I have just returned from a two week visit to my homeland, Norway. It was largely personal — celebrating a family reunion and my sister’s birthday with my siblings and closest family members. Needless to say, it was a rich and meaningful time!
This visit happened to mark 40 years since I left Norway for the United Sates, which gave me some thoughtful reflections on the many changes my country has undergone over four decades. Traditionally homogeneous, it has become multicultural with app. 15% immigrants among a population of 4.7 million. Many have come as refugees and asylum seekers. The September 9 Parliamentary election resulted in an unprecedented political shift from left to right. The oil money has made people prosperous, which has caused materialism and secular humanism flourish. The State Lutheran church which seceded from governmental oversight last Spring, has by and large failed its mandate to be salt and light in upholding Biblical truth, but has rather embraced un-Biblical practices, i.e. same-sex marriage, having made the church irrelevant to many.
Yet, in the grassroots of people I found a groundswell of hunger for God! In the midst of increased secularization there are encouraging signs that a new generation is awakening to a renewed interest in the Christian faith, but much of it is informal, happening outside the walls of the traditional church. In 2011, the Norwegian Bible Society published a new translation of the Bible in a more contemporary language. To everybody’s surprise it was rated number one on the Publishers’ Bestseller’s List, and has remained at the top. Even more amazing was a unique theater performance I attended by one of Norway’s famous secular stage actors. Some years ago he had come upon the Bible and read the Gospels for the first time. He was so fascinated and inspired by the content that he learned the Gospel of Mark by heart, then in collaboration with his Director did a theater production whereby he stood alone on the stage, dressed in black, and simply recited the Gospel of Mark word for word from memory without any supporting props. They called it The Gospel of Mark. They expected it to possibly flop, or perhaps half-fill a couple of performances, that – if the church people would bother show up. To everybody’s astonishment, the actor’s brilliant, two and a half hour animated performance mesmerized the audience, brought down the house, and was given raving reviews in the secular press! The theaters were sold out for months as an unprecedented 75,000 people attended 222 performances! Later he followed up with The Book of Acts, with similar success. Then followed Abraham’s Children, with the focus on Genesis! It keeps generating the same enthusiasm as prior productions!
It was delightful and so special to spend a day in Tveita, Oslo (which population is mostly Muslim) with Peter Dalen, an Iranian minister who leads a group of Farsi-speaking foreign believers with vibrant faith in Jesus Christ from Afghanistan, Iran, and Tajikistan! I met Peter more than fifteen years ago on a visit to Norway, so it was delightful to meet him again, now with his wife and children. He invited me for dinner, and afterwards we went to a church nearby where I had an opportunity to meet 20-30 of the believers in Peter’s church group. Peter had cooked delicious Mid-Eastern food for everybody, so after the love meal, we gathered and Peter gave me the opportunity to lead the Bible study. It was a real and rich time! Raised as strict Muslims, each of them had at some point – many through Peter – had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ! Spending time with them both individually and as a group listening to their life stories, I was all over again overwhelmed by the POWER OF THE GOSPEL’S LIFE-CHANGING TRANSFORMATION! They are all aware that, forsaking Islam and embracing the Christian faith, carry very heavy retribution from their respective Islamic governments – certainly persecution, often imprisonment, even death,yet they are standing firmly in their new-found faith! As we were feasting on the Word of God, it became clear to me that these foreigners who initially entered Norway as destitute, traumatized, and impoverished refugees seeking asylum for a better life, had been sent by God to my country to remind my Viking people, who by and large have forgotten what it means to live a life of dedication and vibrant faith and trust in the God of the Bible, of the magnificence and glory which encompasses Him both as Creator of the Universe and loving Father who so loves every person that He even has the count the number of hair on everyone’s head! I was reminded of the verses in Revelation 12:10-11!
After I returned back to the States, one of the Iranian believers there sent me his testimony in Norwegian. Below, I have translated it into English and printed in his own words. I trust Mohammad’s powerful story will be edifying and encouraging in your faith-walk with God! PLEASE PRAY FOR THESE MEN AND WOMEN THAT THEY WILL BE ROOTED AND MATURE IN FAITH AND HOPE!
I was born and raised in the southern city of Bandar Mahshahr in Iran. The town is quite small where most people know each other and everybody are highly committed Muslims. When I was ten years old, my mother died of cancer. I was depressed for long time periods. My school performance suffered, I
became aggressive, restless, and vengeful toward those who bullied me and making my life difficult. Two years after my mother died, my father married again. After this event, with a stepmother in our home, my problems became more serious. I became even more aggressive, began beating my siblings and received a good deal of beatings myself in my home. I became tired of life and sometimes thought of committing suicide; I even did a couple of failed attempts. From then on, my siblings did not allow me to be alone on my own.
In school and through committed Muslims among friends and family, I had come to know Allah. The only thing I knew was that if I did not obey him, if I did not participate in fasting and scheduled, routine prayers, I would be faced with his great indignation and anger. It was a common sight to see young people being hung in the streets, women stoned, and people without hands who had been convicted and sentenced by Islamic law. All this made a strong impression on me, causing me to have nightmares with dreams depicting that the same things had happened to me. I lived in constant fear and felt spiritually like a defeated coward.
