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From an Iranian prison to priesthood

The Rev MOHAMMAD EGHTEDARIAN tells how he sought refuge and found a new life in the UK

I felt that nobody could help me except God

GROWING up in a strict Muslim family in Iran and performing my religious duties, I thought I had everything. But at university, things
became different.
I had a girlfriend – something that was illegal. One day, members of a militia found out. They arrested me and put me in a type of prison. I was beaten and accused of being against the State. They detained me for 48 hours, then released me on bail.
The experience changed my life. I no longer felt that Iran was my home country. I wanted to leave. So months later, I travelled with a fellow refugee to Romania. I planned to travel with them to Greece and then to Canada, where I would seek asylum.
But shortly after we arrived in Greece, our plans fell through. I lived in temporary housing as a refugee for a month, but I knew that I could not stay there permanently. Frightened, I travelled with some other people to Italy. We hid behind lorries for two days. Once I could safely explore the area, I found shelter in a park in the centre of Rome. I was starving. I had no food. Then people told me about a nearby church that offered food and hospitality. I went there for help and felt the welcoming environment of a church for the first time.
After a few days, I travelled to France by train. Once I arrived, I called a family member for help. She advised me to contact an Iranian church pastor who lived there.
I spoke to the pastor, who invited me to stay with him in his home. He shared the gospel with me and asked me: ‘Do you have any peace
in Islam?’
I said to him, ‘Yes, I do’ – but in reality
I didn’t, because I knew that I was a sinner. I knew I needed salvation. But my heart was not yet ready.
I stayed in France for a week, then made my way to Germany. At the time, however, the country did not have open-door immigration policies. It was tough to be an asylum-seeker.
I felt that nobody could help me except God – but I wasn’t even sure if he could. I had begun to read the Bible, so I prayed to Jesus and pleaded: ‘If you are really God, help me.’
Within two weeks, God helped me to get to the United Kingdom. I lived with my uncle and began to learn more about Christianity. I
recognised that Jesus was Lord but did not yet give my whole life to him.
Then the Government refused my asylum case. Suddenly, I could be deported. Out of panic, I tried to escape to Canada. But my plan failed. I was caught and arrested. They placed me in an immigration removal centre. Life was tough. I was aware that at any point, they could send me back to Iran. Again, I was in a situation in which no one could help me except God. Even then, however, God was still working on my heart.
One of the guards at the detention centre spoke with me about Jesus. He told me how God sent Jesus, his only Son, to die on the cross to pay the price for my wrongdoings, so that I could have eternal life. He told me how I could receive God’s forgiveness if I accepted Jesus into my life.
The guard also contacted an Iranian pastor, who came to visit me. The pastor treated me like a son. His words and actions softened my heart towards God. I gave my life to Christ and promised him: ‘If you release me, I will serve you.’
After four months in the detention centre, the court approved the pastor’s request for my release and I was set free. I started attending an Iranian Bible college in Guildford, where I met my wife. Together, we started a church in the city and began developing a ministry there. Years later, after careful contemplation, I realised that I had a calling to become an ordained priest.
Now, I am in my second year of curacy, serving as a priest at Liverpool Cathedral, where I help to lead church services for a congregation of Iranians, many of whom have come from a Muslim background.
I believe that God has taken me on a journey to where I am today in order to help others. When I emigrated from Iran to the UK, I never thought I would become a Christian. Now, I am a minister in the Church of England. God has changed me. I have a new life in Christ.

  • The Rev Mohammad Eghtedarian was speaking to Linda McTurk

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