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Sunday, February 17, 2013

"Image is everything, right?'

"Dare to love yourself, as if you were a rainbow
 with gold at both ends."
                        Aberjhani, "The river of winged dreams."

  One of the traditions of my Iranian friends as they prepare for the celebration of Nowruz, the Persian new year, is shopping for new clothes. Spring is just around the corner and its time for new beginnings and one of those new beginnings is expanding one's wardrobe!
 My dear friend Atefe, who lives in Tehran, excitedly left her home one day to go shopping at the local clothing store. While browsing around in the clothing store, she noticed Iranian security forces confronting the store owner. Later on she discovered that the security forces had found that the store owner was in violation of the Islamic dress code. She had failed to put hijabs on all of the mannequins and had to do so immediately or be arrested.
It is Islamic law in Iran for all women to be veiled when they go out publicly. If they fail to comply they can be fined and or arrested. But what a minute!! Help me out, please! Is there not a distinction between human beings and mannequins? What is a mannequin? A mannequin is a lifeless form of plastic representing a human being that is used to display the latest fashions in store windows!
Oh, I get it now!
The Islamic regime would prefer that all Iranians be just like mannequins. Mannequins don't speak or talk back or protest or whine or complain. These lifeless plastic forms wear whatever you put on them without a complaint and stand in a window all day.
It seems that image is everything according to Iranian law. Iranians are supposed to obey without complaint and wear what they are told much like the mannequins in the clothing store windows.
The sad reality to this "image is everything" scenario is that it reduces human beings to lifeless forms without hearts or souls. Human beings cannot exist under these conditions. They quickly lose all self worth and self esteem and that's exact what false religion does. It robs people of all meaning and purpose in life and reduces them to puppets on string.
God didn't create us as lifeless forms or puppets on a string. He created us with great value and worth and gave us a heart to discover the beauty of life that surrounds us. He breathed into our souls love, purpose and creativity to shine like the brilliant colors of the rainbow and to make a difference in a world of suffering and pain.
 Our lives wont shine very brightly if we are reduced to the morbid and depressing existence of mannequins in the store window.
But, image is everything, right?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

A Day in the Life of an Iranian Woman: In her own Words

I remember as a young teenager watching the movie, "The diary of Anne Frank." I was fascinated and intrigued by the courage of this Jewish family, struggling to survive in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. Eventually they had to go into hiding to avoid being rounded up and shipped away to the death camps. For nearly two years before they were finally caught, Anne faithfully recorded in her diary, the trials, the fears and the emotions of living crammed together in a tiny office space, struggling to survive and holding out hope that one day they could be free again.
I have a precious friend named Atefe who lives under similar circumstances in Tehran, Iran. Like Anne, she faithfully records the experiences of what its like to live under the oppression and fear of an Islamic government. Although Atefe is not forced to go into hiding like the Frank family, yet like Anne, she longs for the day when she can walk the streets of Tehran without fear.
The stories and experiences Atefe shared with me greatly contributed to the writing of my new book, "The Rose of Nowruz: dream of hope and freedom."
Recently I asked Atefe to explain in her own words what it's like to live in Iran so that I could share her story with my customers at my upcoming book signing. I remember opening her email at work and reading it. After I finished, I was almost speechless and in tears. What you are about to read is unedited and exactly the way Atefe wrote it. I will not change anything or try to improve on it. This is a brief description of a day in the life of an Iranian woman: in her own words:

" Imagine a day when you wake you and dress as normal as you always do. You are fresh to start a day but as you reach your university faculty, your phone rings. It's the security guard. They have been watching you talk to your male classmate, so you are called to the discipline committee to prove that you aren't involved with that boy in violation of the Islamic rules. You never can prove that and you get something like a note in your graduation certificate stating that you had an illegitimate relationship with your classmate.

Another day as you enter the faculty, a woman wearing a chador stops you at the door and asks, "What's that make-up your're wearing?" Again..discipline committee.

Day 3..Your mobile rings..It's the discipline committee.."Miss, Why have you got a Facebook account?" Why aren't you wearing a hijab in your profile picture?"  Again..discipline committee. "Have you got a boyfriend? Who are your friends? Do you friends have boyfriends? Do they have sex with their boyfriends? Do your friends stay at your boyfriend's houses?"
Then they ask you to spy for them in the dorm and report to them anything that happens there!

If you say anything against Islam or any of the political figures, your parents won't see you anymore!

