The Revolution Begins
About the Guest
He grew up culturally Muslim. His father was a general in the Iranian army. Pastor David Nasser tells how his family escaped execution and fled Iran during the Iranian Revolution of 1979. For nine months his family tried legally to get into the United States. It was only after his mother encouraged him to pray and ask this "American Jesus," whom he'd only heard of, to let them into the country, that asylum was granted.
Pastor David Nasser tells how his family fled Iran in 1979. Though his family tried for months to get into the US, when his mother invited him to pray to this “American Jesus,” things began to change.
The Revolution Begins
Bob: When he was nine years old—1979—David Nasser and his family escaped from what was almost certain death in Iran. They were looking for a place of refuge, hoping to come to the United States.
David: We tried every way we could, and we couldn’t come here. My mom got us together one day. She said: “We’ve been trying to go to America. We’ve exhausted all these different avenues.” She said, “I have another idea.” She said, “Have you ever heard of Jesus?”
I had never heard of Jesus, and she showed us a picture. She said: “He’s American. We need to ask Him to let us into His country.” I know that’s horrible theology! I’m not telling you that is the prayer it took. I’m just telling you—we bent our will. We bent on our knees, and we submitted ourselves. We said, “Jesus, please let us into Your country.” A week- and-a-half later, doors opened up.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, July 28th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.
We’ll hear a powerful story today about how God’s hand was already working to direct the Nasser family, all the way back in 1979. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. Pretty excited about what’s coming up this weekend at the Allstate Arena in Chicago—
Dennis: I Still Do™.
Bob: —for the one-day marriage celebration called I Still Do—and then, a couple weeks after that we’re going to be in Portland at the Moda Center—and then October 4th, out in Washington, DC, at the Verizon Center. We are really excited about the response of folks to this, but we’re also excited about who’s going to be joining us.
Dennis: We are. David Nasser joins us on FamilyLife Today today. You’re joining us at all three of these I Still Do events. Welcome to the broadcast.
David: Thank you for having me, not just here for the broadcast but for these events.
David: What an honor.
Dennis: We’re excited to tell your story today. I think our listeners are in for a real treat. Let me just tell our listeners a little about you.
You and your wife Jennifer, along with your two children, live in Birmingham, Alabama, where you pastor the Christ City Church, which is an inner city church in Birmingham. You’ve written a couple of books: A Call to Die—
David: Yes sir.
Dennis: —now that’s a real enticing title. [Laughter]
David: An Iranian with a book called A Call to Die.
David: Yes. [Laughter]
Dennis: And the book we’re talking about today, Jumping through Fires. Take us back to the story of your son and your dad in your driveway, here in America—jumping through fires.
David: Right; absolutely. You’re referring to the title of the book, Jumping through Fires.
David: The book, which is my testimony book, really begins with this moment where we, as Iranians, in the American culture, celebrate, once a year, the new year—the coming of spring in America by dressing in all red. We joined the tradition of what we came from—from Iran.
Dennis: It’s called what?
David: It’s called Chaharshambe Suri—where they light these little bitty fire puddles and then you jump over these fires.
It’s not a religious thing at all. It’s more of a ceremonial thing of you jump over the fires. It’s a fun event. As you jump over them, you’re burning the old, looking ahead at the new. So, my parents really wanted us to be a part of that, even in our newness in America. So, every year, we dress in red.
Bob: You have a red outfit at home?
David: I have a red leather jacket that looks like Michael Jackson circa 1988. [Laughter]
David: I brush it out, and I/we get our family.
Dennis: You’re doing this in your driveway, now.
Dennis: This is where this takes place.
David: So, imagine Alabama—think soccer moms and minivans.
Dennis: Yes. Yes.
David: And then the Iranian family—which, since September 11th, everybody is probably thinking, “Do we know where they were on that day?”—we take the driveway—we get these little turkey—the little aluminum things you put turkeys in—get deer logs and we put them in five puddles.
I begin the book, Jumping through Fires, by telling the story of my son, Rudy, who is from Guatemala—we adopted from Guatemala—holding my military Iranian father’s hand, as they’re jumping through these fires during this event called Chaharshambe Suri.
As I’m watching my dad, holding my son’s hand, and we’re jumping through that, it is just a moment that represents how all of our life has been really just jumping through these different trials and fires where God is just using this Refiner’s fire in our life.
