Hopelessness to Healing: A Swedish Immigrant’s Story
Dark-haired Nasrin, wearing a lovely white dress, stood facing her Swedish groom, eager to begin her new life with this Christian man. As she looked into his eyes, memories flooded her mind. A long and miraculous road had brought her to this day, and she couldn’t help but contrast this wedding with another “wedding” in her past.
Born in Iran to nominal Muslim parents, Nasrin had moved to Sweden as a child when her father’s political leanings ran afoul of the Muslim government. However, when confronted with Sweden’s extreme secular environment, Nasrin’s father felt suddenly adrift. Seeking comfort in the familiar, he began to embrace Islam again.
Nasrin’s father insisted she wear a veil to school. He told his children bedtime stories about Islamic prophets. He warned them about becoming “too Swedish,” thereby earning punishment in the fires of hell.
Nasrin’s strict Muslim upbringing clashed with the ultra-liberal culture that surrounded her, leaving her feeling confused. She saw ugly things at home. Her mother, who struggled with mental illness, was often beaten black and blue by Nasrin’s father. The man was a bully who often shouted verbal abuse at his children.
One day, Nasrin decided life wasn’t worth living. She took a handful of pills and wound up in the hospital. As she recovered, she told the staff that she didn’t ever want to go home again, and if she did, she would not come out of there alive. “Don’t let my father visit me,” she told the hospital staff.
Somehow, Nasrin’s father got in. “You are a Swedish slut!” he shouted. “I never want to see you again!” In his fury, he slammed the door of her hospital room so hard he broke its hinges.
After this, Nasrin found herself shuttled from one foster family to another. One family was atheist and very liberal, and their beliefs appealed to Nasrin. She enjoyed living a life of freedom away from her Muslim parents.
Then, at age fifteen, she was raped while partying with friends. A few years later, when she found herself pregnant by a live-in boyfriend, he forced her to have an abortion.
These experiences, combined with the abuse she had grown up with, contributed to a shift in Nasrin’s sexuality. She felt she hated men and that they were the cause of all that was wrong in the world. She began dating women. Lesbian relationships, however, failed to satisfy, and she soon plummeted into a vortex of wild living—one-night stands with both men and women, and polyamorous adventures.
Nasrin embraced a militant form of feminism. She became active in politics and attended university where she studied philosophy and explored various ideologies. Understanding that nihilism—a doctrine holding that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless—was the inevitable outcome of her atheist beliefs, she began to despair.
One day when Nasrin again found herself wondering whether life was worth living, she happened to pull a book off a shelf in the library: a defense of the Christian faith by the Swedish theologian Stefan Gustavsson. Profoundly affected by it, Nasrin did some research, found that Gustavsson taught at a school called Credo Academy, and enrolled at the school.
At first, Nasrin confronted her teachers with questions. Fearing she might be dealing with a dangerous cult, she sat near the classroom door so she could escape quickly. She even took part in a public rally for gay rights by donning a white dress and staging a mock wedding to another woman, knowing it was against Credo Academy’s biblical standards of sexuality.
Yet her teachers responded to her with nothing but grace and patience. Nasrin got to know her professors at Credo, including Ray Baker of GEM and Mats Selander, a Swedish graduate of GEM’s Nordic Bible Institute.
Together with Gustavsson and others, Ray and Mats spoke into Nasrin’s life, remaining unfazed by her arrogant and confrontational demeanor. Ray often conversed with her about Christ and spiritual things over lunch breaks and fika—the daily Swedish coffee and sweets ritual.
In that world of intellectual engagement and theological studies, Nasrin gradually came to recognize the arrogance and bitterness inside her, born of pain. While riding on the subway one day, she heard a voice saying, “Follow me.” She resisted. Yet, by the time she reached her destination, she had surrendered her life to Jesus.
Today, Nasrin is a mother of five and an outspoken pro-life activist. She continues to follow Jesus, believing he is the Way, the Truth and the Life. “In Jesus,” she says, “I have found the freedom, love, dignity and security I had always longed for.”
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About the author and photographer:
Jenny Garrity and her husband Kim joined GEM in 1984. They have served in Germany, Belgium, and most recently, Greece in response to the refugee crisis.