Fruitful and Free - A Daring Faith Story02/19/2016 .
Amir glanced nervously around the mosque. He was supposed to be engaged in devout prayer, but he was much too anxious. A trickle of sweat formed on his brow and slowly made its way down to his cheek. He looked at the other men engrossed in prayer – much like he should be. His heart was too troubled to pray, instead a staccato rhythm pounded in his head, “Does anyone know? Does anyone suspect?” In the hushed reality of his own mortality, Amir asked for help. “Jesus, keep me safe.”
Years earlier while a university student in Turkey, Amir thought he had happiness by the tail. He was popular, involved in sports and deeply committed to his education. A good friend, though, pointed out that earthly happiness doesn’t last. Little by little, his friend explained to him that Christ died for our sins and that an “unlimited God was waiting to shower him with unlimited love.” More than what this man said about Christ, the friendship spoke volumes to Amir. His friend never gave him ultimatums, but simply built a friendship on common ground. As a devout Muslim, Amir was skeptical at first about Christianity. Throughout the summer, his friend affirmed Christ’s love and by the end of the season, Amir realized how desperately he needed to abandon his self-seeking comfort and embrace the grace of Christ.
“I always believed in God. I studied the Koran. After reading the Bible and other books, I found God there.”
After graduating from the university and working for a few years in Turkey, his Turkish visa expired. Amir returned to his home, located in Middle Eastern country where Christians are severely persecuted. “I was a Christian on the inside, but a Muslim on the outside. I didn’t want to be like Peter, who denied Jesus. I blamed myself for not telling anyone. I was very frightened, but remembered how Peter became the rock of the church. And I knew God would change things for me. Christ’s inner presence gave me the ability to move in quiet strength.”
Granted asylum in the United States, Amir found the religious freedom he craved. “That wasn’t enough, though,” he said. “I kept asking God: ‘Why do you want me in the United States? What do you want me to do here?’” He found Saddleback online almost by accident, and watched a few of the messages on the church’s website. He felt so drawn to the church, he began attending the Lake Forest campus for several months, and then joined the Aliso Viejo campus when it opened. There Amir found something he had been missing for a long time – a family, a sense of belonging, refuge for the refugee. But God also surprised him with something else: a challenge to become more.
“God poured his love out to me in a thousand ways. He always kept a protective bubble around me. Now I wanted to share that love with others.” Initially, Amir started by joining the team that prepared the Aliso Viejo venue for services. He soon found other Turkish speaking attendees who were looking for hope and wanted to worship in language of their homeland. Desiring to give them the opportunity to praise God in their native tongue, Amir founded the first Turkish speaking small group at Saddleback. Their shared language brought connection and community in a special way: praying, singing, and worshipping in a way that reminded them of their home on earth, yet pointed them to the home awaiting them in heaven.
Embracing God’s invitation to fully entrust his life to him, Amir experienced a huge miracle: being able to openly attend a Christian church. In his home country, there is no legal church. “Christians meet in houses there and hope no one in their congregation will betray them to the government. I prayed that someday, I could bring my family to church – that my children would be able to attend Sunday school. My wife is still an unbeliever, but she does come to church occasionally. My son, however, comes every week. He loves Saddleback Kids and is growing in his awareness of God.”
This unexpected miracle and the teachings of Pastor Rick to dream big have solidified Amir’s desire to help other Christians in predominantly Muslim countries. He now communicates online with Christian friends back home encouraging them to honor God despite their precarious, often dangerous position. He is working on practical ways to help Christians in Turkey, as well as teleconferencing with other Turkish speaking Christians at Saddleback’s Berlin campus to bring healing, fulfillment and purpose to other refugees and displaced persons.
“God’s dreams for me were different than I planned,” Amir acknowledges, “Now, I have the faith to go on. No one can stand against us Christians. I don’t minimize God. When I pray for rain, I go outside with my boots and rain coat on, even if there are no clouds in the sky. When you believe in God, things happen.”
Although he misses his family and the fulfilling career he once had, Amir is happy he responded to God’s invitation to do life with him. “Jesus wants us to live purposeful and passionate, fruitful and free.”
You can be part of bringing the church to persecuted countries. For ways to pray, or to learn how you can get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org or attend our next PEACE Practical event. Click HERE for upcoming dates.