Life threatened, Iranian believer finds refuge in U.S.

Baptist Press
Posted: Mar 28, 2011 6:00 PM
Life threatened, Iranian believer finds refuge in U.S.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (BP)--Babak Bighash was an electrical engineer for a major government agency in Iran, commuting more than 800 miles every two weeks between his home and workplace. He was a fairly devout Muslim yet he had unanswered questions about Islam.

About 10 years ago, he managed to pick up a Christian radio broadcast in Iran, and he heard the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery.

"After I heard the answer of Jesus and how He could pardon her, it was like a light of faith in my heart," Bighash told Baptist Press in an interview from Colorado Springs, Colo., where he has found fellowship and support at Vista Grande Baptist Church.

"Before I heard about Jesus, what I heard was violence, kill, kill. More than 300 times in the Quran you can read that Allah says kill people by this specification."

The question had lingered in his mind, "If God wants someone killed for a sin, why did He create them?"

"If He didn't want them, He wouldn't create them," Bighash said. "And a lot more things, like the difference between man and woman in Islam. I prayed in Islam for years. Sometimes for two or three hours I would be in the room, just me and Allah, and I prayed, prayed, prayed with Quran. But as soon as I came out and I left the house, I didn't have any faith. I didn't have any result of my conversation with Allah."

After hearing that Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery rather than punishing her, Bighash returned to his hometown and sought more information on Jesus and Christianity. His first attempt was to approach a group of what he thought were Armenian Christians.

"Unfortunately they didn't help me and they told me, 'We cannot talk with you.' After a lot of insistence, they told me, 'OK,' and they gave me two books," he recounted. "But when I came back home and read the books, one of them was about the building of a church and the other was about the king of Armenia that brought the Christian religion for them.

"So I came back the next day and I said, 'Excuse me. I paid a lot of money for these books but these are not about answering my questions.' So they told me, 'We cannot help you.' And really I was mad at them, and I said, 'If you cannot talk about your belief, close the door of this church.' They gave me an address for another small group of Christians. They told me, 'We didn't believe them and we think they are infidels, but they can talk with you about Jesus.'"

Bighash made contact with someone from the group, and that person referred him to another man, a Christian in an underground church in Iran.

"He told me the name of a street and said, 'I will wear black shirt and brown shoes and I will have a newspaper in my left hand. You come like a taxi, and I will be your passenger.' We started talking, and I asked my question. He answered me and he gave me a tract," Bighash said. "He started to teach me about the plan of God for creation, what happened and then how God tried to bring us back to Himself.

"We had several appointments in my car and sometimes in the park. After two or three months, he asked me, 'Do you believe Jesus as your God and your Savior, and do you believe that Jesus came?' I said yes. It was in March 1999 when Jesus came into my life."

The man introduced Bighash to other Muslims who had converted to Christianity, and he joined them regularly for worship and prayer. About six months later, Bighash's wife told him she noticed a difference in him. Before, if someone cut him off in traffic, he yelled at them, but now he was calm, she said. He didn't tell her he had become a Christian because he feared repercussions from his mother, who was a strong Muslim and who ensured that the family attended the local mosque.

But one night Bighash was praying at home to God and his wife woke up and asked what he was doing. He told her to go back to sleep and he would explain in the morning. The next day, he called his pastor and asked what to do. The two agreed that it was time to share his faith with his wife.

She wanted more information, so the pastor's wife met her regularly under the guise of providing cooking lessons or going shopping, and within about three months, Bighash's wife accepted Jesus. They began going to church as a couple, along with their 3-year-old daughter.

"Sometimes the people who sang in church sang about kids. So my kid could remember this song, and one day when we were shopping, she started talking and singing this song," Bighash recounted. "It was very dangerous, and so I told my wife, 'Control her. Try to tell her don't sing and don't tell about where we were.' But it was hard because she was just 3 years old."

Soon the family stopped going to the mosque, and Bighash's mother reported them to the secret police. The mosque police started sending threatening messages to Bighash by calling on the telephone or by throwing stones at his house with warning messages attached. So he stopped inviting other Christians to his home for secret meetings, and after about a year with no contact from the mosque police, Bighash figured he was safe.

He invited Christians to his home for worship again, and somehow the mosque police learned of the gathering and arrested Bighash and some others.

"They took us to a jail and I was there for two or three weeks. I was interrogated. They beat me, punched me, insulted me. Then they broke my rib. They wanted to know about our pastor, but fortunately before they arrested me, our pastor had left our house," Bighash said. "After three weeks they sent me to the judge, and the judge said, 'You made a safe place for some people that are Zionists and are trying to do something against the government.' Because of this, they sent me to jail for one year.