You are graduated and you are working:

8:00 am..You go out of the house and when u reach downtown, The Gasht Ershad (morality police) stops you. Again, the same questions..They take you to a police station. You sit next to men who have been arrested in the street. They take a picture of you while you are holding a paper with your name on it. Exactly like a criminal!!
They treat you like a prostitute, bombarding you with their words and accusations until you burst into tears. Then they call your home and ask your parents to bring a longer manteau,
(Islamic chador) Then you have to sign a commitment paper which says if they see you on the street and they don't like your appearance, you will have to appear in court and the vicious cycle continues for the rest of your life. (They even stop your car to check your appearance)

These are daily routines for Iranian girls here and when you wish to free yourself by migrating somewhere else, the sanctions and poor economical situation won't allow you to pay the primary expenses..
Then you feel there is nothing called "God" justice.
Just imagine a hot day in summer when you have to wear a manteau..a scarf..and try to work.
You can't even imagine the way we live here. You can't even imagine..NO, YOU NEVER CAN
"He will rescue the poor when they cry to Him. He will help the oppressed who have no one to defend them.
                                   (Psalm 72:12)

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Worshiping together without fear

"Come let us worship and bow down.
Let us kneel before the Lord our maker.
For He is our God."
  (Psalm 95:6)

"Bless the Lord, O my soul, O my soul! Worship His holy name."
This is the opening lyric of an incredible worship song and video by contemporary Christian artist, Matt Redman. This song is also on my ipod and I find it hard to stop listening to it. I find myself adoring God in worship and praise through this powerful little song. Just recently I uploaded it to my Facebook page to share it with all of my friends. One of the first persons to "like" it was my dear friend in Iran. He will remain anonymous because of security reasons.
After he watched the video, we began to have a chat together. I was on my smartphone and he was on his pc at home in Tehran. I asked my friend what he thought of the video and he quickly responded that it was beautiful. What he said next was the cause of a profound worship experience.
My friend said, "Randy, it is my dream to go to church someday with you without fear."
I cannot adequately describe the emotions I had when he said that. I began to think of the song again by Matt Redman entitled, "10,000 reasons." In what I can best describe as a flash of light or vision, I could see myself and all of my friends in Iran, together worshiping God without fear.
I quickly texted my friend back and told him, "You dont have to be afraid..We are together now in heart and spirit. We may be miles apart but we are together worshiping God in spirit."
I told my friend to watch the video again as we chatted. Then I said, "Lift you voice and heart in praise with me right now. We are worshiping together. "
The I boldly told him. "There is no government in Iran that can stop our worship together."
My friend agreed with me and then told me, "My biggest dream is to go to church."
My heart goes out to my friend. His greatest dream in Iran is to worship Jesus without fear. Muslims in Iran are forbidden to convert to any other religion. It can cost them their life and that's why my friend lives in constant fear. A few years ago he became a Christian and because of that he must practice his Faith secretly.
However, God's word is not bound or restricted by government laws. Through the miracle of technology, My friend and I did go to Church together. For a few precious and unforgettable minutes, we worshiped together, reflecting on an incredible song by Matt Redman.
I told my friend, "Your dream is coming true right now. You and me are in church together as we worship. There is no distance in our worship."
 I can sing with Matt Redman "Bless the lord O my soul. Worship His holy name." For a few minutes, one night after work, God answered the prayer of my friend in Iran. It is moment that I will never forget.

Worshiping God together without fear

"Come let us worship and bow down.
Let us kneel before the Lord our maker.
For He is our God."
        (Psalm 95:6)

"Bless the Lord O my Soul. O my soul! Worship his holy name."
 This is the opening lyric of an incredible worship song and video by contemporary Christian artist Matt Redman. I also have this song on my ipod. I find it hard to stop listening to it. It stirs the emotions of my heart and causes me to lift my hands in adoration to our great God. I recently uploaded this video and put it on my Facebook page, anxious to share it with my friends. One of the first persons to "Like" this video was my friend in Iran. His name must remain anonymous because of security reasons. What my friend said next was the cause of a profound worship experience. I was on my smartphone and he was on his pc at home in Tehran.
My friend told me, "Randy, it is my dream to go to church with you without fear."
I cannot adequately describe in words the emotions I felt when he told me that.
I quickly texted him back and replied, "Dear brother. Do not be afraid. We can worship God right now together without fear." He agreed.
I told my friend, "Please watch that video again now. Raise you hands and heart with me. Your dream is going to come true right now. Even though we are miles apart we are together in spirit worshiping Jesus."
My friend clicked on and watched the video again. He told me it was beautiful.
I said to him, "Lift your voice and your heart in praise with me. Right now we are worshiping together without fear and no government in Iran can stop us!"
Why was my friend so afraid? In Iran, a Muslim is forbidden to change his religion. It could cost him his life! A few years ago, my friend converted to Christianity and now has to practice his Faith secretly.
However, the Word of God cannot be bound! God is not bound or restricted by governments!!
One unforgettable night after work, through the miracle of technology, My friend and I joined our hearts and spirits together in worship. God answered the prayer of my friend.
 For a few precious minutes, we worshiped together to an incredible song, "10,000 reasons," by Matt Redman. I can sing loudly with Matt, "Bless the Lord, O my soul. Worship His holy name."
It is a night that I will never forget!