No matter how many times *Caleb tried to leave the Kurdish community in the Middle East where he grew up, he always found himself back there. Now he understands that God has a plan for him and his community.
Raised Catholic, Caleb’s childhood was marked with a deep love for Jesus. But as he grew older, he lost interest in matters of faith. He had a happy family life and did not sense a personal need for God.
“We are from a middle class family,” he said. “My dad is not an educated person and I’m really proud of him. My mom is also not graduated. I love my family and my mom and dad. I used to feel this big joy with them.”
But in 1998, he experienced the first “shock” of his life: His mother became seriously ill. She suffered for three years, and then passed away in 2001. Caleb was devastated.
“Life at that time completely changed,” he said. “I wasn’t interested in anything at all in my life. My friends who used to know me before my mom passed away said, ‘You changed a lot after this incident, as if you are living your normal life, but carrying a big burden.’ During these years my relationship with God was blocked.”
When his father remarried, Caleb moved to a community two hours away for work, and stayed there two years, until an opportunity arose that he’d been waiting for.
“I had one purpose: to buy the company that I used to work for. I wanted to buy it. That was my future goal. I wasn’t really interested in anything else at all.”
When he learned that business came up for sale, he returned home to buy it.
A mysterious encounter
One day, when it was time for lunch, rather than joining his coworkers to eat, he slipped into his office and closed the door. He felt very tired, so he watched TV for a little while, thinking he might take a nap. Then he realized there was someone sitting in the other chair, and that person asked him a strange question:
“What are you going to do?”
Caleb remembers answering without thinking, “My friends went to lunch and now I’m relaxing and watching TV.”
The person then said, “Now, go visit the Bible society and ask the person in the bookshop to give you a Bible. But you will not take the Bible at first. When you do take the Bible, read it.”
The stranger then got up and left.
“I was really surprised,” Caleb recalls. “Who is this person and where has he gone?”
Caleb went out to the main gate of the property to see where the man went, but the gate was locked.
“How did he enter this place when the door is completely locked?” he asked himself.
“Inside myself I thought it was an angel who appeared to me and told me to do this. Until now, I don’t remember his appearance or shape,” Caleb said.
Caleb went into town to the Christian bookshop and told the store owner about what had just happened. The man reached behind the counter to get a Bible and offered it to Caleb. Caleb said, “I have a Bible at home, so I don’t want to take this Bible from you.”
The owner said, “But that man told you that you have to take it. Even if you don’t want it, just take it and give it to someone else.”
Caleb found himself accepting the Bible after having first refused it, just as the stranger had predicted. He returned to his office and started to read.
“And my journey with God started from that time,” he recalls. “There was a complete change in my life from that time. I was reading the Word of God and applying it to my life and examining my life. So, the Word of God says not to use the name of God in vain, but I used to do that. The Word of God says do not do bad things or curse, but I used to do these things also. At that time I used to smoke and drink alcohol. When I read the Bible, I said, ‘Enough is enough. Thank you, Jesus. Because of this, it’s now time to change.’”
Dreams and visions
In 2005, Caleb decided to leave his home region, hoping to emigrate to Australia where an uncle lived. Caleb traveled to Istanbul to submit his application through the United Nations, while praying for God to guide him and give him wisdom about where he should resettle, even if it was somewhere in Africa.
While he waited for his case to be approved, one night he had a dream that Jesus appeared to him in a bright light, so bright he was forced to turn away. He heard the instruction that he was to return to his home community within three months and serve God there.
On another night he dreamed that he was waiting for a bus to take him to Australia, but when he climbed on the waiting bus, it dropped him off in his hometown. He scolded the driver for not taking him to Australia, but the driver responded, “We need you here.”
As Caleb walked away from where the driver had left him, he saw an elderly man, who asked him where he was going. Caleb answered that he was going to Australia. The elderly man said, “We need you here,” and gave him a key from his pocket.
“Because many doors will be closed in front of you, no one will be able to open these doors except you,” the man said, before disappearing.
Caleb awoke from the dream and, three months exactly from the date he’d applied to go to Australia, his case was denied. So he returned to his hometown, just as his dream had predicted.
He went back to work for two years, but the lingering question from his dream remained: Is there a real place in my region where the driver dropped me off in my dream?
Finding a mentor
In 2007, a friend wrote to tell him that a pastor from another city was coming to his community for a visit and wanted to meet Caleb. When the pastor came with his family, they all had a meal together. During prayer, Caleb sensed the Holy Spirit telling him that this pastor was sent to help him begin ministry.
The pastor was a Nazarene; he mentored Caleb in the doctrine of the Nazarene church, and what it means to be a minister.
“God gave us many blessings,” Caleb says. “We had many obstacles we passed through, difficult times together.”
In 2008, God blessed Caleb with a wife and, soon after, a son. Raising a child gave him new insights into the fatherhood of God, and God’s love for him.
“I used to see this whole image of how God was really feeling when He saw Jesus crucified on the cross. When I was reminded of this picture, I used to stick more to my faith and the church.”
When Caleb and the Nazarene pastor organized a church, it turned out to be at the physical location where Caleb dreamed that the bus driver had dropped him off. But he still wondered what the key from his dream symbolized.
In 2015, the pastor and his family prepared to leave the community, so he asked Caleb to take over the church’s leadership. However, Caleb was not prepared for this unexpected change.
“I lost confidence. I said, ‘I cannot do this.’ I refused to take the ministry. We distributed all the things to the other local churches and closed the doors of the church.”
However, Caleb agreed to continue leading the five families who made up the former church in a Bible study while he made plans to immigrate with his family out of the region. He and his wife prayed and fasted for God’s guidance on where to move, including Australia. Yet, every time they began to take serious steps to emigrate, his wife became anxious and uneasy. They sensed that the lack of peace was a sign from God that they should stay.
In 2016, Caleb contacted the leader of the Nazarene church in the Middle East. The leader asked what support he might need. With his help, the congregation was able to buy the same house where they used to gather for worship.
They held a celebration and invited the other churches in the city to join them for an official reopening of the church. As Caleb spoke to the gathering, sharing his testimony, he remembered the key he’d been given in his dream, and sensed God explaining that the key was given to him to reopen the church.
As a district licensed minister, Caleb has served as lead pastor for the Nazarene church he helped to plant, and which is one of only two Nazarene churches in the region. That year they began compassionate ministry and outreach to refugees and other neighbors in need.
In 2017, Caleb was elected to serve as director of the region’s Evangelical Alliance and, in 2018, they organized an advisory committee.
“I have a vision to open three other churches in five years, so that in every region we have one church. Our vision in 2020 is to have five ministry partners with me. Our aim is to disciple 50 families from the neighborhood. Our focus is for teaching and discipling these people.”
*Names and locations omitted for security reasons
This article was written by Gina Pottenger and previously published in the May 2020 edition of Where Worlds Meet.