What is it to meet God in another person? My first thoughts go to seeking characteristics of God in that person. But, I realize it’s more than that. What seems a more authentic approach after my conversation with Bryan (named changed for this story) is to pay attention to how I feel as we spend time in each others’ presence. As Bryan began to share his story I found myself humbled. Humbled that I had been given the honor of meeting him, sitting next to him on this lengthy flight, getting to hear how his journey had led him to this very moment.
Bryan is from Iran. Not all that uncommon a community of people in Atlanta, as I learned. That’d made sense, I’ve met a number Iranians in my four years there so far. But, what was uncommon was the story which unfolded as our conversation channeled deeper.
Bryan’s journey to the U.S. has not been an easy one. See, Bryan is a Baha’i, a very welcoming faith originating in Iran some 150 years ago. Though a very accepting religion, on its home turf it is barely accepted at all. If you are presumed to be a Muslim you’re fine, but once it’s known you’re not the doors of opportunity begin to close quickly. Following high school Bryan had few to no occupational prospects. Though highly qualified, because he was not a Muslim he had no potential options for work. Facing unemployment and certain discrimination in the military (required of all Iranians) by being forced to work at the worst sites, such as the border crossings, he opted to escape.
He found himself at the borders nonetheless, but under very different circumstances. After paying a man $1000 he was led to the Iran-Turkey border. He, along with four other men, met their guide in the far north and journeyed by foot, truck and bare horseback (two men to a horse!) to the border crossing. Arriving around 3 am they were directed to get into the dirt ditch dividing the countries and then instructed by their guide not to move until he returned. To the mens’ horror one of the soldiers began to shoot. And, once one side got going the other side shot back. “I thought this was it,” Bryan recalled. 10-15 minutes later the shooting finally ceased and after seven more hours of waiting their guide finally returned and they made it miraculously to the other side.
Full of questions at this point, I began to ask away and Bryan graciously answered them all. Why were the soldiers shooting? ‘We never found out,’ he confessed, ‘Maybe they had heard an animal or perhaps another guy.’ In any case, it wasn’t because of them, apparently, as the answer to my next question explained. How did they manage to get safely in the ditch in the first place? He didn’t use these words, but it was obvious: some very successful bribes.
Once in Turkey they were directed to walk down this road for an hour, then that one till it ended and then they would have arrived at the UN. About a day later they did at last.
It took Bryan almost a year to manage to get to the U.S from Turkey. With about $400 of his own money plus $300, housing and just two months rent from the U.S. government, oh and no English, he began to job search. Able to make some connections with another Iranian and with the aid of a decent economy nine years ago, he got a restaurant job. Eventually he was able to move to a job at the Ritz Carlton where he has been for the last seven or so years, successfully working his way up. He is now practically fluent in English, has a driver’s license and a prized U.S. citizenship.
I’m still taking his story in. Still processing his life-risking decisions made now almost a decade ago. Perhaps if potential death in the military–if not physical death surely emotional death–and unemployment are the fates looming in your future then the risk of death in a dirt trench for trying to change your fate is worth it. It seems it was for him.