On Dec. 26, 2003, a massive earthquake hit the city of Bam, Iran, killing 30,000 people within minutes. One week later I arrived in the country with a relief team to provide meals for the 100,000 who had been left homeless and to do a medical evaluation.
On my day out of the country, I returned to the airport early but was soon surrounded by disaster relief teams who were going back to their homes. The air service back to Tehran was free for charity workers and many people pushed to get onto the flight. Since I had not been a part of the early relief work, I stood back and let others go ahead of me. These men had been digging bodies out from beneath the rubble while I had only been doing a medical survey.
The next flight was in five hours so I found one of the few plastic chairs, pulled it up to a window and took out my Bible to pass the time. Fifteen minutes later a young man named Imran pulled up a chair and began a conversation. “I think that you are a visitor in this country,” he began. “Where are you from?”
Imran, it turned out, was from Iran and had been helping to retrieve people and bodies from the rubble from the day after the earthquake. He had approached me because of his friendly nature and because he wanted to practice English. After a few minutes of talking he asked for me to give him an English test.
Imran, a complete stranger in the Iran airport, walked up to me, sat down and started talking.
“Okay. I will read something to you,” I said, “and we will see if you understand it.” I opened the Bible in my lap, it happened to fall open to Luke 2, so I began reading:
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
“Did you understand the word ‘shepherds?’” I asked.
“Yes, yes. The sheep-watchers. I know these people,” he said.
“How about the word, ‘Savior?’” I asked. “Do you know that word? And he shook his head, no.
“Well, let’s say that after the earthquake I was covered with bricks and you came along, pulled me out and saved me. In that case, you would be my ‘savior’. This story is about the birth of Jesus, and the angels were saying that the Savior of the world, Jesus, had just been born.”
“Oh,” he said. “I get it.” And then he paused for a long time, he looked me directly in the eyes and then he asked me, “Do we have a savior in my religion?”
I also waited a long time before answering but then I told him plainly, “no, there is only one Savior. They don’t have one in Islam.”
“I didn’t think so,” Imran replied. “Please tell me more about this. I want to hear the whole story about Jesus.”
And so, over the next two hours I told Imran where sin came from, how it had cursed the earth, how God had promised to send a Messiah to defeat Satan and sin, how he had sent prophets to underscore that promise, how the Messiah had come in the person of Jesus and had fulfilled the prophesies through his own death as a payment for our sins, how he had proven his authority over sin by raising from the dead and the implications of all of this for humankind. And, throughout all of the telling, on between fifteen to twenty occasions, Imran interjected, “This is a wonderful story,” and several times he said, “I must get a Bible when I get back to Tehran.”
Imran was so receptive to the gospel and was totally engaged by the story, intellectually and emotionally.
I wish I knew how all of this turned out. I wish I knew if Imran was able to find a Bible in a place like Tehran. We got on the plane together but a guy from Saudi Arabia sat with us and they started arguing across me about which of their countries had more rights for women. It was weirdly ironic.
So, what do y’all think? Was meeting Imran, and my happening to turn to the Christmas story, a divine appointment or random luck? Also, after I die am I going to find out what happened to him?
Main point: In his providence, God is drawing women and men from all nations to Himself using His own children as His emissaries. There is no higher purpose in this life than to be a part of that mission. So what? Are you on board with this work of God? Are you putting yourself out there to be used by Him?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.