A few years ago, I came to know the true God – Jesus Christ! Caught by the Iranian regime during the period of the Presidential Election when there were mass anti-government demostrations in the streets, I was arrested. I was beaten badly, then unconscious and bloody thrown into jail. In that hazy state, I saw a man walking calmly towards me. He put his hands on my bloody head and muttered something under his breath. After a while when I came to, I discovered I had received an inner peace and strength within me.
The man said to me, ”He has taken on your burdens, pains and weaknesses. If you allow Him, He will remove all that from you and set you free”. I had never seen anything like this in my life – that someone with humility and love would wish someone else well!
After a few days, I was miraculously set free, and after a few weeks, I met this man in the street. I asked him what he had said to me earlier, what it meant, and why he had said those things. He was very careful not to talk about this while we were in the street, but invited me to a place where we could talk more easily . First, he wanted to be assured I was to be trusted, so I made it clear to him I wanted to know more.
Eventually, I was allowed to participate in their meetings, and during those times, I became more familiar with Jesus Christ who had given me inner peace and tranquility. I received the Bible as a gift and was told to read it when no one was around. One day, while reading Genesis, I came upon the verses where Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to God. It was quite opposite to what I had learned – that Abraham’s son, Ishmael, was the one to be sacrified. It was very interesting, as at the same time, there arose many questions in my head. I eagerly read further and found that the Bible states that he who blesses Israel will be blessed and those who curse Israel will be cursed. This made me very scared, as it was perfectly normal and natural to shout, ”death to Israel!”. The more I read, the more enlightened I became. I was learning to know the one true and holy God! A deep reverence of Him filled me. This was not the same oppressive fear which disheartened me when I heard Allah ‘s name mentioned or was reminded of his wrath and judgment. Entering respectfully into a personal and intimate relationship with the Holy God, this fear was an awe and reverence which lifted me up and inspired humility and warmth.
I told my Christian friends that I had a good number of questions about the Word of God and wanted to know more. They told me that it was better to start reading from the New Testament to get a better understanding. The more I read, the more humble my heart and mind became. Jesus Christ showed me grace and mercy while in prison and took away my weaknesses and pain. He strengthened me and opened my eyes to the truth that is in Him. When I heard testimonionies from others on what Jesus had done in their lives, I was filled with hope and life, as I realized that He is the living God with love for mankind, a God who forgives us human beings!
As I became more familiar with Him and His Word, I began experiencing His goodness. I understood that I could be free from my sin and evil deeds and live in His mercy, justification, and Sonship as His child. By faith and repentance I received Jesus Christ, His glad tidings, and His sacrifice on Calvary. Prior to this I had been a slave to sin, a slave in a society which dictated what to believe and not believe, what to do and not do. A slave who did not have my own free will, not being allowed to think or ask questions. Therefore, I was spiritually sick, not in harmony and peace with myself or those around me, with serious psychological problems with which I did not know how to cope. When Jesus met me, He gave me a renewed mind which made me look at life with different eyes. I let go of all that had plagued my mind which had been with me for years. I, who had been aggressive and vindictive, was saved and healed by His wounds, and I am forever grateful for his merciful love – a love that wants to give and serve – a love that does not want anything in return .
When I had the flu with pain in the bones and burning throat and headache, I experienced being healed. I went to our meeting, weak as I was, and my brothers put their hands on me and prayed for me. Then I felt that the disease was lifted off of me ,and I was completely healthy and fit within a few days. For some years, I struggled with repeated nosebleeds and headaches. In another meeting my brother prayed about this very issue for which the doctors had no cure. During the prayer I felt that fire had been ignited in my nostrils and tears began flowing from the sting of the fire. After this prayer, I have not had nosebleeds and headaches, thanks to Jesus who sees our illnesses and heals us!
I so wanted to tell my friends and family what I had experienced and share with them the Good News about salvation. My friend mentioned above, and I packed Bibles and New Testaments into nice wrapping paper.
At night, we threw these packets into people’s houses. Many actually believed that they had received a gift from God and began reading the Book. We wrote down testimonies and interesting topics from Christian Persian web pages and added them to small toys and chocolate which we wrapped in gift paper and gave to youngsters without revealing who had sent them the gifts. We had to be careful so that it did not lead to any trouble for those who received the Word of God .
Here in Norway, the situation is different as you do not have the same concerns. We are allowed to grow in faith and have open fellowship with one another. I am a member of Gideon whose purpose is also to give people Bibles and New Testaments. I distribute them, especially among Farsi-speaking Iranians and Afghans, then invite them to attend our fellowhip to come to know a different God.
I am a member of a local church in Oslo where I was baptized. My desire and goal is to see my people come to know the love of Jesus Christ and be delivered from the power of sin. I want God to use me as long as I live, wherever I live. I know that there are still many things I need to learn and experience because I am still like a child who wants to learn more and more. My greatest desire is to attend Bible college to grow more in the knowledge of God’s Word, that I may one day return to my homeland, Iran, plant a church there, and make Jesus Christ known to my people, that they, too, can enjoy His glorious salvation!