Dennis: You actually grew up in Iran.
Dennis: Your dad was the equivalent of a general of the Shaw of Iran—the king of Iran.
David: Yes sir. I grew up a military kid. We lived in the army base in Iran. My dad was high-ranked in the military. So, then in 1979, the Iranian revolution happened. Over a million people were murdered and executed when the Ayatollah Khomeini and his religious zealots kind of took over our country. I call it “religion gone wrong.”
When the revolution happened in 1979, I was just this elementary kid in a military school in Iran. We just had a front-row seat in watching our country just completely be turned over.
Bob: I presume you were, at least, culturally Muslim if not actively Muslim?
David: Absolutely. We were exactly that. We were culturally Muslim. I mean, we were pretty liberal in one sense in that my mom didn’t wear chador. We just traveled around the world. We were never devout, I would say, as a Muslim family; but when the revolution happened, there was no middle ground. The church became state—if you want to call it that. Our country was overthrown by religious people.
I remember those days—I remember the revolution happening—and soldiers coming to our school and reading my name out at a school assembly one of the first weeks of the revolution.
I remember standing in front of the school when he read my name out. He took a gun out of a holster and pointed it at my head—the gentleman who called the assembly.
Dennis: You were nine years old.
David: I was nine years old. He said—because of Allah / because of the revolution—I was just going to have to be a kid he was going to have to kill. It was because of who my father was.
So, when you’re nine years old, and somebody tells you, because of God, they have to take your life—you’re wrecked by it. I was confused, as a little kid. I was just a kid—who grew up in a military army base, and played soccer, and hung out—and then a revolution happens. The next thing you know, soldiers in our school are trying to take my life.
The school principal got between me and the gun and told him to come back another day. For all I cared, he didn’t need to come back another day! I went home and told my parents what was happening.
I’ve seen my father cry three times my whole life. That was the first time. He sat me on his lap, and cried, and said: “Son, the revolution’s happening. They’re really coming after you because of who I am. They’re overthrowing the government. Terrorism is fear at work. They’re just using this to leverage more fear into people’s lives.”
My dad told me that day: “They’re not going to have that opportunity again. You’re not going to have to confront that man again.” We began to plan our escape, knowing we had to get out.
Dennis: Your time of confusion didn’t end. In fact, it had to be exponentially escalated because the revolution came to the front door of your home.
David: It sure did. My dad was really busy trying to save us; but at the same time—I remember—a few days later, soldiers came in after him. I remember that. I remember my mother, hanging on to the leg of one of the soldiers, as they were dragging my dad out of the house. She just kept saying out loud—really loudly: “Just kill him quickly! Just kill him quickly!” When you’re nine, you’re going through such trauma. You’re just thinking, “Why is my mom telling this soldier to kill my father quickly?”
What I didn’t know was that they were taking my father to a park, where earlier that week, they had taken other men from the same army base, who were some of my father’s coworkers.
One of my dad’s friends, for example, was taken to a tree and tied to a tree. With a pair of pliers, he was picked apart—piece by piece—slow torture. So, my mom was pleading for mercy. She was saying: “Please don’t torture him slowly. If you’re going to kill him, just kill him quickly.”
I remember that, Dennis—I remember, literally. They took my dad out. My mom was begging. Then she looked at us; and she said, “Let’s pray.” My first memory ever of prayer was when my mom got our hands, as a family. She just started saying, out loud, “God, if You’re up there, just let him die quickly.”
Dennis: What are you thinking, as a boy? I’m just thinking of the innocence of me growing up in Ozark, Missouri. At nine years old, I’m going out in the front yard playing in the sand box.
David: Right; sure.
Dennis: I mean—
David: Totally. So was I, Dennis; right? I was just—literally, more sand than you. [Laughter] We played in a grass box. You all have sand boxes—we had sand everywhere—we played in our grass box.
I was the same as you. And then—so imagine—you’re in Missouri—you’re just in a very safe context.
David: And then the next thing you know, everything’s turned upside-down. And then they tell you, “It’s because of God.”
