I recently returned from a weekend retreat where Afshin Ziafat was the featured speaker. As you might have guessed from his name, Afshin is not local. He’s from Houston.
OK, he was born in Houston, and grew up in Houston, but his family is originally from Iran. They even moved back to Iran when Afshin was 2, and he spent the next 4 years there. But, except for that, he is Texan, right down to the accent.
He told us the full story of his life over the course of the weekend, and if you do ever get a chance to hear Afshin speak, I would recommend it. There were many good points to take away from his story. But, it is one almost overlooked detail that seemed most important to me: the second-grade teacher.
See, Afshin’s family is Muslim, and when they moved back to Houston, his Muslim parents hired a tutor to help him learn English (having spoken Farsi in Iran). This teacher was a Christian. At the end of their lessons together, she gave him a small copy of the New Testament, saying that he might not understand it now, but this was the most important book he would ever receive. Ten years later, in high school, he heard something about Jesus that made him curious. He dug around in his room until he found that pocket Bible, and for the very first time, opened it. Through reading that Bible, he eventually came to believe in Jesus, even though his Muslim dad completely disowned him for it.
Eventually, Afshin became an evangelist, traveling and speaking at things like, well, the retreat I went to. Because he is a real rarity—a former Muslim, international evangelist who can still speak Farsi—he has been sent repeatedly to the Middle East to train underground Iranian pastors. He has also influenced his own family, with his brother and sister now believers.
Afshin has probably preached to tens of thousands of people over the years. At his very first ever speaking engagement, one of those people was an 8-year-old boy named BJ, who had tagged along with his father to the talk. There BJ heard the gospel, and became a passionate, outspoken evangelist himself. At age 8. At age 15, BJ went on a mission trip, contracted an illness, and a few months later, died. His passion for the Lord and the impact of his short life was so inspiring that his parents wrote a book, “I Would Die for You“, which included many of BJ’s own writings in journals and blog posts. The boy’s dream had been to go on a mission trip to Morocco (a Muslim country) with his sister, so after his death, his family took his ashes there and spread them on a mountain overlooking the land. His story touched their Moroccan guide, who is now a Christian pastor there. On another trip to a different African country, BJ’s father ran into a boy, also 15, who wanted to be an evangelist, but did not even have a Bible. The only Bible the father had on him was BJ’s Bible, containing all his son’s notes. He gave the Bible to the boy, who is now somewhere in the African bush, picking up where BJ left off, and teaching out of his Bible.
OK, that’s actually the super-condensed version. So what’s the point I’m trying to make? The second-grade teacher. None of that story would exist without the second-grade teacher. Afshin would, right now, be a Muslim doctor in a likely all-Muslim family. The tens of thousands of people who have heard him share the Gospel, around the world, would not have heard it. There would be fewer believers in Iran today. BJ would not have had a huge influence on everyone around him for 7 years, as he preached the Gospel to everyone he met. There would have been no book, which has reached tens of thousands more people; no Moroccan preacher; no bushman evangelist.
Yet what the teacher did was very, very small.
See, we don’t all have the same talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Most of us could not do exactly what Afshin does, especially in reaching Muslims, because his story and gifts uniquely qualify him for that (Ephesians 2:10). But love on somebody, or have the courage to give someone a little freebie Gideon’s Bible? Yeah, I could do that. And that little thing had more impact for the kingdom than anything else in the story. It means everything to this story. It is why Jesus often referred to the kingdom in terms of a seed that grows (Mark 4:1-34).
We can all sow seeds. It might seem like such a small thing, but in life, the little things often end up being the big things. You could change the world in 5 minutes on a Tuesday and not even break a sweat. Now, you might not ever know it; I doubt that second-grade teacher knows anything about the impact she had. But I also doubt that’s the only time she shared God’s love with a student. We’re to plant the seeds; God knows which will grow.