Last week at the end of a hope-filled gathering of Christian academics in Dallas, I took an Uber to DFW. My very friendly driver, whose name is ‘Ali (name changed for purposes of protection), had a very strong accent, so I asked him where he was from.
“Persia,” he answered, and went on to explain that he refuses to use the term “Iran” because in America it automatically links him in most people’s minds with the Islamic Republic which he detests. Over the next half-hour we talked nonstop about present happenings in Iran. He is even more hopeful than I that soon the repressive Shiite regime will collapse and be replaced with a secular democracy in some form.
We talked about unemployment (around 40% of the population), drug addiction (over 40% — the poppy fields of Afghanistan are right next door), people living below the poverty level (over 50%), unchecked inflation (while the government sets an “official” exchange rate — right now 42,625 rials to one US dollar — the actual exchange rate on the street is closer to three times that amount because of America’s renewed economic sanctions), industry sector strikes (truck and bus drivers, leather products, farmers, to name a few), protests and riots in the streets of scores of Iranian cities with chants openly calling for the deaths of the Supreme Leader, President Rouhani, and the mullahs generally, and the now commonly quoted statistic that over 80% of the population favors the overthrow of the present theocracy and its replacement by a secular government. Even nature seems to be punishing the country with long-standing, extensive drought conditions. ‘Ali was exercised over what the mullahs have done to his country. He remembers Iran in the latter days of the Shah, which while far from perfect were in his opinion a paradise compared to today.
As we talked, ‘Ali was astonished that I knew so much about Iran, its history and Shiite practices. Naturally, he asked me what I do for a living. So I told him that I teach Christian and civic groups about Islam and the challenges it presents. His response: “I still believe in God, but I want nothing to do with the Islam of the mullahs. Jesus is good,” he said. “Muhammad not so good.”
‘Ali knows nothing of the exploding house church movement in Iran, where some four million Muslims have become followers of Christ in the last four decades. And according to those on the inside, these numbers are only going to rise exponentially as Muslims fed up with the mullahs look elsewhere for spiritual answers. I wondered to myself whether ‘Ali, if he were living in Iran today, would have become part of the house church movement. But here in the USA, he is happy simply not being forced to practice Islam.
For some mysterious reason, ‘Ali and I formed a quick bond of friendship, and found we had some unexpected connections. I had asked him when he first came to the US, and he told me it was for grad school in engineering in the late 1970s. “Where,” I inquired. “Oklahoma City area,” he answered. “Which school?” “Oh,” he said,” a small university in a small town called Edmond — Central State University.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” I blurted out. “Central State University is now University of Central Oklahoma! I lived and worked only a few miles from there just three years ago in Edmond!”
Well, the trip to DFW ended far too soon. As Ali removed my bags, I thanked him and told him how grateful I was to God for arranging our meeting. As we shook hands, our eyes met in one of those gazes where soul speaks to soul. I may never see Ali again in this life, but I count him as a friend. I am confident he feels the same way.
More than ever, I pray for Ali and all who yearn for a free Iran that God will answer their cries soon. Even more I pray that Ali and millions of Muslims will discover the deeper freedom that comes from knowing the true Jesus as opposed to the ‘Isa of Islam.
I’m asking God to use last Friday’s brief Uber ride to haunt Ali (in a good way) with a hunger for this Jesus whom he knows now only by hearsay, and to answer that hunger with a personal encounter where He reveals His saving love to Ali and brings him into His Kingdom of never-ending life and joy. “Whom the Son sets free will be free indeed!”
Will you join me in this prayer?