanted to escape Iran. It wasn’t important where to. Friends gave me the number for a smuggler in Indonesia and I called him and spoke about where to go. I was told if I wanted to go somewhere like America it would take time, and more money, but that it was easy to get to Australia. I knew a little bit about some Australian cities, but not much. We have good memories about Australia from the World Cup qualifier in 1997. I flew to Malaysia, and then to Indonesia, where I flew into Bali. I ended up on an island near Makassar, where I stayed in a safe house for two weeks, and then I came to Australia by boat.
It was a hard journey, and I will never forget those nine days. We ran out of food and water after six days, and people started to fight. Some people were hiding water. Everyone was getting sick; there were lots of babies and children – and they were all crying. We saw another boat, and some planes, but nobody came to help. Then there was a miracle. There was a mobile phone on board, and the battery had gone flat, but somehow some men were able to charge it and call 000. The navy rescued us. We were very close to Darwin; we were taken to detention there. We were placed in quarantine so they could check our health and identity. I had my passport. On my first night they let me call my mum. I couldn’t call from the safe house, or the boat – they had not heard from me for 20 days. I said “I’m safe.”
Where did you first meet Christians?
I had a friend in the army who was a Christian. When I came to Australia, in detention, I met a priest – I don’t know if he was Catholic or Orthodox; he wore robes. He was nice, and he spoke about Jesus, saying “Jesus was God.” In Iran, people respect Jesus, but they say “Jesus is just a prophet, not God.” This priest spoke about Jesus as God, and gave me a cross – a plastic cross as a gift. I’ve still got it. I loved it very much. I got a Bible from the library and started reading. It was hard for me, and confusing. It was hard in detention to find someone to talk about Jesus with.
When I came to Brisbane, I went to a church called Village Avenue in Coopers Plains. People welcomed me and invited me to their homes, but my English was not good yet. When I moved to Annerley, I went to an English class run by a church, where I met people who invited me to Creek Road. I went to church with them, and did Bible studies. I’ll never forget the day I got baptised at Creek Road — it’s my new birthday. I’m so excited, and have been telling people about Jesus ever since. I’ve tried to meet more and more Iranians to read the Bible together, and now this is my job. My prayer is that Creek Road, and other churches, will keep sharing the gospel with refugees like me. I love this job more than I loved working for Sony. I choose to share my faith, because I keep thinking “Jesus chose me.” I miss my family, especially my mother, but when I go to church I feel like I have family – brothers and sisters – here.
How can other churches help refugees?
Talk to them; listen to them. They come from different countries and hard situations; many of them have lost family and friends. They need love, to be cared for and accepted like family, not like strangers. That’s the number one need they have. We can help with other things like language, and information about life in Australia, and help them join the community, and give some things that they need. But share love, and especially the love of God, the good news about Jesus, through the Bible. We need to show them Jesus.
*Name withheld for safety.