From one hell to the other, and back

It was a lovely, touching meeting with M. tonight. We got to know him a couple of months ago in church; a very friendly, tenderhearted young man with a lovely wife and son. He had found the church by the relentless outreach of fellow church members to the refugee center in our town. And now he wanted to be baptized.

M told me his story. A story probably like many others, and a story not yet convincing enough for the authorities to grant him asylum. But it struck me enough to keep me thinking for a while. Because, as it seems to happen so very often these days, I faced myself in a mirror.

M’s story is one of a hard-working middle class young man turning into a second-class, frightened foreigner in one year. In Iran, he had a job, a car, a house and a family. Getting up each morning at 5, taking pride in his job, taking care of his family. His only mistake: questioning the behavior of the country’s leaders. He had been imprisoned before, this time he chose to flee.

And with that, he lost his job, his car, his house and his family – but most importantly, he lost his pride. There he was, in a small room with his wife and son, staring at the walls, doing nothing. He was feeling nervous, he said, as did his wife. On top of that – or as a result, who knows – she got a miscarriage. An almost unstoppable downward spiral.

The very next day, M. said, an angel walked in. She talked, comforted, sat besides them, took them to the doctor. And she gave them both a Bible. Long story short: they moved to my town, the angel called another angel, some angels from my church got involved – and slowly but surely the walls of fear, nerves, isolation came down. Up to the point where M. had read the Bible, knew what he wanted and gave his life to Christ. As his wife had done just a few weeks before.

As I said: I faced a mirror. Because, when M. came walking into our church, I did not just see a lovely guy. I saw a second-class, shy foreigner. An asylum seeker, feeling insecure, unable to express himself in Dutch or English, hiding in the safety of the backseat with the other members of the Iranian community. One of those that you really don’t know what to say to or what to talk to about.

It had simply never crossed my mind that this same guy had sat ‘in the front row’ in his home country. That he had had the courage and the qualities to speak up, to ask questions, to lead. That it was exactly that bold behaviour that had brought him here. I faced the mirror: I am the strange guy here, trapped by stereotypes and images, ignorant and blind. I’m glad he was here tonight. I feel privileged to take part in his baptizing next Sunday.

It will be heaven.

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