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Monday, January 27, 2014

Survivors of the Revolution: Shabnam's Story

"I did not think that a simple conversation, having an opinion and simply expressing it,
 would put my life in danger..."

"I was just 13 when Khomeini came into power....."

This is how Shabnam Assadollahi begins her story as a young teenager living in Tehran, when suddenly her whole world was turned upside down.
 February 1, 1979 Ayatollah Khomeini arrived in Tehran, flying in from Paris on a jumbo 747, greeted by millions of protesters who had successfully caused the Shah to go into exile. A new era, a new age had begun in Iran. A new Islamic state had just been birthed.
For millions of Iranians, their lives would never be the same again. Khomeini's revolutionary guards and morality police would now be in full control of their lives.
Shabnam writes:

  "Overnight all women, including elementary school girls, were forced to cover their bodies from head to toe and were ordered to only wear dark colors. We were no longer allowed to attend school with the opposite sex. Our once praised school curriculum was now replaced by Arabic, Islamic studies and the Quran...."

Freedom of speech became a "thing of the past." If you disagreed with the new regime, you risked being arrested and never seeing your parents again. Yet Shabnam could not keep her views to herself. She experienced an "awakening" and felt compelled to speak her mind about the so called new rules and values being imposed on her and all of her classmates.
Eventually, the new regime arrived on her doorstep in order to silence her and at the age of 16, just three years into Khomeini's reign, The Revolutionary Guard arrested Shabnam  and took her away to the notorious hell hole known as Evin Prison.

"I did not think that a simple conversation, having an opinion and simply expressing it, would put my life in danger..."

Shabnam's teenage years had been rudely interrupted and transformed into a nightmare! She was now a prisoner of Khomeini in Evin Prison where the new regime was executing young teenagers on a daily basis in front of a firing squad.
Yet, ironically, Shabnam's interrogator took pity on her and spared her from the torture chamber. Instead she was left outside every day, blindfolded, cold and hungry.
 Even though she had been physically spared from the grueling torture, Shabnam recalls the agony of listening to the desperate cries of prisoners, begging and screaming for their deaths, rather than suffering for another minute!

"At Night I would count around 60-70 bullets which meant 60-70 souls had been executed and I was hearing the last shot they would give the victim in the head..."

Finally after spending 18 horrifying months in Evin Prison, Shabnam was released. She was determined to find out why she had been imprisoned and why so many of her friends had been senselessly murdered. She discovered that this new regime demanded absolute compliance or else death. If teenagers were caught with books or leaflets in their possession that disagreed with the new government, they would be arrested and executed. Democracy and freedom of speech under the Shah had been replaced by
an intolerant regime that ushered in a dictatorship. Women were now second class citizens with a new dress code. The wearing of hijabs was the new law that had once been banned under the Pahlavi dynasty. The sexes were segregated and young girls, some at the tender, innocent age of 9 years old were now forced into marriages.

Even before the new regime, Shabnam had hated God. In her mind there was no God, he didn't exist. Shabnam recalls that shortly before the revolution, while in Turkey, her and her family were visited by Christian missionaries. Although she was resistant to their message of God's love, she remembers watching a film they brought about  the life of Jesus. During the movie, Shabnam watched Jesus dying on the cross and deep down inside was touched by his act of his sacrificial love. Yet she continued to resist.
Then she begin having dreams about a man on a white horse. She mentioned this to her friend and her friend replied that God was reaching out to her and calling her.
Her friend began to diligently pray and fast for her and after many other dreams, questions and searching, Shabnam finally surrendered her heart to Christ.
The young rebellious, outspoken teenage girl had found her ultimate purpose in life! Now she knew why her life

had been spared from torture and rape in Evin Prison. God had a calling and purpose on Shabnam's life!
Today Shabnam is married and lives in Canada with her husband. She has went from a rebellious teenager to a powerful advocate for human rights. For many years she produced children's programs with Transworld Radio Canada and today helps newcomers and refugees, particularly women, resettle in Canada.
Shabnam has been recognized by the Canadian parliament as a courageous and outstanding promoter of human rights. She has not forgotten her horrifying experience in Evin Prison. She continues to speak out and be a voice for Iranians today who are suffering under an oppressive government. Not much has changed in Iran but Shabnam has changed! She has dedicated her life to speaking out against the gross and unjust violation of human rights in Iran.
She is a true survivor of the Revolution and 35 years later is still fighting passionately for human rights.
Shabnam writes:

"The truth about the Islamic Republic needs to reach the ears and hearts of the world, for knowledge is the vessel of constructive change..."

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


"Forgiveness is the fragrance that the flower
 leaves on the heel of the one that crushed it."

