Two weeks before Christmas, 2013, I was introduced to an Iranian refugee. Now thirty and raised in a Moslem family, in his mid-twenties he declared he did not believe in any god; I invited him for a coffee and a chat. Being an atheist, he did not want to talk about God; he needed friendship but, at the same time, was also open to learning about what Christians believe. Telling him I would be his friend, he came to a Christmas party in the Disciples of Jesus Covenant Community. Here he mixed with many people and seemed to enjoy himself.
I invited him to attend the 2014 Bathurst Summer School. “What is Summer School?” he asked. I explained it to be a one-week live-in religious conference where he could learn more about what Christians believe. Because he was unable to cover the cost, a Community member offered to pay if he was willing to fully participate; he agreed.
On Sunday, 5 January, 2014, before the Summer School’s opening Mass, that he might better understand what would be happening, I shared with him a presentation of the basic Gospel message and what Jesus did at the Last Supper. During the week, he attended my lectures about ‘Life in the Holy Spirit’. The first lecture focussed on God’s love and his desire to be in a relationship with us, but sin separated us from God. That the penalty of our sin might be paid for, the Father sent his Son, Jesus who, out of love, died on our behalf… We need to respond by accepting the forgiveness of our sins as merited by Jesus’ death and resurrection and make the decision to follow and obey him as his disciples.
In spending time with Alex each day talking about his life, he was encouraged to forgive all those who had hurt him. He attended the lectures, seminars and sharing groups, but repeated he did not believe in anything; he was an atheist! He also attended and wept at every prayer session. During one of our chats, he said, “What did you do to my heart, Costandi?” I replied, “Jesus has your heart in his hand and is giving it a bit of a massage”, meaning that God was healing him. Later I asked why he cried all the time. “Yes”, he said, “I cried when I went to bed, when I was at Mass,when I was at lectures and sometimes in my sharing group. When I heard the testimony of the girl who was healed from eczema, I cried. When everybody was speaking about God and their experiences of him, I was crying. I don’t know why I cried; my heart became soft.”
At the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation on the Tuesday, he asked me what he should do. I suggested he go forward, tell his story to one of the priests, seek his advice and ask for a blessing. Alex shared how he told the priest, “I don’t believe. I didn’t even see (experience)
anything, but I came here to find something.”
The priest said, “Keep searching; if you have come here to find out about God, keep searching.” The next day as we chatted he cried and said he did not believe. “Why don’t you say to God, ‘God, if you exist, show me.’”, I replied.
During the Prayer and Praise session that evening, sobbing
uncontrollably, he asked one of those with him, “Tell Costandi that I believe in his God!” Upon asking what had happened, he told me, “God spoke to me in my language and said to me, “You are welcome!’” A few of us took him out of the hall where we hugged, welcomed and comforted him.
Returning to hear the testimonies and the message for that evening, there was a call for people to make a commitment to follow Jesus. I, being part of a prayer team to receive either a commitment or a commitment renewal, Alex came to me. Was he ready to give his life to Jesus, I asked; to which he replied, “Yes!”
He was then asked the following questions, to each of which he replied, “Yes!”…“Alex, do you believe that Jesus died on the cross for you?”… “Alex, do you believe that all your sins are forgiven because Jesus died for you?” … “Alex, will you follow Jesus and obey him as your Lord, as your Leader, as your God?” To this he answered, “Yes, yes!” and burst out sobbing.
The next morning Alex shared as to how well he had slept, but he’d had an unusual dream. He had lost the hair from the crown of his head; on his scalp there was a mark in the shape of a cross. I interpreted this as God having placed his seal on him and he was now under the protection of the Cross.
It was then that Alex spoke of his experience on the Wednesday night. “When we sat and I started crying, I asked God, ‘If you exist, show me; I need to see something.’ When asking that earlier, I did not mean it, but now I haven’t seen You like everyone else. I want to see You and touch You. Am I different from everyone else? Maybe You don’t want to touch me!’ As people were singing, I didn’t understand some words, so I spoke with Him about myself in my own language. ‘I was like a gold ring in Your hand when I came into this world. I was shining; I grew up; I lost myself; I lost You and couldn’t find You. I was busy with myself, with things, with everything…sometimes with sport…study…family…a girlfriend, sometimes with a friend. I was lost; I didn’t have time to think about You; I didn’t follow your way. I was the lost one. But now You
invite me; You brought me here. I need You to wash me and clean me.’ Finally, it’s happened. God spoke to me in my language saying, ‘Kooshamadi’ – ‘You are welcome!’” Alex explained that if you welcome people formally, you say, “Koosh a madeed”; but ‘Kooshamadi’ as God spoke, is the informal, friendly way of saying, “Welcome to my house!” or “Welcome to my family!”
On Thursday night in being prayed with for Baptism in the Spirit, he rested in the Spirit. Later Alex shared, “When the priest took the bread and said ‘This is My body’ and broke it, I thought, ‘What does ‘This is My body’ ’mean? Then I had a feeling that this is the body of
Jesus and the people believed it. I didn’t think – it came upon my heart, “My people come here every week; they eat the bread and renew their covenant with Me.” I cried uncontrollably.” It was amazing. He said to me, “For seven days when you went to Mass and saw that, you couldn’t see Me.” Alex continued, “Every day in Summer School in going to Mass and seeing the breaking of the bread, I cried as I remembered that
feeling…which now comes upon me each time I’m at Mass, sometimes before or after the breaking of the bread. I had never heard that this relates to the covenant or to the renewal of the covenant and in receiving it, people renew their covenant with God. I comprehend it… by my heart.”
Alex gave his testimony on Saturday morning before the two hundred participants… He received the Sacrament of Baptism on Easter Sunday, 2014..
Praise the Lord for Alex!
(Costandi Bastoli, Disciples of Jesus Covenant Community)