In the late 1980’s, Zach was detained by the Iranian police for no apparent reason.
“They thought that I had some connections with Kurdish political parties that were opposing the Islamic Republic”,
he says, but he had no such connection. Months went by during which the police didn’t even let Zach’s family know where he was. Finally, the day came when he was brought into court. The Judge asked three questions that were asked of many people.
“What is your name?” He answered his full name.
“What is your ethnicity?” He answered that he was a Kurd.
“What is your religion?” Zach told them, “Sunni Muslim.”
He was taken out of the court, thrown back into a cell, and was beaten all night. The next morning, they put him on a bus headed back to his home city in Kurdistan.
On the bus, Zach found himself sitting next to a man. The man opened his bag and took out a sandwich which was wrapped in newspaper. Having not been fed properly for almost six months, Zach was very hungry. The man turned around and offered him one. Without hesitating Zach accepted – but instead of one, he gave him two out of the three that he had with him. Zach asked his name and the man said his name was Jacob. Zach says,
“I had never heard that name before. So I asked, ‘What kind of name is this?’ He said ‘Hebrew’. ‘Ah, so you are a Jew?’ I asked back. ‘No, I am a Christian’, he said. I had heard a lot of negative things about Christians so I did not want to get into a conversation about Christianity. But something inside me made me wonder why he believed in it.”
Zach was intrigued. He asked if Jacob believed that Jesus was the son of God, and he said that he did. The man explained some things about the Bible and what it says about Jesus. After some conversation, Jacob opened his bag and very quietly gave Zach a Bible. They both knew that if someone saw him pass that book it could cost him his life. Zach asked what it was and Jacob said that he would find out later.
At Mahabad, Zach got off the Bus before Jacob.
“I got my bag and was waiting outside for Jacob to come off, but the bus was empty and he still had not come out. I went to the driver and asked him where the man sitting next to me had gone? To my astonishment and confusion he said, ‘There was no man sitting next to you.’ Zach was confused. He knew that he wasn’t mad, and he still had the taste of the sandwich in his mouth! “I still had the book in my bag. Who was Jacob? What was he?”
Then he remembered that Jacob had said he was on his way to Mahabad to meet a friend called Zach. Now Zach realised that it was him!
He went home and found his mother in the house crying. She was so surprised and happy to see him after so many months. Zach found out that soldiers were looking for him and that his mother had been raped by a Jaush (Kurdish for “traitor”). Shocked and appalled, he went to his room and wept.
“That night when I asked for my older brother Hasan at dinner, they all started crying. They told me that he was hanged… I could not eat. I got up and went to my room for some more weeping… I had nothing to do, so I took out the book and started reading. After reading the first chapters of the book of Genesis, I started reading the book of Matthew. I was surprised. I had never seen anything like this. I stopped at chapter ten and just went to bed.”
Zach could still hear his Mother and sister crying downstairs. The neighbours came to cheer them up and talk to them. Next morning life seemed more normal, so Zach went and visited his brother’s grave. Life became relatively normal again until one night in a dream Jacob appeared and told him that he must leave Kurdistan.
“I knew something was up so I went and hid at a friend’s house. I did not want to leave the country; I loved it.”
It turned out that soldiers had been at Zach’s house looking for him. This time, it was his sister who was raped by the soldiers for no reason. His brother who was killed had some ties to the Kurdish political parties, but Zach had done nothing wrong. He felt empty and wanted to commit suicide, but realised that would cause unbearable pain to his family. Zach could only conclude that he and his family had been targeted because of his brother’s involvement with Kurdish political parties. The hard-line ‘Islamic Republic’ was ruthless with anyone who opposed them, torturing and murdering with no compassion or remorse. But Zach was completely innocent of any political involvement and despite the brutal regime, he had been a good Muslim and had not opposed the regime. It seemed that nobody was safe.
There was no alternative but to flee the country. After packing some essentials, Zach took the Bible and headed for the mountains crossing the border into Iraq. He stopped in the middle of nowhere for a rest, took out his book and read in it. He says,
“When I came to Matthew 11:28, ‘Come to me all who are heavy laden and weary and I will give you rest,’ I was shocked and did not know what to think because the book kind of read my mind. It had what my heart longed for. I found what I was looking for. I found what met my personal needs. Right there in the middle of the night I gave my life to Jesus Christ. I couldn’t believe the changes that were happening inside of me. I felt a kind of peace that could not be expressed by words. I was relieved. I could feel all of the weight that I felt on my shoulders coming off. I now understood God and what he was like. It was a good thing that I did not commit suicide. The Lord had a plan for me. I now knew who Jacob was – an angel. It was very hard to believe. I myself found it hard to believe. But an angel would be the best answer.”
Zach’s life changed dramatically after he became a Christian.
“I now forgave all of those that did wrong to me and my family. Instead of cursing, I prayed for the salvation of the people who had beaten me in prison. I am grateful for having such a wonderful experience.”
Story by Ralph Burden
* Zach’s real name has been protected
* photo attribution: Creative Commons 2.0 Generic License. photo: Canyon, North-East Kurdistan