Last Sunday at the local Baptist church we were introduced to a young Christian lady from Iran who I'll call Sheila (not her real name). Sheila speaks excellent English, and I've been longing to spend some time with her to hear the story of how she became a Christian, and how she came to be here in Austria in the refugee camp. On Thursday evening at our coffee bar and games night, I finally got the opportunity to chat with her.
Sheila and her husband (not a believer - yet!) met and got married while living and working in Dubai. They both had good jobs and a very comfortable lifestyle. Sheila's brother was also living in Dubai and she spent lots of time with her sister-in-law, a Phillipino lady. Her sister-in-law was a believer, and after watching the way she lived and seeing the impact of Jesus on her life, Sheila decided she wanted to become a believer too. Although her husband (I'll call him Harry) belonged to a minority muslim sect, he didn't object to his wife attending the evangelical church in Dubai, and for two years she went every week and grew strong in the faith.
On her return to Iran last year however, things changed dramatically. Sheila started going to a very well-attended underground church and just before Christmas one of the members suggested they should have a big party to celebrate Christmas and the New Year. Unfortunately, they weren't aware that this person was a member of the security police and the party suggestion was a trap. Lots of photographs and video footage were taken during the celebrations, and Sheila's face was clearly visible.
Praise God, Sheila's brother discovered the betrayal and warned her to leave their city and go into hiding in Tehran straight away. Although he wasn't a Christian and hadn't been at the party, her husband Harry was arrested, beaten and detained for two weeks as they constantly interrogated him about Sheila's whereabouts. He couldn't tell them anything. He didn't know where his wife was, as Sheila had been advised not to tell him.
He was eventually released but told not to leave town as the police might want to interrogate him further. However, Sheila's brother helped Harry escape that same night to join his wife in Tehran. After a couple of weeks in hiding they found some smugglers who were willing to get them out of the country. They paid the men 7,000 euros each before being loaded into the back of a truck with four other people. After a seemingly endless journey in total darkness, Sheila and Harry were pulled off the truck and left at the side of the road as the truck disappeared into the distance. When they enquired as to where they were and what the date was, they discovered they were near the airport in Vienna, and they'd been in that truck, in complete darkness with only water to drink and dry bread to eat, for a total of twelve days and nights!
They found their way to a police station, told their story to the officer in charge and asked if they could claim asylum as refugees. At first they weren't believed, but eventually, after running several checks to see if they'd been fingerprinted in any country on their way to Austria, the truth of their story was accepted and they were sent to register at the refugee camp here in Traiskirchen. They've now been in Austria a little over two weeks.
There is more to their story ..... to be continued next week! In the meantime please pray for Sheila, that she will find comfort and friendship among Christian brothers and sisters here in Austria, and for Harry to know the peace that can only come from acknowledging Jesus as his Saviour and Lord.