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Welcome strangers

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Download this story - Welcome Strangers Part One

e-connect talks with a family seeking asylum in Australia, where they fled in fear of their lives. By Barry Gittins

Hamid* grew up as a ‘strong Muslim’ in a little village, living cheek to jowl with his neighbours. One little woman, a Christian, often gave him cakes; his mother always threw them away as unclean.

Why, he wondered, were the cakes dirty? What was wrong with the neighbours?

That curious incident stayed with Hamid. In his future encounters with people who did not share his worldview, as on his trip to Texas in the US to study and work in the 1970s, there was a clear, tribal gap between Hamid as part of ‘Us’ and the non-Muslims he met, who were clearly a part of the ‘Them’. There was a difference between what he had been taught about Christians, and those Christians that he met.

You can imagine his surprise decades later when, while he was working in the US in the Noughties, friends took Hamid to a Persian church. His friends danced and laughed and were happy. People were happy worshipping God.

Hamid was surprised by the power of the place, and its impact in his life. ‘I kept going,’ he remembers, ‘and I found that I loved Jesus. I kept reading about him in the Bible. 

‘I read that Jesus is the son of God – what, not a prophet? This confused me.  I worked through what this meant for me. I asked A'idah, “Please read Bible, when you read it you can know God, because God is Jesus.”’

A'idah was happy to hear that her husband was a Christian – she soon came to faith herself, with help over the phone, and she joined an underground home church, while Hamid was still in America.

‘I read Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock…if anyone hears my voice…” I read this 20 times,’ A'idah says, ‘and I know God.

‘God told me he loves me; he contracted with me. I read the Bible every night, then I called Hamid’s pastor in the US and I told him, “I want to change my religion.

‘I didn’t like to go to mosque, and my neighbours always pressured me to go. I told them, “I don’t have any time”… if I told them the truth, it would be hard for me.’

Hamid’s decision changed the lives of their family. In the eyes of their community, they were betrayers and traitors. It was not a safe or easy decision.
*Names have been changed to protect their identities.

See part 2