In my last post, I mentioned that the Ku Klux Klan is planning a protest in my hometown of Athens, AL. I feel like this is a good place to share a little about my story and how it relates as a citizen of Athens, Alabama as well as the kingdom of God.
My family is Assyrian-Iranian. Ethnically, my ancestors are Assyrian. Nationally, we are from Iran. Put together, I am quite the minority in the United States. Those of you familiar with the nations described in the Old Testament know that the Assyrians were no friends of the Israelites. Indeed, my ancestors were enemies to God’s chosen people, Israel. I can imagine that there was quite a bit hatred between the Israelites and Assyrians, you think? But it does not stop there. My family immigrated from Iran in the early 70’s after my grandfather was killed in a car accident. Not being Muslim made life difficult for my family in Iran, and without the protection my grandfather and his cohorts provided for our village, it was inevitable that my family had to either leave the country or pay the consequences. My mother and her four brothers worked to pay for one plane ticket at a time and eventually all but their other sister made it to the States. Knowing a distant cousin, their destination was a small town of Athens, Alabama.
My mother and her four brothers attended Athens College (now Athens State University), and I have been told that there were the first immigrants to ever attend there. Eventually, she and her four brothers transferred to Ole Miss where they completed their engineering degrees and began working for the United States government. For the most part, our family had been experiencing the American dream. We left the land of fear to enter into the land of the free. Yet, as tensions arose between the United States and Iran in the 1980’s, it became more and more difficult for our family to be publicly identified as immigrants from Iran. For much of that decade, my family quietly held our identity due to the hatred and fear of Americans of what Iranians might do to the United States. It was not until 1987 that our family was finally together when my mother’s sister and her family arrived from Belgium through an act of Congress (literally).
I share brief summary of my family background for this simple reason. As an Assyrian, I am by lineage an enemy of God’s chosen people. As an Iranian, I am by nationality an enemy of the United States. And wonder of wonders, God had set into plan before the foundations of the earth were laid to bring the gospel message of Jesus Christ to my family in America. God brought a Mississippi boy from Yazoo City to marry a woman from Tehran, Iran under the divine providence of God, and it is through this working I was brought forth and came to faith in Jesus Christ at First Baptist Church, Athens, Alabama. I am forever grateful that God included me in his saving purposes–an Assyrian/Iraninan-American who is least deserving of ever hearing the good news of Jesus Christ. Because you see, my background does not only make me an enemy of Israel or of the United States, I am by nature an enemy of God as a depraved sinner who at one time was under the judgment and wrath of God. While it is true that one would hardly die for a righteous person, God demonstrated his love towards us, toward me, that while I was yet a sinner, Christ died for me (Romans 5:8). Beyond all the social-political-racial categories that could cause offense, hatred, and hostility, the fact that I am a sinner whose sin is an outright offense against a holy God is an outrage and utter abomination. This redemption and justification as seen through the gospel whereby sinners are accepted in the sight of a holy God must then become the lens through which all other categories (e.g. social, political, racial, etc.) are interpreted and understood.
So when I think about Athens, I think about the gospel of inclusion, that in that town God reached down and saved me. And when I get word that, in this same town, the KKK comes to spread hate and racism, my heart is grieved. For it is through the unconditional, ever-reaching love of God that came to me and changed my life so that I can join the heavenly throng of peoples from all nations, tongues, and tribes who will gather around the throne and worship Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords. The vision and purpose of such organizations like the KKK is horribly wrong nut simply because of its social implications primarily but because of its gospel implications. They know not why the gospel has come; they know not what the kingdom looks like; and they know not what heaven will be.
A central theme in the New Testament is the fulfillment of the promise that God’s purposes of salvation would extend to all the nations and peoples of the earth. This truth is the single biggest obstacle for Jews to overcome, for up until that time, they alone were God’s chosen people. The Jews had there own hometown hatred when it came to Samaritans, much less the Greeks or barbarians. And the mystery is that through Israel’s stumbling and hardening of their hearts, the riches of God’s grace is given to the Gentiles as those grafted in by the kindness and severity of God. In the consummation of all things in Christ, there will be for an eternity praises unto Jesus, Savior of the world, sung from the lips of millions in thousands of languages where the white man will be but a minority. The racial integrity spoken of in Scripture is not that of a mullet-wearing white man from the South; rather, in Scripture it is seen when that first-century Palestinian Jew will welcome redeemed sinners to their heavenly home which He has prepared for us–a home where Jews, Gentiles, Greeks, and yes, Assyrian-Iranians will live as one people with one identity. As I eagerly long for that day, I find myself praying, ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”