NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Thursday, June 20th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: an unlikely conversion.
Afshin Ziafat is an author, speaker, and Baptist pastor near Dallas, Texas. But he grew up in a Muslim family from Iran.
WORLD Radio’s J.C. Derrick talked with Ziafat to hear his story of redemption.
DERRICK: OK, tell me why your family came to the U.S.?
ZIAFAT: I was born in Houston. When I was 2 we moved to Iran. When I was 6, the reason we moved back was because an Islamic revolution hit that country and fighting was breaking out and so my father just being a doctor had the means to get us out. And he just wanted to bring us out not because he was anti-Islam—he actually was Muslim—but because he just wanted to get us away from the chaos of that revolution.
DERRICK: And what was that transition like for you as a young boy?
ZIAFAT: Well, I remember like Muslim revolutionaries on our rooftop shouting, “Allahu Akbar” towards the palace, which was a crazy time. And then when we came to Houston, it was really crazy because, obviously, a new language, a new country, and so it was very kind of a frightening time.
DERRICK: And you guys were Muslim at the time. Are your parents are still Muslim today?
ZIAFAT: Yes, they are.
DERRICK: OK. But you are not. So tell me about that process and the woman who took an interest in you.
ZIAFAT: So, I’m in first grade and they assign me a tutor who would teach me the English language by reading me books every day after school. My family was actually paying this lady to teach me English.
And so in the second grade she comes up to me and says, “Afshin, I’ve been reading you all these books. Now I want to hand you the most important book you’ll ever get in your life.” And she handed me a New Testament. And that’s the New Testament I would read 10 years later when I became a Christian.
DERRICK: So late high school you just decided to pick it up?
ZIAFAT: So, a lot of events happened in my life in high school. Growing up in a Muslim home, I was taught that Jesus was just a prophet and that I had to do all the five pillars of faith in Islam and maybe get to heaven. And God just put that New Testament on my mind through a series of events. I was talking to a friend about who Jesus is and then I go, “You know, I think I have a Bible.” So I went upstairs and I found it at the bottom of my closet.
DERRICK: Was there a particular part of Scripture that spoke to you the most and led you to Christ?
ZIAFAT: Yeah, it was really Romans Chapter 3 when I started reading about a righteousness that comes apart from the law, meaning apart from what I do for God. But that it’s a righteousness that comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. And that verse, “all who believe” in 3:22. Everyone knows Romans 3:23, but 3:22 nailed me because that’s for anyone, not just the West—for any race, any ethnicity, any nation, anyone who believes can have that salvation.
DERRICK: And what was the response from your family?
ZIAFAT: So, I actually hid it from my family for about a year-and-a-half until my dad found out. He had seen evidences in my life. He basically sat me down and made me choose between him and Jesus. And threatened to disown me.
And so everything in me wanted to choose my father. My flesh wanted to choose my father because I didn’t want to lose my dad. But God in his incredible power, I think, spoke through me, and I said, “Dad, if I have to choose between you and Jesus, then I choose Jesus.” And so my father disowned me.
DERRICK: How long has it been since you’ve had any contact with them?
ZIAFAT: I do have contact with him now. There was an estrangement period for awhile. But then he actually took me back in after maybe about, I don’t know, a year or two. And basically said, “OK, you’re a Christian. Just go be a doctor and make me proud.”
And the plan was he was going to pay for my entire medical school and I was going to take over his practice. But God called me into ministry. I knew it, everyone around me knew it, so I ran from God’s call until finally God stopped my running…
DERRICK: Today even more than 40 years ago, there’s more and more Muslims here in the U.S. So we’ve seen even entire communities transform—Minneapolis, and some in Michigan, and so on. How should Christians think about this trend?
ZIAFAT: Honestly I think Christians should see this as an opportunity. You know? I’m thankful that a second grade tutor saw my family and saw me and didn’t see “threat” primarily. Saw opportunity.
There was a time when, by the way, Iranians were not liked in this country because of the hostage crisis. A bunch of Americans were held hostage in Iran and so a lot of people were very skeptical of Iranians. But she loved me at a time when I really expected her not to care for me at all.
So I think this is an opportunity, if you have Muslim neighbors, for you to see that as an opportunity to extend the love of Christ to them.
DERRICK: Obviously there are security concerns that a lot of people have. Like you said, the threat aspect. Can you talk about how to—if someone’s just examining their own soul—how do they tell the difference between what may be wisdom on the one hand versus maybe unbiblical fear on the other?
ZIAFAT: Well, I would say that for sure God wants us to be wise, but he also wants us to leverage our life for what will last for eternity… Are there terrorists out there? Of course there are… But, having said that, the Muslim neighbor across the street from you is most likely there not to hurt you.
So, I would say first of all, in your own heart, to know that at the end of the day we’re not called to protect our safety over and above everything else. I’m talking about as Christians. Even Paul said he was going to go to Jerusalem and he knew that suffering awaited him there. And he said, “But I do not count my life of any value—nor as precious to myself—but only that I finish the course of my ministry.”
So Paul says there’s something more important than even protecting my life. And that is fulfilling my calling for why I’m here on this Earth. And that is to be an ambassador for Christ.
So I would say, yes, be wise, but remember safety doesn’t trump… everything else. That’s not what we’re called to. We’re called to a mission.
DERRICK: So let’s say someone sees that opportunity, rejects the threat, the fear, how would they get started? How would you give advice for that person?
ZIAFAT: I would say first and foremost get to know them and invite them in. And remember that they’re, so to speak, on our turf. And they’re foreigners and they’re trying to assimilate. And so there’s incredible opportunities for us to just help them assimilate into our culture.
Like maybe they don’t know how to set up a bank account in our culture. They don’t know how to sign up their kids for school or whatever it might be. Go to the grocery store, even… See if there are ways you can help them get assimilated into our culture. And then those will be bridges to hopefully share the gospel with them.
DERRICK: And did that woman specifically—did she overtly witness to you at any point or just give you the Bible?
ZIAFAT: Actually, she just gave me the Bible. It might have been because I was only in second grade and she knew that I probably—maybe she couldn’t in a public school setting, also. But she did take the risk of, you know, giving me the New Testament, which I’m very thankful for.
DERRICK: And you kept it.
ZIAFAT: Yep, which is unbelievable. And I would say the only reason I kept it—because there’s a lot of people who they were actually throwing rocks through our windows in Houston, and we were kicked off the soccer team. All that because we’re from Iran. And so it was not an easy time to be from Iran living in this country.
But I just say, you know, the way she loved me and cared for me is the reason why I kept that New Testament. So I would say if you want to win a Muslim for Christ, you have to earn the right to be heard. And that lady did it by the way she loved me.
DERRICK: Alright, Pastor Afshin Ziafat, thank you for your time.
ZIAFAT: Oh, thanks for having me.