Afghan man tortured in Iran, finally discovers the light in New Dehli after a multi-year trek through the Middle East
MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE -- As a student, his furtive meetings with an elderly Christian man led to his arrest and torture by Iran’s religious police. Years later his heart was finally pierced—not by torturers, but by the love of God.
“When I was 15, I received the gospel through a man who ripped a few pages apart from a Bible and gave them to me,” says Hussain Andaryas, editor and producer of Afghan Christian Media (www.afghanmedia.org). Andaryas immediately suspected the man on the street corner was Russian—dispensing Soviet propaganda. He grew up in Kabul during the time of the Russian invasion, and his parents were staunch anticommunists.
He didn’t know the man was a Christian or that the pages came from the Bible. “The man may have only had one Bible to give to people, so it was like a lottery. I got all of Matthew’s gospel and part of Luke.” Afraid of his parents’ reaction, he read the pages with a flashlight under the covers of his bed.
As he studied the genealogy in Matthew, many of the names sounded familiar. He realized the man must have given him a Bible, but he was still suspicious of the contents. “I was taught the gospels are corrupt, changed by men in the West according to their wants,” he says.
He liked chapter five of Matthew until he got to Jesus’ words in verses 43 and 44: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy. But I say to you, ‘love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.’”
Andaryas instinctively rejected these words of Jesus. “This was very hard for me because my ethnic group—the Hazaras—was hated by almost every other ethnic group in Afghanistan,” he says. Many looked down on Hazaras because of their Mongol ethnic roots and Shia religious affiliation--most of Afghanistan is Sunni. As Andaryas pondered Jesus’ words, the idea of loving people who hated him seemed impossible.
Later, just before Andaryas graduated from high school, he ran away to the mountains to avoid army service. “When I graduated I would have had to join the communist army to fight against my own brothers,” he says. Rather than face such a dilemma, he found refuge in a small village in the mountains outside Kabul.
Tribal elders in the village quickly spotted potential in the young man, and told him he must go to Iran to study Islam. With their support, he found himself at Hawzah Ilmiah, the largest Shia Islamic university in Iran, located in the city of Qom.
Shortly after his arrival, he received a note from his parents instructing him to visit some distant relatives in the capital of Tehran. Deeply rooted cultural traditions obligated Andaryas to pay a visit to them, even though he never met them. “If I have relatives in a country, I have to go visit them,” he notes. “It would be a big shame if I didn’t.”
One morning Andaryas made the two-hour journey from Qom to Tehran and spent the day searching for his relatives, but never found them. Tired and hungry, he went to a city park in the center of the capital and sat down on a bench next to an elderly man who read the newspaper.
“Brother Afghan,” the man turned to him and said. “When did you come from Afghanistan?” Andaryas ignored him, suspicious of his motives. “I don’t think God likes the war in your country or in my country,” the stranger continued. “It’s Satan who wants all this bloodshed. The fact is, God wants us to love our enemies.”
“Excuse me,” Andaryas said, surprised by the man’s last statement. “What did you say?”
“God wants us to love our enemies,” he said once more.
“Excuse me, are you speaking from some book called ‘Matthew?’” Andaryas asked.
“Yes I am.”
“I really want to know about this,” Andaryas told him. The two agreed to start meeting together on a regular basis in the man’s home.
They met every Thursday night for the next 13 months. “I told my friends at school I was going to visit my relatives, but I was lying,” Andaryas says. “I always had to arrive back by Friday prayers.”
“I argued with this man a lot and I tried to convince him that Christianity was wrong,” Andaryas recalls. “I put hard questions to him, and I even thought of harming him because he was so wrong,” he says. “But all the time he was so gracious, kind, and patient with me.”
Andaryas didn’t tell him at first he was an Islamic student. “I was strong in my Islamic faith,” he notes, “but I had a lot of questions.”
He concealed these meetings from even his closest friends, knowing the dangers of meeting with a Christian. Eventually Andaryas’ parents discovered he wasn’t visiting his relatives. When they realized he secretly met with a Christian, they reported him to Iran’s religious police.