                       Author unknown


Forgive is one of those words that causes us to cringe. We want to run away and hide instead of facing the reality of that word.


"Forgive? What! Me forgive! You don't understand how hurt I am!"
 "I can never forgive what that monster did to my child!"

 Bitterness, anger, rage, uncontrollable emotions..This is the vicious cycle we go through in dealing with this emotional issue. Betrayal..scarred emotions..the death of a loved one..are just some of the many situations that make forgiveness seem like an impossible command to obey. Forgiveness is the last thing on one's mind when they have been betrayed, insulted, hurt and pushed to an emotional meltdown.

Just two weeks ago, I came across a heartbreaking story on the internet that has had a lasting emotional impact on my life. It was the story of a 27 year-old Iranian girl named Sanaz Nezami, who was brutally beaten and left for brain dead by her husband. Unable to travel to the United States to be with their daughter in her final hours, Sanaz's parents had to watch her die via a computer link up in her hospital room. Inspite of the horror and evil done to their precious daughter, they agreed to have her vital organs transplanted to save the lives of seven other Americans.
The story of Sanaz has had an incredible impact on not only me but also millions of people all over the world. It's the story of a "silver lining, a beauty from the ashes," something good coming out of a dark and difficult tragedy. My last blog was a tribute to the character and passion of Sanaz, a beautiful, intelligent Iranian girl who came to my country for a life of freedom and success.
However, every time I would see a picture of her husband Nima, I was filled with anger and bitterness. I wanted him to be justly punished for the senseless killing of this beautiful, innocent girl! How could he do this to her? Why did he do it?
The feelings and emotions haunted me day and night and became obsessive to the point that it was interfering with my daily work routine, until last night....
Last night I saw a picture of Nima with his lawyer appearing before a judge. I gazed at the picture, mocking and ridiculing him because of height and scraggly looking hair and then suddenly, my heart was convicted. Instead of bitterness, I was flooded with feelings of sorrow and compassion. I could hear the still, small voice inside of me saying,  FORGIVE.

It is amazing how the Lord is able to get our attention. Right in the middle of my job, at the trash compactor, gazing at this picture on my cell phone, the Lord convicted me of my bitterness and self-righteousness, by reminding me of the one command that all of us as Christians struggle with from time to time...FORGIVE...
 Jesus taught his disciples to "Love their pray for those who persecute them."
Forgiveness is not an option..It's a command. Most of the time we allow our emotions to control and distort this clear command.
Standing at the trash compactor, gazing at the cell phone, the Lord reminded me that I have been forgiven a great debt, all of my sins have been erased and cleansed by his mercy and love. Because of that, I need to extend my mercy, love and forgiveness even to the most vilest and wicked of people.
As I gazed at Nima standing in the courtroom, I pictured the Judge saying to him, "You are guilty Nima. You have taken the life of another human being. You will spend the rest of your life behind bars and never see the light of day again.."
Then after the just verdict was rendered, I could picture the judge, stepping down from his "pulpit" and removing his judicial robes and embracing Nima with undeserved mercy and grace.
That is exactly what our Savior and Lord Jesus did for all of us, The just Judge of the universe stepped down from his royal seat in heaven and set aside his rights and privileges and became a humble servant. Jesus was perfect, sinless and completely innocent and yet he allowed himself to be treated as a criminal and die on a cross in order for all of our sins to be forgiven. 
Jesus prayed for his executioners while suffering on the cross, crying out, "Father forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34)
Mercy and forgiveness is at the heart of the gospel. It is what distinguishes Christianity from all of the other world religions. Christianity is not a religion like all of the rest, but a real love relationship with God through Christ.
A perfect example of what real forgiveness looks like is the powerful story of the Amish community. In 2006, Charles Roberts barricaded himself inside of an Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, tied up ten girls and opened fire, killing five and injuring five others before committing suicide.
Devastated and heartbroken, the small Amish community gathered together in mourning, but shocked the media and the world when they chose to forgive the killer, even to the extent of attending his funeral and embracing his family.
This is what real forgiveness looks like. Instead of allowing bitterness and rage keeping their souls in bondage for the rest of their life, the Amish community instead reached out with the love and forgiveness as taught to them by Jesus.

"Forgiveness is the fragrance that the flower leaves on the heel of the one that crushed it."

How true! The crushed rose, the crushed flower, leaves a beautiful fragrance inspite of being trampled upon. That should be the response of every Christian! Grace and mercy, instead of hatred and anger! Unfortunately that was was not my first response, but it doesn't change the fact that it should have been...

"Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you."      
                                    (Ephesians 5:32)

Wait. There is one more beautiful "twist" to my journey toward forgiveness. After my experience I looked up the meaning of Sanaz's name on the internet. I was astonished to find that the name Sanaz in Persian means, "full of grace."
Wow! That revelation brought tears to my eyes. After reflecting for a moment, I realized that The meaning of her name is really not surprising. Sanaz was a compassionate and giving person. She truly lived up to her name. In fact I'm convinced that she would have wanted all of us to forgive Nima for what he did.
Sanaz was that crushed flower that has left a fragrance on all of our lives. That is why I can forgive!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Sanaz Nezami: "Ripples of life in an ocean of needs."

"You matter!"

You might be but one drop in a bigger ocean,
but even that drop causes ripples which effect 
every other drop...."

                          Sue Krebs.

"Death to America!"
 This is the common slogan that we are treated to in photos and film footage from public demonstrations in Iran. The conclusion we come to is that Iranians hate America and despise our way of life.
 However, in the case of Sanaz Nezami, the exact opposite is true. Sanaz loved America! Born and raised in Tehran, the 27 year-old Iranian had recently married and was eager to enroll at Michigan Technological University and pursue an advanced degree in environmental health engineering. A bright and intelligent girl, Sanaz was already proficient in other languages such as German, Spanish and Arabic and had earned her master's degree in French Translation. She pursued life with an energy and passion to be successful and lived by a personal motto to pursue problems with patience. Writing on her Facebook page in a section called, "notes," Sanaz lamented that, "many of us don't have the patience to solve our problems. We quit before there is a breakthrough."
Sanaz wrote, "The important thing to remember is, no matter how long it takes, never give up, and never quit. Keep at it!"
Sanaz lived by her motto. She patiently pursued her dreams, earned her degrees and then left Iran headed to Turkey, where she married her husband, Nima, someone she had met on the internet. Her dream was now to earn her doctorate degree in environmental engineering at Michigan Tech University.
But then something terrible and unforeseen happened that would put an end to the dream of her life!
Sanaz was rushed to a hospital in Michigan and was pronounced brain dead, the victim of a senseless, brutal beating from her husband. Desperate to inform her parents of the tragedy, nurses and hospital officials searched the internet and discovered Sanaz's online resume. A few hours later, the hospital finally connected with Sanaz's parents and broke the tragic news to them. 
Unfortunately because of money and visa problems, the parents were unable to immediately come and spend the final hours with their daughter. However in an act of true kindness and mercy, the hospital positioned a computer in Sanaz's room where they could see their daughter and be with her in the last hours of her life.
After her death, the parents, moved with trust and compassion for the hospital staff, agreed to allow Sanaz's vital organs to be transplanted in seven other people in the U.S. in order to save their lives.
I write about Iranians. My Facebook page is dedicated to their hope and freedom. My book, "The Rose of Nowruz: dreams of hope and freedom," is about standing up for the rights of women in Iran, who suffer underneath an oppressive, male-dominated society.
 When I read about Sanaz, I was heartbroken! Here was a young, positive, beautiful Iranian girl who loved America and was eager to pursue her lifelong dreams and instead became the victim of a senseless violent act that is all too common among women.
No doubt, Sanaz understood the position of women in Iran and was now going to live in a better place where women are treated with more respect and equality. Tragically however, even here, she was not safe!
I knew I wanted to write something very special about this lovely Iranian girl, so I visited her Facebook page and there right before my eyes was the answer I was looking for!
As I scrolled down her page, I came across a posting Sanaz had shared. In fact, the posting was dated, November 26, 2013. It was to be one of her last
status updates before her tragic death. The posting was a beautiful blue picture of a single drop of water falling into an ocean. At the top of the picture the title read, "YOU MATTER!"
Below the title was a short "thought for the day," which read:

"You might be but one drop in a bigger ocean,
 but even that drop causes ripples which effect every other drop."

That simple, but profound statement caused me to weep. How True! Sanaz's life, that one tiny drop in the ocean dramatically transformed the lives of seven people! In her death, the very organs that sustained her life brought hope to the lives of others.
In her death, Sanaz became that "life-giving ripple" in an ocean of needs!
Even though she did not personally give permission for her organs to be donated, no doubt she would have agreed to do this because she loved life and loved people.
In the midst of a senseless and painful tragedy, God brought beauty out of the ashes of her suffering. The lives of many people were transformed by an evil and selfish act and will live vibrant and healthy lives because of Sanaz's death.
Sanaz gave the most precious gift you can give, the gift of life.
Jesus taught, "There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends." (John 15:13)
The next time that you see a photo or video clip of Iranians chanting, "death to America," don't believe it!
Sanaz Nezami gave her life so that other Americans could live. She was a living example of one Iranian who loved my country and I will never forget her sacrifice!