A young Azeri man sits outside a shop in Sarab, Iran, as a man on a bicycle passes by. IMB/Special
By Madeline Arthington
Anger consumed the “old Ali,” and he didn’t hesitate to act out on it. Muscular and young, he was confident in his own ability to win any fistfight. All the neighbors on his street in Central Asia knew they shouldn’t cross him. When Ali started yelling, they walked away. Rarely did a week pass when he wasn’t involved in a fistfight with another man or in physical abuse toward his own wife.
Yet Ali knew something was deeply wrong in his heart. When Eric Marshall* and Gary Vinson* got word that a man in their city requested a New Testament from an online ministry, they arranged to meet him. Ali’s comments in that first meeting reminded Eric of a children’s sermon with language simple yet profound. Ali said, “I’m looking for something. It’s like I have a hole in my heart, and I’m just looking for something to fill it.”
Eric and Gary started meeting with Ali, studying with him sometimes until one or two o’clock in the morning. It didn’t take long before Ali proclaimed faith in Christ. As the men studied Scripture, Ali’s life changed. He read about baptism in the book of Acts. A couple of weeks later, Gary baptized Ali in a kiddie pool in Ali’s yard.
Sometimes as the men study, Ali stops. “You can see it in his face,” Eric said. “He’s just overcome.”
“I need to confess something,” Ali says. And right there, he prays for forgiveness.
Ali also listens to the audio Bible. In less than a year, he’s listened to the full Bible eight times.
Ali and his wife recently didn’t pay their electric bill. When the meter attendant came to turn off their electricity, Ali jumped at him, screaming in anger. He grabbed the man by the shirt and slammed him against the wall. Ali’s heart quickly felt the rebuke of the Holy Spirit. Within a couple of hours, he tracked down the meter attendant. “I’m really sorry,” he told him. “Please forgive me. I’m a Christian. I’m trying to live according to God, and I shouldn’t have done this.”
When Ali related the story to Eric and Gary, he was heartbroken. They encouraged him that the Holy Spirit is in him to bring conviction of sin and reminded him of grace. They pointed out his progress—he got angry, but he didn’t throw a punch. “You’re not a slave to sin anymore,” they told him. His wife also testifies that he hasn’t hit her in five months.
The Holy Spirit has worked in Eric’s heart, too, as he’s walked this road with Ali. “As Ali dealt with his anger, I was dealing with it the same way, the same sin,” Eric said. Eric’s anger manifested itself differently, but he recognized it through harsh words or impatience with his wife and children. “So as he was confessing his sin,” Eric said, “I was convicted, ‘I also need to confess my anger.’ It was neat getting to walk through that together.”
As the Word shapes Ali, he has become zealous for the gospel. He shares his faith boldly despite the risks. Two employers have already fired him because of his faith. Yet it doesn’t stop him. He recently started working in his friend’s factory. His friend warned him not to tell anyone about Jesus. But Ali recently studied Acts chapter four where Peter and John boldly testify to the gospel. “You can put whatever rules on me,” he told his new employer, “but I’m going to obey God.”
Ali is desperate for others to come to Christ. Pray for other Central Asians in his city to believe and come to faith. Pray Ali will have the opportunity to disciple a new believer and see the realization of his dream of a thriving local fellowship in his town.
Madeline Arthington is a writer for IMB. She lives in Central Asia.