Years ago, Hossein received two gifts that terrified him. He and his friends were talking about movies while sitting in a park one afternoon, when a stranger walked up and handed him a book and a magazine.
“He had heard us discussing a movie,” said Hossein, now 22. “He asked me to take a look at a review of that movie that was printed in the magazine.”
When Hossein asked the man how much the magazine cost, he was told it was free. “These are gifts from God,” the man said, smiling.
When Hossein went home, he started reading the magazine. After reading the review of a foreign film he had seen, he continued reading and discovered that the magazine was a Christian publication. Then he realised the book he had received was a Bible — a book that is illegal to own, print, import or distribute in his Iranian homeland.
Suddenly, he was gripped with fear. “I was so scared, because my family are devoted Muslims,” Hossein said. “Many things went through my mind that night, and I wished I hadn’t been given those books.”
He got rid of the Bible and magazine the next day, but a few nights later he had a bizarre dream about children eating books. Each book looked exactly like the Bible Hossein had received.
The dream nagged at Hossein for several days, until he eventually returned to the park hoping to find the man who had given him the Bible and magazine. But he never saw the man again.
Then, just days later, Hossein was shocked to see his brother, Mahmoud, come home with a Bible of his own.
Mahmoud had been studying twice a week with a student named Ehsan since recently falling behind in his university classes. As Mahmoud was preparing to leave Ehsan’s house after studies one night, he saw his friend’s family surround Ehsan’s gravely ill grandmother, place their hands on her and pray for her healing in Jesus’ name.
“I didn’t understand them,” Mahmoud said, “but their voices and words were powerful. Ehsan kindly led me out while I was watching them.”
When Mahmoud returned to Ehsan’s home for the next study session, Ehsan’s grandmother opened the door and cheerfully welcomed him inside. Mahmoud later asked Ehsan if the family’s prayers had led to his grandmother’s healing.
“Yes, thank God,” Ehsan told him. “It’s because of God’s power and His authority.” Ehsan then told Mahmoud about Jesus, giving him a Bible when he expressed interest in learning more.
Mahmoud’s parents were incensed when they discovered his Bible. After demanding to know where he got it, Mahmoud’s father, Khodayar, grabbed the Bible and threw it towards a far corner of the yard. He expected Allah’s immediate wrath for having the book in his home.
After seeing how angry it had made his father, Mahmoud wanted nothing more to do with the Bible. But in the middle of the night, he got up to get a drink and noticed a small beam of light coming from Hossein’s room. When he looked in, he saw his brother sitting in the corner of his otherwise dark room, reading.
As Mahmoud walked towards Hossein, he noticed that he was flattening the pages of a book with his hands. Then he realised his brother was reading the Bible their father had thrown out of the house. Startled by Mahmoud’s shadowy figure standing over him, Hossein shoved the Bible under a rug. “Do you know what will happen if Dad catches you with this Bible?” Mahmoud asked him. “Do you want me to get in trouble?”
“I want to see your friend Ehsan,” Hossein replied, insisting that he was going to keep the Bible. But Mahmoud, upset by his brother’s defiance, ignored Hossein and walked away. Over time, and after continuing to read the Bible in secret, Hossein placed his faith in Jesus Christ.
Months later, when the boys’ mother was unable to have a needed heart surgery because of her diabetes, Mahmoud felt helpless watching her groan in pain. As he worried about how the family would pay for his mother’s treatments, he remembered that Ehsan’s grandmother had been healed through prayer.
With Hossein’s help, Mahmoud took their mother to Ehsan’s home, where they received a warm welcome. Ehsan’s family then surrounded their mother, praying for her in the name of Jesus. Hossein, as a new believer, joined them in prayer.
“My mother was confused at first,” Mahmoud recalled. “But after that, she said that the prayers made her feel so light and happy.”
When the three of them returned home, Khodayar scolded the boys for taking their mother to the Christians. “It would have been better for your mother to die than for you to bring shame to our family!” he yelled. Their sister also shouted at them, accusing Mahmoud of being responsible for their family’s problems.
