Irfan was a Muslim who wanted nothing to do with god. Maybe that is why he left Turkey, to escape the overwhelming demands of religion that had carried him so far to the bottom of his depression. Sometimes when filled with despair, he thought, who could ever know god? Who could ever please god? His demands were impossible. Other times he believed that god was merely and invention of men, invented so that men could gain power for themselves. And if god was real, then he must sit far away somewhere, taking joy in snatching the souls of dead people from the air and hurling them down like darts into Hell.
Irfan’s mind ran from one thought to another as he mechanically followed the opening routine at the Asian bakery where he worked. After he made the coffee, he pulled the freshly baked bread from the oven and placed it behind the display glass. He thought of his family. Even after two years the picture of them standing in the airport the day he left for the United States flashed brightly in his brain: his baby nephew clinging to Irfan’s sister, his mother’s wet eyes as she tried to understand why her oldest son was leaving them, and his father’s mouth turned down like a crescent moon. This was the same stern look he showed whenever he was faced with the free-thinking ideas of the younger generation.
These thoughts drew to the edges of his mind, becoming less dense, like vapor, as he turned his attention back to his work. The chairs in the bakery still sat upside down on the tables from the night before. They looked like animals asleep on their backs, their four legs poking the air. For some reason this made Irfan laugh inside. Maybe it made him think about something back home when he was a kid, when he could laugh easily and freely.
The first bit of sunlight poured in through the windows, waking up the shadows and chasing them to the corners of the room. Irfan felt the warmth of the sun on his face as he got the tables ready for the customers. Something new made him think about how happy he was in Tennessee. The people here were nice.
A girl came in through the door. “Hi, I’m Jess. I’m new here.” She smiled and held out her hand. Her skin was dark, and her brown hair touched her shoulders. She seemed shy.
“Hi, I’m Irfan. You can set your purse behind the counter over there.”
As they worked together, the customers started coming in. One man who always came around the same time sat at one of the tables nearest the window drinking coffee and reading the newspaper.
“Do you like to fish?” Irfan asked Jess. Her pant leg had lifted just enough to reveal a small fish tattoo on her ankle: two arcs fused together, intersecting only in the back forming an open tail.
“It’s and Ichthus. It means Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior. I got it in Macedonia on a mission trip before I was baptized.”
“You are a Christian?” Irfan asked.
“Yes.” She answered.
“So you became a Christian in Macedonia when you got baptized?”
“No, I’ve been a Christian most my life.”
“I don’t understand,” said Irfan.
Lord, where do I start? What do I say? Adrenalin coursed through her veins. She was nervous, but she told him about her relationship with Jesus anyway.
Iran listened as she told him that in the Old Testament every seventh year a servant got to be set free. But the ones who loved the families they served could choose to stay with them, to be their voluntary servant. The family would show this by publicly pressing a nail through the servant’s ear, branding him as their very own.
“The fish tattoo was a way for me to say that I willfully belong to and serve Jesus who died on the cross for me. I belong to God’s family. It’s not a religion but a relationship.”
“A relationship with God?” Irfan asked. He had never heard anyone speak of God this way. A new hope filled him. He wanted to know more.
As the day went on, Irfan asked Jess a million more questions about God.
Later that night, on his knees in his bedroom, Irfan asked God to make him part of His family.
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