"During this one year, it was really hard because I was between a lot of criminal people. Every day I had fights with them, and they sent me to a small individual place. During this time I lost my faith, and I had only two visits with my family," he said.

When he was released from prison, Bighash was informed that he had been fired from his job with the government. He had lost a good salary and a job that is a dream for many people in Iran, and he was devastated. Bighash was reeling, and he didn't go to church for a while.

"I understood I had a big vacuum in my life, and it's not job, it's not money," he said. "I need Jesus, I need faith, I need to spend time with the people for worship. I tried to make contact again, but this time it was very, very hard because I knew that they watched me and it was dangerous."

Before long, he found himself again at an underground church gathering. When the meeting was over, the people didn't leave as a group, they left one or two at a time. Bighash sent his wife and two daughters ahead of him, and he was the last to leave.

Suddenly a car came from behind him and some people pushed him inside, and they placed a blindfold and handcuffs on him. They took him to a place he didn't know, and for two days they made him sit in a chair quietly. When he asked for food or to use the restroom, they beat him, he said.

After two days, he was interrogated, sometimes for seven or eight hours at a time. Again he denied knowing anything about an underground church, and he told a judge he had only gone to the house to meet a friend. The friend wasn't home, he said, but his wife said he would arrive shortly. At that, the judged sentenced him to 72 lashes for being alone with a woman who was not his wife.

Once he had received the lashes, he was allowed to go home, though in much pain. But the violence didn't end there. Bighash was watched again by the mosque police, and he ended up saving his family from being hit by a car as they were leaving their home one day. Realizing that his family was in real danger, Bighash arranged for them to move to Europe to live with his wife's aunt. But he had to stay in Iran because of his alleged criminal record.

Each time he tried to get a visa to leave the country, he was denied. After many months of frustration, his attorney advised him to try once more, and out of a group of more than 600 people who applied that particular day, Bighash was inexplicably chosen for a visa to the United States. He made his way to Colorado Springs, Colo., where his second cousin lived. She had made arrangements for him to work at a local restaurant, but it didn't turn out as he expected.

At the restaurant, he was made to work 16 or 17 hour days for no pay, and he slept on the floor there each night. Bighash told Baptist Press his first weeks in America were worse than the year he spent in an Iranian prison.

One day, though, he noticed a couple praying at a table in the restaurant, and he asked to join them, though he spoke little English. When the man learned that Bighash was a Muslim who had converted to Christianity, he was enthralled. He contacted his friend Tim Farrington, who was a Sunday School teacher at Vista Grande Baptist Church in Colorado Springs.

"So I walked into this place with my cowboy hat and boots on, and I wanted to know if he was genuine, so I asked him -- in a very loud voice in a very small shop -- why he loved Jesus," Farrington recounted. "He was with other Iranians, and I wanted to see what his reaction would be. He clutched his chest and as best he could say, he said, 'The blood. The blood freed me.' That's all the English he knew.

"I invited him to come to one of our men's groups. Then we invited him to our Sunday School class."

Farrington and his wife picked Bighash up for church for a couple of months, but as they realized he was sleeping on the floor of the restaurant, they invited him to stay in one of their spare bedrooms.

"We've just adopted him. The people of our church have given him jobs. We had a family give him a car. We had a family help him with finances," Farrington said.

"The church at large just gives to him. They put it in a love offering envelope, put his name on it and our church accountant calls me when it's finally gotten to a point where she needs to give it to us.

"Babak can work here in the United States legally and he has a driver's license. He's got a Social Security card. He works for another pastor here in town part-time, doing menial jobs, but he'll work his heart out," said Farrington, who also helped Bighash learn English using a Farsi-English dictionary.

On March 9, Bighash was granted political asylum in the United States, which means now he can stay indefinitely and can arrange for his wife and daughters to join him, though the process could take four or five months.

"He thinks that we've been here for him, but we believe he's been here for us," Farrington said. "I will tell you that I have wanted to follow Jesus with all my heart for a long time, and when I see this man and his faith, I've come to understand that I have a long way to go in my faith."

When Bighash realized Farrington got up early for a devotional time with God each morning, Bighash asked if he could join him. The two have made a practice of getting on their knees before God together, and Farrington said it's powerful to watch Bighash pour out his heart in Farsi with tears.

"He would say that he's learned from us," Farrington said, "but to be challenged by his life has been nothing short of a huge blessing to us, and everybody in our church would say that."

Erin Roach is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press