As the eldest son of strict Muslim parents in the Middle East, Mehdi (a pseudonym) felt the weight of responsibility from an early age. Both his parents were teachers of the Quran and sought to instill Islamic values and principles in their seven children. Yet Mehdi resisted. As a teenager, he refused to pray, go to mosque or participate in Ramadan. For him, this wasn’t just an act of rebellion; he sincerely didn’t believe in Allah. In fact, he was a self-proclaimed atheist.
Although disinterested in religion, Mehdi accepted invitations to attend church services with Christian friends from school. He did this three times, and each time, his parents punished him.
In Mehdi’s country, there is a small minority of Christians, but they are not allowed to proselytize, especially to Muslims. And Muslims who convert to Christianity may very well face the death penalty. “Even the parents of my friends told me, ‘Please don’t visit us again because we get in trouble,’” Mehdi said.
When Mehdi entered university, he became interested in Western literature and philosophy. One day he decided to share his research with a group of peers. Governmental authorities found out that Mehdi was promoting “radical thinking,” and threw him in jail for a month.
Another time, Mehdi was teaching English at a private school and mentioned a passage from a Fyodor Dostoevsky novel. One student relayed the discussion to his father, who was a government official. This time Mehdi was in jail for five weeks.
Later, near the end of his university studies, Mehdi wrote a research paper comparing two authors—one was Middle Eastern while the other was European. After he submitted the paper, he was called to the Islamic Guidance Office. “They told me, ‘What you have written is not according to Islam. It is blasphemy!’”
They eventually told Mehdi he could go home. Yet two days later, the police came to his home, arrested him and confiscated several books he owned. Mehdi was imprisoned for six months.
It wasn’t until Mehdi returned home half a year later, bloodied and bruised, that his parents realized the grave danger their son was in.
“‘My father told me, ‘Before something worse happens, it is better that you go and leave your country.’”
Because he had been imprisoned three times, his passport was revoked. So his father paid $5,000 to smuggle him out of the country.
Mehdi traveled from country to country until the truck he was riding in stopped suddenly, and the driver yelled, “Go!”
Mehdi didn’t know where he was. He aimlessly wandered the streets, trying to decipher signs. He finally figured out he was in Germany.
When a passerby told him to get on a train, he didn’t ask questions. Yet when the ticket conductor asked Mehdi for a ticket he didn’t have, he soon became acquainted with the police in this new country.
The police questioned Mehdi for several days. Once it became clear that he was truly seeking asylum, he was sent to a refugee camp. It was a year before Mehdi was granted permission to work. His first job was at a local McDonald’s.
One day a fellow worker told Mehdi, “God has a plan for you. I, my family, my church … we will pray for you.” The man was a Christian.
Mehdi responded, “Please pray for yourself. I don’t need prayer. My mother prays enough, and now this is my life. I lost my country, my homeland.”
Two years later, Mehdi’s work visa was no longer valid, and he was forced to return to the refugee camp. Depression overwhelmed him, and he considered suicide. One night he left the camp and took a train to a neighboring city. As he roamed the streets, he saw a sign advertising a church for people from his home country. Mehdi entered the building hoping someone could help him.
A man approached him and asked, “Are you Mehdi?” Mehdi answered, “Yes.”
“Hallelujah!” the man shouted. “God brought Mehdi to us!” It was his former co-worker from McDonald’s. “This is the answer to our prayers. For two years, we prayed for you,” the man explained.
From that day on, Mehdi’s heart began to soften. “I felt so light; my soul was free,” he said. He began studying the Bible, and one day while reading through the Book of James, he felt God’s words give him peace and strength. It was then that Mehdi made the decision to accept Jesus Christ into his heart. And six months later, he declared his faith in Christ publicly through baptism.
But even in Germany, Mehdi faced religious opposition. On one occasion, his Middle Eastern neighbor became upset when he saw Mehdi carrying a Bible. When Mehdi confirmed that he was a Jesus-follower, the man punched Mehdi in the face, breaking his nose. Mehdi refused to press charges.
Now Mehdi is training to become a Bible translation consultant for teams translating the Bible into Middle Eastern languages. He often has to be very secretive about his life and work. “Because of my job, I can’t tell my friends or family everything due to security risks,” he said.
Despite hardships, Mehdi is thankful for the unexpected journey God led him on. “As an atheist, my reaction was to reject everything about God,” he said. “Then God prepared the way for me—it is unbelievable. But for our God, it is possible. And because of that, when I talk to people I say it is not religion—it is a relationship.”
Mehdi clings to Matthew 10:16: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”
“This is what I pray for—that God will give me wisdom in every situation,” he said. “I keep my eyes on Him—not police or other humans. God gives me guidance and leads me to protection.”
The Scripture quotation is taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version.