As a first grader, Ziafat, who now pastors Providence Church in Frisco, Texas, moved to the United States with his family from Iran. It was 1979, a bad year to be Iranian in America, Ziafat told his listeners at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s summit on racial reconciliation and the gospel.
Ziafat’s family left Iran during the Islamic Revolution. “We had no idea what kind of unrest we were about to walk into,” he said.
The ongoing hostage crisis involving American victims meant Ziafat’s new home—Houston, Texas—was a hostile place. Radio stations played a new version of the Beach Boys’ song about Barbara Ann: “Bomb, bomb, bomb…bomb, bomb Iran…”
Rocks were thrown at his family’s home, and his parents’ tires were slashed. Ziafat and his brother were threatened at school.
And when he was in second grade, his tutor—who had taught him English by reading him books—gave him a small New Testament.
“You’re not going to understand this today, Afshin, but promise me you’ll hold on to it and read it when you’re older,” she told him.
Ten years later, Ziafat accepted Christ.
“Had any other American given me that New Testament, I would have thrown it away,” Ziafat said in Nashville today. “Because I didn’t trust them.
“You want to win a Muslim for Christ, I believe you have to earn the right to be heard. And she did it by the way she was loving me.”
“There are many more Afshin Ziafat’s today than there were back then, in your neighborhoods,” he said, “and God is calling us to step out. Listen to me folks— especially at a time when it is expected for us to distrust and maybe even hate Muslims.”
Ziafat ended his testimony with the story of the prophet Jonah, who knew that God was calling him to go preach to Assyrians who were not only his enemies, but also would conquer his people. Jonah’s book ends with a question from God about the people the prophet was called to go to, Ziafat noted:
“Should I not pity them?”
“You never get the answer from Jonah,” Ziafat said. “You know why? Because I think that questions goes out for us today….And I’m telling you, friends, we answer that question with the way we live our lives.
“The gospel calls me to step out of my comfort zone and go out to people who don’t look like me, who don’t dress like me, who are not of my skin color, but on top of that, especially those who are my enemies. Who I am expected to hate? When I show them love, the gospel is revealed.”