After a long day capped by a late-afternoon meeting at the church, I called my wife to say that, meeting over, I was going to stop at our local Aldi store to pick up some salad mixes.
As is usually true when I go to Aldi, I ended up going down every aisle, picking up a jar of grape preserves, two loaves of whole grain bread, a package of gluten-free protein bars, a bottle of Canola oil, and a bag of potato chips for my wife.
At aisle two, a man, another customer, greeted me. Later, as I rolled down the last aisle, the freezer section, the same man, having noticed my clerical collar, asked me if I was a Roman Catholic priest. "I'm a Lutheran pastor," I told him. That simple exchange began a thirty-minute conversation. Although I was weary from having awakened at 3:30 this morning, I was glad that God had orchestrated my day so that, at that moment, I met Amir.
Amir explained that he was originally from Teheran. He came to this country during the lead-up to the Iran-Iraq War and became a follower of Jesus Christ here in the United States in 2005. The story of his coming to new and everlasting life through faith in Jesus reminded me of that of the late Nabeel Qureshi, whose autobiographical book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, I recommended to him.
As was true of Qureshi, Amir was a devout Muslim who sought to know Allah, the Muslim name for God. In the midst of his seeking, he had an encounter with the risen Jesus in which he as healed of an illness. He was overwhelmed and has been a Christian ever since.
Although he lives in Dayton, where he works in financial services, Amir commutes to Columbus every week to worship with other Muslims who have come to faith in Jesus. "You wouldn't believe how many Muslims from Iran are now Christians. The people back in Iran say, 'You're only a Christian now because you're around Christians in America' I tell them, 'No, I have met Jesus and so have others from Iran.'"
He told me about a woman who is part of his fellowship. "She also was trying to know Allah. She had no peace of mind because, even though every chapter of the Koran begins by extolling Allah's mercy, Allah is always angry. It was written long after the New Testament, but it replaces the gospel of grace with the law and leaves people far from God.
"But in her quest for Allah, this woman felt led to call on the name of Jesus. God saw her sincere desire for Him and the Holy Spirit prompted her to call out to Jesus. She wasn't even sure why she'd said Jesus' name.
"But as soon as the words left her mouth, there was a knock at her door. She went to find a man dressed in a white cloak who had olive skin, dark hair and beard, and piercing brown eyes. She immediately fell at his feet and began to weep, wiping the stranger's feet with her tears, long before she had ever read of the woman who had done the same thing for Jesus."
I told him about my own personal encounter with Jesus, one that came as this one-time atheist wrestled to understand the faith of the Lutheran Christians that I had come to know. Although it happened in a dream forty years ago, I remember meeting and being embrace by Jesus distinctly.
Amir told me more stories of his personal walk with Jesus. "I'm sorry I took so much of your time," he told me toward the end of our conversation. "Not at all," I told him. "I thank God that I had the chance to meet you. You have inspired me."
I may never see Amir again. But I won't ever forget him.
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]