“The police came and caught me and this elderly man together reading the Bible,” Andaryas recalls. The religious police, known as Mutaween, arrested and interrogated both men in separate cells.
For the next three days and nights Andaryas experienced a living nightmare. The police sat him in a chair and attached electric wires to his fingers as they questioned him. They also submerged him in water and then jolted him with electric current until he passed out. When he regained consciousness he was horrified to see them cut his body with knives. They also rubbed salt into his open wounds.
“I’m not a Christian,” Andaryas cried out to his tormenters. “I only met with this man to convince him to become a Muslim,” he protested. During this ordeal, Andaryas sensed a quiet inner voice speaking to him, saying: “This is wrong. These are not my ways—I am not merciless.”
On the fourth day the police rendered their verdict. “We have already killed your friend,” they told Andaryas. “Because this is your first offense we will forgive you, but if you keep studying Christian books the same thing will happen to you.”
After his ordeal, Andaryas began to view his Islamic faith with a more critical eye. “My friends at school were looking at me weirdly, distancing themselves,” he recalls. He began to fear for his safety at the university. “I thought I could be killed because I studied Christian books--if not by the state, then by my friends,” he notes. “I knew things would go very wrong for me if I didn’t escape.”
As he pondered his future, Andaryas remembered a shirt his mother gave him before he left home. She gave him specific instructions not to wear or even wash the shirt. “Never use that shirt unless you’re in trouble,” she told her son. “But if you have a problem, tear the collar off that shirt very carefully.”
With his premonition of danger, he followed her advice and carefully removed the collar and its stitching. He discovered she sewed 500 U.S. dollars into the collar.
With the money, Andaryas took a bus to the Turkish border, then hired human smugglers to take him across the border on a motorcycle trip he describes as a “death ride.” The smugglers insisted he hand over all his money and possessions until they completed the trip. “After we crossed they took $100 and gave me back $400,” he recalls. Their fairness completely surprised him.
From there, he traveled to Syria, where he met a man in a coffee house wearing a cross. Andaryas asked if the man could find him a Bible. “He wasn’t a Christian, but he found a Bible for me.” For the first time in his life, he had all the scriptures in his possession, from Genesis to Revelation.
Andaryas made his way to Egypt, where he enrolled in another Islamic university. “For 15 months I was very secretive, not telling them about my past,” he says. During this period, he critically studied the Koran and the Bible. His studies convinced him there was something wrong with Islam, but he still couldn’t accept the teaching of Jesus to love his enemies. “One thing that didn’t go away was the hatred in my heart,” he recalls. “All my life I was hated by other people. I couldn’t imagine how I could love my enemies.”
“This really bothered me for nine years,” he adds.
Someone at the university found out Andaryas had a Bible in his possession, and he was kicked out of the school. Discouraged about the course of his life, he made his way to Karachi, Pakistan. “I didn’t have a Bible or anything. All I had was seven years of hardship and tortures—things I never imagined receiving in my life.”
During his first few months in Karachi he slept on the ground, and managed to find work with a road crew, breaking up stones used in road construction. “I had no pillow; I just slept on the ground, and I remember animals coming up and sniffing me in the middle of the night.”
He finally got a tiny room in the slums, supplied by a garment factory where he found work. From his street level room, he could watch people as they passed on the streets, and his attention began to focus on a bicycle repairman who often stood outside his window. He watched people take advantage of the repairman, and wondered why the man never seemed to lash back at them.
“My parents always taught me if someone hits you once, you hit them back ten times,” Andaryas says. One day, he couldn’t stand it any longer, and he charged out on the street to question the man. “What’s wrong with you, are you a coward?” he asked. “People are mistreating you all the time and you don’t do anything. What kind of person are you?”
“My name is Yusuf,” he replied. “I’m not a coward,” he said. “The God I worship tells me to love my enemies.”
“You must be kidding,” Andaryas said, incredulously. “Could you repeat that.”