I was nine years old when I thought: “If God’s representation of His people, in the name of God, want to come and kill me at school—and God is the reason that we’re having to leave everything behind—if God is the reason that people are dragging my father out of our home, apparently, God’s pretty mad at us. I don’t know what we’ve done, but He’s pretty angry. If He’s an angry God and He hates me, than I ought to beat Him to the punch.” I remember, as a nine-year-old kid, literally thinking, “I hate God.” I know most nine-year-olds don’t think that because most nine-year-olds don’t come to that crucible of choice.
Dennis: What happened with your dad?
David: Well, that day he came home—just God’s sovereignty. You just look back—and I can see just the predestined hand of God—just in my parents’ lives.
He went there—a soldier recognized him—leveraged his power that he had just gotten, as a new soldier, who was on the other side of the regime, to help my dad out. My dad came home and said, “They’ve given me a few more weeks because of the mercy of this one soldier.” He said, “When they come back, we’re not going to be here.”
So, we planned our escape. My mom, at that time, had some heart issues. She’d had a track record of some heart problems that she’d been going to see some doctors for. They used that for our advantage. They went to these doctors; and they said: “We need to get out of Iran. We’ll give you our home, our cars, our clothes—everything that we have”— to these doctors—“if, in exchange, you’ll put yourself on the line and help us escape.” The doctors were in on the plan. A couple weeks later, it was all just fabricated—
Dennis: How could you trust the doctors, though? As I read your story, I was like, “How would you know who to trust and not to trust?”
David: That’s a great question because I’ve never asked my dad that. But I think, Dennis, when you’re in a desperate place, you just trust the only—sometimes you don’t have a lot of options. You just trust the nearest guy.
So, this was the one way—they didn’t have a lot of choice / they didn’t have a lot of time. They saw my mom’s health situation as a way to be able to get out—to be able to get two-way airline tickets to be able to not have to—they needed an excuse to leave immediately. So, they went to the doctors.
Again, in God’s sovereignty, I think God was just working because they didn’t tell on us. We got two-way airline tickets, like we were going and coming back. We got the homework assignments, like we were going and coming back—and got a house-sitter, like we were going and coming back—but we weren’t coming back. We were running for our lives.
I remember that. I remember holding my dad’s hand in the airport—in the Tehran airport. If you’ve seen Argo, it’s that airport in that movie. His hand kept shaking. He kept saying: “This was not smart. They’re going to find out we’re escaping, and they’re going to kill us right here.” I look back and see how God, even then, just took us out Iran—put us on the plane, and we started flying up towards Switzerland.
Bob: And did you have any idea where you were going?
David: As a kid, I really didn’t. I just knew we were going to Europe.
David: It’s so funny. I was more concerned about, “Am I never going to see my Legos®?”
David: When you’re kid: “Am I saying goodbye to…” My mom was weeping because she was thinking, “Am I never going to see my sister and my mother?” I was thinking, “I just got the Six-million-dollar man action figure, and we don’t even get to play…” When you’re nine, you’re just thinking—I remember the flight.
People ask me sometimes: “So you were flying out of Iran into Switzerland. What was on your mind?” I remember they brought a can of Coke. I just thought: “I’ve never seen it in a can before. I’ve always seen it in a bottle.” Half of my flight was: “Is that how it’s going to be—when we get there—and it’s going to be in cans?” Isn’t it funny how the Lord sometimes just shelters you, and you don’t know the grandness of what you’re—
Dennis: Well, you were just being a boy, at that point!
Bob: But I’m just thinking, “If I were to escape today—if I had to leave Arkansas and run for my life—I wouldn’t know where to go.”
Bob: Did your parents have contacts in the United States or in Europe?
David: Absolutely; great question. We wanted to come to America, but Switzerland was where they said they could go for this supposed surgery. When we got to Switzerland, instead of going to the hospital, they just went to the American Consulate. They applied for political asylum, which is just a fancy way of saying we wanted to become refugees.
They said—because of his position in the army, in the past, of my dad, and because of what he had been going through—we need to find asylum in the United States; but at that time, nobody was allowing Iranians into the United States because people were watching on TV how the revolution was happening—how over 50 hostages were being held in the American Embassy in Iran. So, we were from the wrong place at the wrong time—
David: —so we’re stuck in Europe. We were stuck, basically, in Switzerland. Then we went to Munich, Germany, because we thought it’d be easier. We’d heard the American Consulate in Munich was more sympathetic.
