“‘I said I was a sinner and I accepted Jesus as my Savior. But after I said this I felt like my body was a piece of paper.’ She tried to control herself so she would not fall down, but she fell backward.”
(Dana Point, California)—She was a math whiz who defied female stereotypes in Iran by becoming a civil engineer. But after Iran’s 1979 revolution, this daughter of a Baha’i minister was forced to run for her life.
“As a child, I always thought there was something wrong with the world,” says Maheen Vardakostas. Even at five-years-old, she asked her parents “Who is God?” When her mother tried to buy her nice clothes she protested, saying, “I want something that lasts, something eternal.”
She grew up within the strict confines of the Baha’i religion, with prayers three times a day in Arabic. Despite the strong spiritual influences of Maheen’s home, God’s love always seemed remote to her. “There was always a distance,” she says. “I wanted to know Him, but there was no possibility of an intimate relationship.”
After the Iranian revolution of 1979, many Iranians were forced to flee their country. Maheen and her family were among them. She recalls that after they immigrated to Los Angeles, “We were traumatized. We lost everything and we didn’t know if we would see my parents again. If we returned, we didn’t know if they would kill us.”
Maheen was able to continue her education in America and eventually married Angelo Vardakostas. She relates that her soul was still troubled, however, recalling a conversation she had with a friend before leaving Iran.
Her friend asked: “What’s wrong with you? You’re always thinking.”
“There is something wrong with this world,” Maheen retorted. “Something is missing. I’m looking for that…”
“All the philosophers have looked for that and you’re not going to find it,” her friend said.
When their first child started school, Maheen and Angelo placed him in St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, an elite private school in San Juan Capistrano, California. When the school invited them to an academic award ceremony where their son would receive an award, Maheen was dismayed because the ceremony would take place in a chapel.
She stood outside nervously, thinking it would violate her Baha’i faith to go inside. Then she thought, ‘This is stupid,’ and stepped into the back of the building. Immediately she noticed the students kneeling and reciting a prayer, “I believe in God the Father who created the world. I believe in God the Son who loved me and died for me…”
When Maheen heard the prayer, she broke into tears. Their God seemed so intimate, she thought. “A God who loves me and died for me? – I never heard of this.”
As Maheen drove away from the school, she kept repeating one line of the prayer: “God the Son who loved me and died for me, God the Son who loved me and died for me…” Could this be the missing piece of life she had been searching for?
Angelo and Maheen enrolled their second son at Capistrano Valley Christian School – only a short distance away, because there was no room for him at St. Margarets.
Every day when she picked her son up at school she asked, “What did you do today?”
“We learned about the Bible,” he replied. Day after day, he repeated the same thing, until Maheen became exasperated.
“We’re paying $6000 a year and all they’re teaching you is the Bible?” she exclaimed.
Soon they moved their second son to Capistrano Valley Christian School, and one of the boys’ teachers, Mrs. Mulligan, invited Maheen to visit the Life Church in Mission Viejo, California.
When Maheen arrived at the church, she noticed many were praying with their eyes closed, so Maheen decided to do the same. When she opened her eyes she was shocked to see the guest speaker standing in front of her. He invited her to come up on the stage with him.
She felt compelled to go with him, but suddenly embarrassed as all eyes in the room fell on her.
“Where do you go to church?” he asked.
“I don’t go to church,” Maheen replied. In her discomfort, she couldn’t help but ask, “What do you want me to do?”
The pastor looked intently into her eyes and said, “I want you to repeat after me,” and he began to lead Maheen in the Sinner’s Prayer.
“I said I was a sinner and I accepted Jesus as my Savior,” Maheen recalls. “But after I said this I felt like my body was a piece of paper.” She tried to control herself so she would not fall down, but she fell backward.
“I was so happy, so excited, I think I entered the Lord’s presence. I got up and he said another prayer and I fell down one more time.”
After the service, Maheen went to a prayer room where several women prayed for her. They showed her where to begin reading the New Testament.
When she got home, she picked up the Bible and began devouring the pages. She read until 4 a.m. In the next few days and weeks, Jesus entered her dreams at night. “At that time, my husband and I were very close,” she recalls. “We had a good relationship.”
“But my intimacy with Jesus Christ was much greater.” In one of her dreams, Jesus looked at all the books she collected in the Baha’i faith, then He compared those with the truth found in the Bible. “Make sure they give you the real Jesus,” He said to her.
“He was never condemning with me,” Maheen extols. “It was the compelling love of Jesus Christ that led me to repentance,” she says. “His humility knocked me down. I once was very tough, but now, I’m much more gentle.”
Maheen still works at the same restaurant, which she owns with her husband. She believes God has seen her perseverance and is training her for ministry. “I meditate on Him while I’m working on the grill,” she says.
“I took action and sought after the truth. I knocked on every door and found none completely fulfilling. Finally, when I was not seeking, the Lord found me.”
Source: ASSIST News