That week, Ehsan stayed in touch with Mahmoud, encouraging him to read his Bible. Eventually, the two met at their neighbourhood park, and Mahmoud, like his brother, came to faith in Christ. From then on, Mahmoud prayed for his mother and the rest of the family daily, and within weeks his mother was free of pain.
When his sister took their mother to a doctor’s appointment a short time later, they learned that she had been completely healed.
That night, when Khodayar came home from work, Mahmoud noticed that his father seemed troubled. As Mahmoud approached him to see what was wrong, he saw a Bible in his father’s hands. The Bible, Khodayar explained, had been gift-wrapped and placed in their letterbox.
Overhearing their conversation, Hossein walked over and took his father’s hand. “Dad, please, it’s the second time you’ve had a Bible in your hands,” he said. “Perhaps God wants to talk to you. Before crumpling it up and throwing it away, please read it.”
Expecting their father to explode with rage, Hossein and Mahmoud held their breath. Then, after a brief silence, Hossein reminded Khodayar about his oldest son, Mohammad, who had died in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War. “Do you remember when you wrote those letters to my brother to give him strength?” Hossein asked his father.
“My son never read them, Khodayar replied, crying at the memory that his letters hadn’t reached Mohammad before his death. “He never heard my voice.”
Hossein hugged his father. “But now you have this opportunity to read God’s letter to you and to hear His voice,” he said.
Despite an intense fear of punishment from Allah, Khodayar agreed to read the Bible — at least a little bit of it. But he told himself that he would just take a quick look, because he still considered the Koran his holy book.
One of the first things Khodayar read about Jesus was how he restored sight to the blind. But he had a hard time believing that Jesus, if he were really God as Christians claimed, could be both all-powerful and all-loving. Khodayar had always viewed Allah as authoritarian and had even blamed him for taking his oldest son.
When Khodayar eventually read John 10, in which Jesus describes himself as “the good shepherd” whose sheep “follow Him, for they know His voice”, he was reminded of his own childhood as a nomadic shepherd.
He remembered how deeply he cared for the sheep in his flock and how he slept in their pen when they were sick or injured. He recalled how the sheep in his care followed him wherever he went and could find their way to him even when they were lost among hundreds of other sheep. Thinking of Jesus Christ as his “good shepherd” helped Khodayar understand that Jesus loved him immensely, even more than he had loved his own sheep. In that moment, he saw God in a new light.
“That night, all my fear was replaced by trust,” Khodayar said. “I was certain that these were God’s Words — a letter from a Father to His son, a letter to the lost sheep that is seeking a secure home. That night, God brought peace to my heart and I started talking to Him.”
Khodayar felt as if God had reassured him that He didn’t take his son, Mohammad, but had sacrificed His only Son to have a relationship with Khodayar and his family. “Since then, the sorrow of losing my son has turned into a pleasant feeling of missing him with abundant love,” Khodayar said. “If there is one God, this is who He is, and I believe in Him.”
One morning as Hossein and Mahmoud were eating breakfast in the kitchen, their father walked in and placed his Bible on the table. “This is God’s Word,” Khodayar said. Then, after telling his sons that he had placed his faith in Christ, he urged them to read the book carefully for themselves.
Feeling a new sense of safety with his father, Hossein began to talk openly about the Bible and his own love for Christ.
“I was so surprised,” Khodayar said, “by [Hossein’s] knowledge and found out that he had been visiting home churches for a long time. After that, Mahmoud admitted that he had also come to Christ. That day, I realised that God had entered our house long ago but that I hadn’t been able to hear His voice. Now I can.”
Days later, the boys’ sister approached Mahmoud and asked how she could come to know the God who had healed their mother and given their father peace. One by one, each family member came to faith in Christ — all through the gift of God’s Word.
“We really saw the power of God,” Mahmoud said, “that every knee will bend before Him and every tongue will declare that He is God.”