Taher stumbled from room to room. They were gone. All of them. All of them were gone.
His daughter. She had turned first. There was her Qur’an, on the little table by her bed. That cursed Bible? Surely she had taken that with her.
His wife – she held the coveted title of Hajieh – a woman who had made the pilgrimage to holy Mecca! But she had turned to this accursed Christianity too. There was her head covering, lying on the floor.
His son. He had turned last. That was when Taher had started beating them all, threatening to kill them, frantic to force them to turn away from this devilish religion. But they had only pleaded with him and prayed for him.
There was a note: ‘We love you, Papa, but we have to escape. We’re praying for you.’
How can it be?
How can they all be gone? Taher pounded his fist on the wall. No! He found a vase, and with great fury, threw it across the room. The splintering shatters seemed to echo again and again.
Then he sat down on the bed and sobbed. They were gone.
Day after day, Taher came home from work to an empty house. He asked everyone, but no one knew where they had gone. More and more he felt he was in a fog of grief and despair. He turned to the Qur’an.
‘Obey Allah and His Messenger’ read the Qur’an, ‘… be patient and persevering: for Allah is with those who patiently persevere.’
‘Allah is with those who patiently persevere’, Taher repeated. ‘I’ll patiently persevere.’ Day after day he went to work and came home, said his prayers and memorised the Qur’an. He hoped and prayed for word from his family. But no word came.
‘Seek his help with patient perseverance and prayer’, read the Qur’an, ‘it is indeed hard, except to those who bring a lowly spirit.’
‘My spirit is very low’, said Taher. ‘Very, very low.’
‘O you who believe!’, read the Qur’an. ‘Do your duty to Allah and fear him. And seek the way to approach him, and strive hard in his cause so that you may be successful.’
A good Muslim
‘Haven’t I striven?’, Taher cried out. ‘Am I not a Haji? I made the pilgrimage to Mecca! Don’t I give alms? I do all the prayers and the fasts! I believe in the sinlessness of Mohammed and Fatimeh and the imams! I even memorise the Qur’an!’ He walked around his house, from one empty room to another. ‘What kind of success is this?’ he cried to the empty rooms.
Taher fell face down on the floor, his shoulders heaving with sobs. ‘Please, Allah, show me your face! My family talked about a God who revealed himself to them. But you are the true God! Reveal yourself to me!’
As day after day passed in darkness and silence, the first small feelings of doubt began to bubble up in his heart.
Jesus? The Bible? It was unthinkable!
‘Where are you?’ he cried.
But finally one night, sobbing in his bed, Taher moaned: ‘I’ll believe in the God who reveals himself to me.’
The Living God answered his prayer.
That night, asleep in his bed, in the darkness of his room, Taher saw a man on a donkey coming toward him. Who was he? Where was he coming from? The man got off the donkey and reached out. ‘I’ll cleanse you from all your sins’, he said. Then he hugged Taher. ‘You’re free. I’ll give you rest. Believe in me.’
Taher fell down on his knees. ‘What will happen if I sin again?’ he asked.
The man climbed back onto his donkey and rode away. His last words were: ‘I’ll cleanse you from all your sins.’
Taher stood gazing after the strange man. Who was he? What did he mean?
Then in his vision another man came. ‘Do you know who that man on the donkey is?’ he asked.
‘No’, said Taher.
‘He is Jesus Christ. He’ll cleanse you from your sins.’ And that man too disappeared.
Then Taher woke up.
What could it mean? How could a prophet cleanse anyone from his sins?
Maybe that dream was from the devil. Taher tried to go back to sleep.
In his fitful sleep, he had the same dream again. The man on the donkey came. He said the same words. He left. Then the other man came. ‘Do you know who that man on the donkey is? He is Jesus Christ. He will cleanse you from your sins.’
This time when Taher woke up, he was shaking. How could he have this same dream twice? He was a faithful Muslim! He had been a faithful Muslim from his earliest memories. He had made the pilgrimage to Mecca – he was a Haji! What was this dream – was it telling him to leave Islam? Unthinkable!
Finally, after tossing and turning, he fell asleep again. And there he was again – the man on the donkey. The kindness in his eyes. The hug! ‘I will cleanse you from your sins.’
‘Do you know who that man is? He is Jesus Christ! He will cleanse you from your sins.’
Taher sat bolt upright in bed. Three times! He had had the same dream three times!
‘Who are you?’ he called to the darkness. ‘Where are you?’
Jesus is God
Then he cried out, almost against his will, ‘Jesus Christ!’ He gripped the bedclothes, shaking. He couldn’t say the words yet, but the thought was in his mind. Jesus Christ is the only true God.
Taher climbed out of bed, feeling like a different person. Jesus Christ is true. That means that Islam is false. I need help. What should I do?
He had to get to the Christian church. The only church he knew about was the church he had told his family they could never attend. But he needed help – he needed to find out more about this man on the donkey.
The house church
The next Friday, when the Christian house church was meeting, Taher cautiously approached the door. When a man walked inside, Taher slipped in behind him. There were the Christians, sitting in a circle in the small room.
‘It’s Taher!’ people whispered to each other. ‘Why is he here?’
The Christians had all been praying for Taher for over a year. Some of them had helped Taher’s family escape the country. They knew how much he hated Christianity, and how he had beaten his family and even threatened to kill them.
So why was he here? Would he turn them all in to the secret police, the way he had told his family he would do?
A church leader came up to him. ‘How can I help you?’ he asked politely.
Taher looked down and then looked around. At first, he didn’t know what to say. ‘I want to pray’, he stammered. ‘I want to go to church.’ He hesitated again. ‘I want to give my life to Christ. I need help, because I don’t know how to do that.’
The church leader’s eyes grew large. Everyone turned to look, no one said a word.
Taher spoke again, and this time he spoke to the whole group. ‘I saw Jesus in a dream!’ he said. ‘I saw him face to face! He said he would cleanse me from my sins!’ His voice choked in his throat.
Then he walked in and sat down quietly in the group. He closed his eyes to listen to the singing about the love of Christ, who had died to cleanse us from all our sins, who had risen to give us freedom. ‘You will give me rest’, he murmured. ‘I will believe in you.’
Like a river
Taher grew in the Christian faith quickly, with great love and power in the Holy Spirit. After drinking long and deep of the Living Water, he became like a river to those around him, risking his life for Jesus.
One day, Taher was able to escape Iran and join his family in another country. Together they rejoiced in the great salvation of the one who cleanses from sins and makes us free. Together they’re praying for the people of Iran to find this great freedom and know this great love.
This article is a chapter from Living Water in the Desert by Rebecca Davis, recently published by Christian Focus, ISBN 978 1 781 915 639 £5.99