From Tehran to St Luke

We are enriched by the diverse experiences, backgrounds and gifts of people who come to church. Meet Leyla! She’s one of several new young adult members who are Persian in background – in fact, on her first Sunday here she witnessed the baptism of another young woman from Iran.

I was born on January 4th 1979 in Tehran.  I was 2 months old when my father, who was an employee of Iran Air, was assigned to Rome, Italy. My family and I lived in Italy for 10 years and then my father was re-assigned to the Iran Air office in Manchester, UK. We lived there for 2 years, after which he was re-assigned again to United Arab Emirate Iran Air office.  We lived in UAE for three years.

My father had a very close Italian friend who was a faithful Catholic.  He would invite my father  to different ceremonies they had at their local church. He would talk to my Dad about Jesus and argue on the facts and basic teachings with my Dad.   My parents were never Muslims.  They identified with the actual Persian religion Zoroastrianism. But my Dad started researching and studying Jesus and Christianity more and eventually he and my Mum converted to Christianity and got baptized in Rome around 1982. From that point on I remember practicing the faith and going to church together, but somehow I don’t remember getting officially baptized.

I was eleven years old and a school child when under the influence of one of my teachers I became interested in Buddhism and tried to live as a Buddhist. My family never persuaded me in any way to follow a certain religion and the choice of religion was left up to me, as long as I knew and understood what I believed in. The only suggestion from my parents came in the form of gift of a number of books about other religions to consider or review.  This was when I was 17 years old, a time when we had to move to Iran and live there for a while.

As I read each of these books my opinion about the various religions changed.  In some instances I was “in favor” and in other instances “not in favor” of a particular religion. Of course there was a common thread between all these religions as to the creation and the creator. However, there were major differences as to how the creator rewards and punishes those who disregard the teaching of a particular religion. After I completed reading all these books my perception of different religions changed considerably. I found out some of the religious teachings advocate humanity, friendship, forgiveness and love while other religions advocate rather harsh teachings.  At this point my Mum was a bit worried and kept on talking to me about Jesus and his love and told me to just think about it and read the bible. I was confused, because I did believe in Jesus as a child, but I was also attracted to what my Buddhism teacher had taught me.

In 2003 I traveled to Ukraine.  On Sundays I started to attend some Christian Churches.  I could not understand the sermons given in Latin, but I used to have a sense of tranquility and peace while in the Church and after I left the services. I remembered how I always felt this feeling from the time when I was a little girl, and that was what my Dad had felt in having accepted Jesus in his heart. I was getting back to my actual faith. In 2009 I moved to Moscow and while I lived there I continued my education online with Liverpool University in England. My student advisor Mark was a very interesting person. Every time we talked about my course schedule and my academic issues we ended up discussing religion and in particular, Christianity. We discussed Christianity for hours at a time and very soon we became very good friends. When Mark and his wife traveled to Moscow they brought me a gift; a Bible in Farsi. Reading the Bible in my language helped me to comprehend the teaching of Christ as I never understood it before. When they were leaving, Mark asked if I had truly accepted Jesus as my Savior in my heart, not just because my parents were Christians and I had to. While we gathered to pray, I suddenly realized that I had accepted him truly in my heart and was ready to seek God’s Kingdom through Christ. I continued to attend the nearest church to my home, and study more about the bible.

My parents were finally happy and at peace but I always felt something was missing. Not being officially baptized, I felt it wasn’t real. But I couldn’t be baptized because I lived in Dubai and was an Iranian.  If I were to be baptized, they would consider me to be an apostate, and I would receive the death penalty!

But when I moved to America,  baptism was my priority after settling. When I joined St.Luke my whole life felt different. Attending sermons regularly and in English was a dream come true. My baptism changed my whole life, as it gave me the feeling of being reborn. My faith got stronger as well, and made a new life with so many obstacles much easier.

Especially at St.Luke, I feel like I’m close to my family, I feel so welcomed. I’m blessed. I can’t thank everybody enough, for making me a part of the family and teaching me more  about my beliefs every time I’m here.

2 thoughts on “From Tehran to St Luke

  1. Very much enjoyed reading this post, and learning more about you, Leyla. We are blessed at St. Luke in so many ways that you join with us in worship and that we become acquainted with you. May your life here in Southern California continue to be a blessing to you. — Janis

  2. Leyla, Thank you so much for your biography and journey to Christianity. So much different from my own. I’m glad you feel that St. Luke is your family, it’s been mine for fifty years. My parents brought me to St. Luke when I was two years old and I’ve pretty much been here every since.
    – David Schilder

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