I was nine years old when I decided that I hated God. I hated him because I believed he hated me first.

It was 1979, during the middle of the Iranian Revolution. Ayatollah Khomeini and his religious zealots had recently overthrown the existing government and seized political power. Hundreds of thousands of people had their lives turned upside down in the chaos.

My father was a military officer in the previous regime, and we had grown up on a military base. A couple of weeks into the revolution, I was at school when we were called outside for an unexpected assembly. A soldier read off three names, including mine, and called us to the front. Removing a gun from his holster, he quoted from the Qur‘an and told me he would kill me to deliver a message to supporters of the old regime. Fortunately the school principal intervened, and the soldier relented.

Running for Our Lives

Traumatized, I rushed home to tell my father what had happened. Despite his usual sternness, he took me into his lap and pledged to keep us safe, revealing that plans were underway for an eventual escape.

To me, this felt less like escaping from Iran than escaping from God. We were leaving our home, our family, our wealth, our friends, everything we held dear—all because our country had been victimized by religion gone wrong.

Just days later, our situation grew desperate. Soldiers barged into our home and dragged my father out. One day earlier, revolutionary guards had whisked one of my father’s colleagues off to a public park, where he was brutally tortured, dying seven hours later.

To everyone’s surprise, my father made it home alive, but this only strengthened our resolve to flee. He devised a plan to leverage my mother’s heart issues as a means of escape. We met with a few trusted doctors, offering everything we owned—our home, cars, clothes, money—if they would risk helping us. One day my mother began faking chest pains. She was rushed to the hospital, where the doctors “assessed” her and recommended a trip to Switzerland for open-heart surgery.

From that point forward, we were running for our lives. Miraculously, we made it to the plane and eventually reached Switzerland. We sought out the American embassy to apply for political asylum, but the United States was not allowing Iranians in at the time.

After a while, we traveled to Germany, hoping for a more sympathetic consulate. One day my mother suggested praying to the “God of America” named Jesus. Maybe he would let us into “his” country. Her plan sounds silly in retrospect, but it worked: One week later we were flying to America.

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We settled in Texas because my father had done some previous training at Fort Hood. Living in a military town in a patriotic state, it didn’t take long to figure out that I wasn’t welcome. I was constantly bullied, joked about, picked on, harassed, and laughed at. Everywhere we lived, we were outcasts—weirdos who couldn’t acclimate.

On the day before I started high school, my father found me crying in my room. I explained that no one liked me—that I got beat up constantly and wanted to return to Iran. By this time, my father had achieved modest financial success. That day, I got an extreme makeover: new clothes, a new haircut, and a car. I walked into high school a new man—or so it seemed to my peers. Outwardly I had mastered the popularity game, but inwardly I remained fragile and insecure.

Coming Alive

A few months after graduation, a friend asked why I seemed so down. I explained that all of my friends were moving away, and I was feeling isolated. He suggested coming with him to church the next morning. Despite all my religious baggage, I conceded that I would go—but only with my parents’ permission. To my utter shock, they didn’t immediately shoot down the idea.

Unbeknownst to me, some people from this church had been dining at the restaurant my father owned. When they noticed he was shorthanded, they left their seats, picked up towels, and began waiting and busing tables throughout the lunch hour. For days, they kept returning and serving. Eventually the music minister invited my father to Wednesday night choir practice, and he felt obliged to attend. The choir director explained the restaurant’s need for temporary help, and volunteers covered the next two weeks. Their kindness touched my father’s heart.

And so I walked into that enormous Baptist church one Sunday morning as a youth rally was taking place. I noticed all the friends I used to party with, so I approached them like usual, but they were acting strangely. They all had Bibles and used super-spiritual words I didn’t understand. Within five minutes, everyone was dispersing—everyone except Larry Noh.

Everyone in our town knew Larry. He was a local legend—a linebacker from a rival football team who was outspoken about his faith. I had mocked him at a party the year before. I feared a confrontation, but he assured me he only wanted to sit with me. Throughout the Bible study, he made sure I felt included. He let me borrow his Bible and flipped to the correct passages so I wouldn’t get lost.

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The next night, 17 teenagers from church showed up at my house. For three hours they visited with me and shared the gospel, even though I wasn’t interested. They kept coming each Monday. And every Sunday and Wednesday, I was at their church. One Sunday night, the preacher invited people forward to give their lives to God. Afraid, I slipped out quickly and drove home thinking I was finished with this “church stuff.”

Arriving home, I wanted to show God who was boss of my life, so I took one of the youth group’s Bibles, doused it with lighter fluid, and set it on our backyard grill. But I couldn’t find a match! Frustrated and curious all at once, I opened the Bible and began reading. When I came to the story of Peter walking on the water toward Jesus, it came alive! God was calling me to step out—out of myself, out of my excuses. That night, in my bedroom, I trusted Jesus.

My father immediately reproached me: “You can’t be a Christian,” he said. “We are Muslims.” Assuming I would get over it, like any other teenage phase, they let me keep reading the Bible. But getting baptized sent them over the edge. When I arrived home, my father had a duffel bag packed. I was dead to him, he thundered, and I had to leave.

That night I called Larry Noh and told him I was homeless. He invited me to come live with him and six other interns in a house that belonged to the church. In the months to come, they helped me grow tremendously in my walk with the Lord. Meanwhile, one by one, God started saving my family. First my sister came to faith at a Campus Crusade event. Then my mother and brother were saved. We prayed relentlessly for my father, and eventually he too gave his life to Christ.

God, in his amazing grace, has turned my family’s tragedy into testimony. Though I hated him as a child, I can see now that he was holding us all along.

David Nasser is senior vice president for spiritual development at Liberty University.

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