“I’m a Christian, and in the Christian faith, Jesus Christ tells me that even though people hate me, I must not revile them, because when people hit Jesus and when they crucified him…”
“Wait a minute,” Andaryas broke in. “Jesus Christ was not crucified . He was taken alive by Allah to heaven. It was Judas who was crucified instead of him.”
“No, no. That’s not reality. On the cross he said to the people who actually crucified him, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Even though Andaryas was familiar with this verse, it seemed to touch the core of his heart in a new way. He marveled at the fact that as he traversed the Middle East—from country to country, people stumbled into his path with this verse. Andaryas was so taken by the man’s sincerity and humility; he asked if they could meet together. For the next two years, the men met together every day to study the Bible. “It was like God sent an angel,” Andaryas says.
Andaryas finally got close to accepting Christ, but thought that would be a bad idea in a Muslim country like Pakistan. “I was a coward,” he recalls. “I thought I would go to India, a Hindu country—and there, no one would bother me if I became a Christian.”
He paid for the creation of a fake passport, so he could travel from Karachi to Lahore, and then to New Dehli. After his arrival, he made his way to a known enclave for Afghan refugees and was startled to run into an old classmate from Kabul. “He hugged me and took me into his home,” Andaryas says.
One evening, he and his friend were walking home when they met two men in the street who invited them to a public hall to listen to music. Shortly into the program, Andaryas realized this was a Christian gathering. The room was packed with Hindi-speaking Indians. Andaryas never was good at mastering foreign languages, so he sat back, not expecting to understand very much. After the music, a man got up to speak from the Bible in Hindi.
Suddenly, however, he heard the preacher say: “God’s Word says, ‘If you have no love, you have not known God, because God is love.’ That is a basic thing for you to understand.”
Andaryas was struck by these words, and reasoned that this must be the reason he had difficulty loving people, because he didn’t have the source of love. “The God I worshipped in the past always taught me hatred,” he thought. “The pastor told about how miserable he was as a non-Christian, how he hated people, and how people hated him.” The preacher seemed to tell Andaryas’ own story.
Then the preacher said, “You can’t overcome evil with evil, you must overcome evil with good.” Again, the power and simplicity of the words penetrated his soul. Then the pastor quoted John 3:16: “For God so loved the world he gave his only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
“Don’t you see he loved you even though you were not worthy to be loved. GOD GAVE--God gave his only son,” the pastor emphasized.
The immensity of God’s gift finally penetrated Andaryas’ heart. For the first time, he saw how much God loved him, even as a lost sinner. Andaryas started to cry; his whole body was shaking. “I didn’t know what was happening to me.”
Then the call went out: “Do you want to accept this gift of God—Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? If you do, then raise your hand.”
Andaryas raised his hand to receive Christ, and basked in feelings of newfound peace and overwhelming joy. In the midst of this transformational moment he began to wonder. “Why did he speak in my language when the audience was completely Hindi? I was really puzzled.”
Later, Andaryas approached the preacher and asked him directly: “How did you know how to speak Hazaragi?” Hazaragi is a unique dialect of the Persian language, with some Turkish and Mongolian words in the mix.
“I never heard that language,” he replied.
“But you spoke it,” Andaryas insisted.
“I spoke in plain Hindi.”
While language was always a weakness for Andaryas, during the next two years he learned 12 new languages, including Koine Greek, the ancient language of the New Testament. He believes God helped to teach him these languages supernaturally. “I became an evangelist immediately after I was saved.”
In 1996, Andaryas started an internet ministry, which has developed 25 web sites from which Muslims can download the Bible in their own languages. “Twice in the past Muslim hackers have completely destroyed my servers, but I always back them up.” He’s also received lucrative offers to shut down his web sites.
Additionally, Andaryas operates two daily radio and television programs for Afghanistan, broadcast directly into Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Tajikistan.
As Andaryas looks back, he marvels at the way God arranged divine encounters to win his soul as he traveled the Middle East. “Now I can see that God sought me. I believe if I was the only person needing salvation he would come and die for me.”
|Mark Ellis is a Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service. He is also an associate pastor in Laguna Beach, CA. Contact Ellis at [email protected]
© 2006 ASSIST News Service, used with permission