Our Persian Sister

We thought that by letting a young immigrant woman stay with our family for free, she would thrive. She left, angry, a year later, but we still pray for her (not in the picture above).

By Mark D. Harris

She moved out just over one year ago. Things had been tense for several weeks, especially since her sister had visited. We didn’t know why, but I could hear the tension in Jane’s (not her real name) voice, and see her almost continually locked door in our basement. We tried to understand why she seemed to grow more distant, but the closer we tried to get, the farther she moved away.

Jane was a young Christian Persian woman who I had met on a mission trip to Central Asia in 2011.  She had come to New York City in September 2013, lived in rooms rented from families, and ate out. She linked up with the Persian community and enjoyed the night life of the Big Apple. Perhaps to save money, Jane moved to Virginia to live with us in December 2014.

Sometimes Jane felt homesick. One Sunday afternoon she and I attended a Persian church together. I was taking a class in Islam at the time, so I asked her a lot of questions. At her invitation, our family attended a Nowruz exhibit at the Smithsonian, and we all enjoyed the Persian dinners that she occasionally made.

Jane took pains to be fashionable. She used things to make her eyes look larger and to plump her lips, which puzzled our adolescent sons. She wore lots of makeup, tight clothes, and short dresses. She bleached her naturally dark hair. Jane ate very little, at least at home, and did not exercise. Jane had no car, and our since house was about three miles from the Metro station, she got rides or took a taxi to the Metro when she wanted to go out.

We never charged Jane rent, or even assigned her chores. We forbade male guests in her room, and asked her to eat with us when she was home at dinnertime. We required her to attend church and expected her to join evening prayers with the family. I told her frequently that as a medical worker and polyglot, she would be a fantastic interpreter on future missions trips that I hoped to do in Central Asia.

The final break happened in early December. I was speaking at a college life group affiliated with our church. My two oldest children were going, and I invited Jane. She agreed to come. The topic involved missions and evangelism, and I asked Jane if she thought that she would always be more emotionally tied to the country of her birth, or to America, her adopted land. The question provoked fury, and no apology helped. At the life group, Jane and my children were in the other room when I started the lesson. No one, not even our host, invited them in. My children sat in another room and listened, but Jane went into the yard and talked to friends on her phone. She was livid at the slight.

The next morning I flew to Southern Seminary for classes, and in the afternoon Jane exploded at my wife and children. That night she found an apartment with three Indian girls, and within a week she was gone. My wife Nancy and I loaded her remaining possessions into our van, drove to her new apartment, and moved her in. For this young Persian woman that I had treated like my own daughter for almost a year, I could only muster a tense handshake goodbye.

We saw Jane at church occasionally, but over time she appeared less and less. Nancy brought her mail and a Christmas present to the services but it was weeks before she picked them up. Jane soon moved to a different place with different roommates, and didn’t let us know her address. We heard that she got her work visa and found a job at a convenience store. Later she found employment as an assistant in a dental office, a field in which she is pursuing a career.

It is hard to know what happened. Jane once told me that it is harder to be a Christian in America than in Central Asia. Authorities in that part of the world persecute Christians, but American culture tempts them away from God. Jane wanted the life of a young, single, Persian-American woman, while we offered the life of a family led by middle aged, married, white American parents.

Occasionally someone in my family texts Jane and gets a brief update. Nancy and I feel sad whenever we think of her. We have moved to a different state, and there is a good chance that we will never see her again. Our family prays for Jane regularly. We still care for her, and take comfort in the knowledge that she is, and always was, in the hands of God. Why am I posting this? In the hopes that our experience will resonant with others who may have endured a similar situation.

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