So, we would go there, and plead our case every day, and try to make it to America. The doors just wouldn’t open up. So, for nine months—to be honest, we tried legally / we tried illegally—every way, Dennis—and the doors wouldn’t open up until one day—
Dennis: Okay, stop one second because I want to get to the one day. I have to ask this question. I’ve always wanted to ask this from someone who escaped to get political asylum. Where did the money come from? How did you get the money out of the country? I’m sure that your family was a family of means, working for the Shaw. How do you float the boat financially?
David: Sure; absolutely. My dad had taken a piece of luggage—and he had taken the lining off—and he had lined it with some money. My mom had bought a golden belt—this gold and platinum belt. She had bought rings. They had liquidated some things because it was going to be a real tell-all if they got caught with taking a lot of money over for this quick little surgery they were going for.
They put the jewelry in my brother’s baby carriage—they’d stuffed it in the lining. So, they had this luggage. That’s why, when we were going through the airport, my dad’s hands—I remember my dad kept saying: “This was dumb. If they find this jewelry / if they find this luggage, they’re going to kill us right here on the spot.”
Bob: The money—yes.
David: But this story, honestly, is all about how God delivered us, despite us! This is no heroic side. Everything we did we did wrong, but God was so much bigger than all of that. So, we got here. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we had some money.
David: My dad knew he had to come to America and begin a new work. He was a helicopter pilot.
Bob: Well, we have to get you to America first!
David: Yes, that’s right.
Bob: What happened?
David: Yes. I love to tell this little moment because it’s just so—we always talk about my first prayer being this traumatic religious prayer—but the second memory I have of prayer is—we tried every way we could, and we couldn’t come here. My mom got us together one day; and she said: “We’ve been trying to go to America. We’ve exhausted all these different avenues.”
She said, “I have another idea.” She said, “Have you ever heard of Jesus?” I had never heard of Jesus. She showed us a picture of a white guy with a beard and a mullet. She said: “This is Jesus. He’s American.”
Dennis: Hold it! Hold it! You just described him how?!
David: A white man with a—think Duck Dynasty; alright? So, basically, she said, “This is Jesus.”
Bob: “He’s an American.” [Laughter]
David: I love that because I’m sure, listening right now, someone is thinking, “Well, isn’t Jesus American?” He’s really not. He’s more “Camel Dynasty” than Duck Dynasty. He’s more from my neck of the woods than your neck of the woods.
David: Anyway, so—
Dennis: We’re not going there.
David: So, my mom said, “This is Jesus.” She showed us a picture. She said: “He’s American. We need to ask Him to let us into His country.” I know that’s horrible theology! I’m not telling you that is the prayer it took. I’m just telling you—we bent our will. We bent on our knees, and we submitted ourselves. We said, “Jesus, please let us into Your country.” A week-and-a-half later, the doors opened up.
I remember that second flight—from Europe to the United States—being a flight where, in the back of my mind, I thought: “I still hate religion. We’ve had to leave everybody behind because of religion, but this American Jesus is pretty cool.” Like, “Thanks for letting us into Your country.” We move. We come to America. We move to Killeen, Texas, where Fort Hood was—
David: —the largest army base, at that time, in the world. We moved to a military town in the middle of the Iranian hostage crisis from the wrong place in the world. Every day, people are watching on the news—Ted Coppell comes on and says, “Day 52 of the situation,” and, “Day 53…” We have just moved into that place to try to find—my dad’s trying to find a job, as a helicopter pilot.
Bob: Were you aware, as a nine-year-old, that you were being watched by the people—did you feel discriminated against?
David: Absolutely because you come in from a different culture. So forget Iran.
David: But you come into a different culture to a very military, patriotic Texas—military town in Texas. I have the wrong haircut, the wrong clothes, wrong language—wrong everything—I don’t speak the lingo. People are like, “You are so going to get beat up today after school.” So, I was the kid who just went to school. Honestly, I replaced one kind of terrorism for a whole other kind of terrorism; right?
David: So, it was just—you come into a different world, and you’re the outsider. You’re at the receiving end of every 7-Eleven® joke / every turban joke. That was me the first few years here in the United States. That’s what I remember the most—more than I remember the trauma of the revolution. I remember everybody got invited to the skating rink birthday day but the Iranian kid. I remember being that kid who was just alone.
