NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Christian Examiner) -- Afshin Ziafat, a Texas pastor whose family disowned him when he renounced Islam to follow Christ as a teenager, was among dozens who spoke at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Committee's leadership summit on racial reconciliation.
In his 30-minute address, Ziafat told attendees his salvation is thanks to a Christian woman in Houston who loved him, gave him a Bible, and told him to read it despite his being Iranian.
The woman, whom Ziafat's family paid to teach him to read English during elementary school, did indeed teach him to read. She also taught him the value of being willing to love and take the Gospel to everyone -- even enemies.
"[For me] it all goes back to one lady who understood the gospel and said I'm going to love this Iranian kid when it's en vogue to hate people from Iran," said Ziafat, who serves as lead pastor at Providence Church. "When we step out, and we cross divides, and we go out with the message of reconciliation to people who don't look like us, who don't talk like us, who don't dress like us, who are separated from us, we are living out the gospel. Why? Because the greatest divide isn't a racial divide; the greatest divide of all time is the divide between holy God and sinful man."
Ziafat said that because of that great divide and the solution Christ provided to appease that divide by dying once for sin and rising from the grave, those who follow Christ and who have been reconciled to God have been given the ministry of reconciliation. That ministry, he said, is to be taken to every race and ethnicity.
"Truly racism and any kind of racial superiority is an affront to God because it strikes against the very heart of the gospel, which tells us that we're all sinners separated from God and that God is redeeming and reconciling a people to himself from every tribe, tongue and nation," Ziafat said. "Racial reconciliation is not just a good idea because racial equality is a politically correct idea but because the message of the gospel is at stake. The name of Jesus is at stake. The Bible tells us that it's by grace alone that we can be restored to God—not by our own effort and certainly not because of our lineage or skin color."
Ziafat said that as tension and hostility between Muslims and Americans mounted during his childhood, so it does today in a post-9/11 world watching the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
That situation, he said, is similar to the one to which the Lord commanded Jonah to minister. Jonah did not want to see the Lord have mercy on his enemy, but the Lord was calling Jonah to offer that exact thing to them in exchange for their repentance.
Ziafat said when he remembers that Christ loved him when he was an enemy of God, he must love his own enemies for the sake of the Gospel. Many of those enemies, he said, are moving into American neighborhoods, presenting Christians with a challenge and an opportunity to present the gospel.
"The Gospel calls me to step out of my comfort zone and go out to people who don't look like me, who don't dress like me, who don't talk like me, who are not of my skin color, but on top of that especially those who are my enemies who I am expected to hate. When I show them love, the Gospel is revealed," Ziafat said.
-- Sharayah Colter is a writer for the Southern Baptist Texan, the official newspaper of the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention. This article appeared online and is used with permission.