To me, in my mind, I thought: “If that’s what we got—we escaped from Iran, we escaped from everything, and we’ve escaped to this place that’s supposed to be our refuge—and it doesn’t feel safe to me.”
Dennis: And the Iranian revolution was over rather quickly. This revolution—that was occurring in your family’s life—lasted for years.
David: Exactly right. That’s really a good way to put it. I wish I could put that back in my book. [Laughter]
I think what’s great about what you just said is—I think a lot of people feel like America is a great god. They don’t want to call it that, but I just think the American dream—“If I can just come here, I can find hope.” I think the way you put it is great in that, when you said that I just thought—yes, you come here, thinking—it can’t deliver the hope that you hope it’ll deliver for you. It’s the greatest country in the world, but it’s a horrible god. You come here looking for refuge. It can certainly afford you opportunities—there’s a reason everybody wants to come here. It’s the greatest country. But it really stops short of really solving—
Dennis: —the problem of the soul.
David: That’s right.
Dennis: And as you were talking, I couldn’t help but think, David, about Jeremiah 33:3—of how God answered the prayer of a boy, and a mom, and a dad in a very simple way. This is God speaking to us.
He says, “Call to Me, and I will answer you; and I will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” Prayer, in its very essence, is coming to God, knowing that He’s there, and then expecting Him / asking Him to do something on our behalf. I think it’s just good to be reminded, as you’ve reminded all of us, that a boy who didn’t know the name of Jesus can still articulate His name and ask Him to help.
David: That’s right.
Dennis: There may be a listener, right now, who’s facing something—and it’s not the Iranian revolution / saving your life—maybe it is. Maybe it’s just a simple prayer you need to say: “Jesus, help. I need You to help.” As we’re going to hear a bit later, your story is a phenomenal story of redemption.
Bob: Yes. In fact, you have shared the story in the book you wrote called Jumping through Fires, which we have in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. I’d encourage our listeners: go to FamilyLifeToday.com if you’d like to read the whole story. The book is called Jumping through Fires. You can order, online, from our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. When you get to the home page, in the upper left-hand corner, where it says, “GO DEEPER,” click that link. There’s information there about David’s book.
And of course, David’s going to be joining us this Saturday, in Chicago, at the Allstate Arena. If you live in the Chicagoland area—and you don’t already have tickets—you can come join us on Saturday to hear David Nasser, Dennis and Barbara Rainey, Crawford and Karen Lorritts, Al Mohler, Shaunti Feldhahn, Ron Deal, Andrew Peterson, Chris August—going to be a great day at I Still Do. We’d love to have you be a part of the event. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Again, click the link at the top of the page that says, “GO DEEPER.” You can order David’s book, or you can get more information about tickets for I Still Do.
And keep in mind, David is going to be joining us at the I Still Do in Portland on Saturday, August 23rd; and he’s going to be at the I Still Do in Washington, DC, on October 4th, which is a worldwide simulcast. So, again, if you’d like more information about the upcoming I Still Do events, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link that says, “GO DEEPER.” The information you need is available there.
It’s clear, as we hear David Nasser’s story today, that God had His hand on you / on your family. He was accomplishing His purposes for your family and through your family. Our conviction here, at FamilyLife Today, is that all of us need to be aware of / be mindful of the fact that God is at work in our families. We believe that God wants to do a transforming work in our lives—in our marriages and, ultimately, in our relationships—starting at home.
That’s what FamilyLife Today is committed to—providing practical biblical help for your marriage and your family. And of course, this radio program is part of the way we do that.
We appreciate those of you who share our passion to see families strengthened and who help support this ministry. Your financial support makes this program possible. Right now, if you can help with a donation, we’d like to say, “Thank you for your support,” by sending you a copy of a message that Dennis Rainey shared at an I Still Do event, back a number of years ago, about how “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.”
Ask for the CD from Dennis Rainey when you go online to make a donation at FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that says, “I Care,” to make an online donation. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY—make your donation over the phone. Or, if you’d prefer, you can mail a donation to FamilyLife Today at P O Box 7111, Little Rock, AR. And the zip code is 72223.
Be sure to ask for the CD from Dennis Rainey when you mail a check or when you contact us by phone to make your donation.
And be sure to be back with us again tomorrow when we will hear the conclusion of David Nasser’s story. In fact, we’re going to hear what it cost David, as a young man, to embrace Christ. There was a cost. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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