Alpha: Dean's Story
When chatting to Dean about his growing faith, the love he has for others and the peace he feels, it’s easy to forget the incredible obstacles he has overcome. But his story is not just about coming to know Jesus; it’s a testament to the overwhelming faithfulness of God.
Despite being from an Iraqi family, Dean began his life in Bangor, Wales. “I was born in the UK as my father was studying a postgraduate course there”, he shares, “I was brought up a Muslim – though there’s not much choice in our society.”
Dean explains how he had very little exposure to any other religions, including Christianity: “I didn’t get to explore other faiths, or ever second-guess my own beliefs. By the time I was a teenager, I’d memorised entire books of the Quran – I was an ideal Muslim.”
But as he grew older, he also felt the desire to understand the reasons behind his devotion. A natural curiosity, coupled with his scientific studies, began to lead him to ask questions. “As a young boy, I always sought to find explanations behind everything,” he reveals, “I hold an MSc in Pharmaceutical Sciences, and I always skipped lectures to go straight to the textbooks to find the detailed explanations.”
Armed with this critical curiosity, he began to explore his own beliefs, struggling to hold onto the doctrine he held. “While it was forbidden for me to question my beliefs, I asked whenever I had the opportunity. It became obvious that nobody I asked could answer my questions.”
Frustrated by a lack of answers, and struggling to maintain his faith, Dean shares the moment he realised he could not hold on any longer: “The more I searched, the more it didn’t make sense. Everything I believed was based on assumptions that were not allowed to be questioned, but had to be blindly followed. I lost faith completely – in all religions – and started questioning whether God even existed at all.”
The next ten years of Dean’s life were lived as an atheist. His keen mind still craved to understand why he held the beliefs he did, and he found himself studying prominent writers that sought to prove that God did not exist.
But during this time, a new influence entered his life. Dean explains how a woman, who would later become his wife, began to show him a new side to knowing God: “I met my wife in college. She was a native Christian of Iraq, known as Chaldean Christians. In our society, they live in their own territory, and I had never met anyone who was not a Muslim. I became very interested in their religion and their way of life – the more I learned, the more I was fascinated by how peaceful they were.”
Following his time at college, and drawn to his birthplace, Dean and his wife studied post-graduate courses, periodically moving to the UK for their studies. Despite his interest in Christianity, Dean still identified as an atheist; but there was something about his wife’s faith that he couldn’t ignore.
“She always prayed for me,” he reveals, “wherever we would go, she would enter a church light a candle and pray for us. I always found that very spiritual and I admired her faith.”
The crucial turning point in Dean’s life happened when ISIS began attacking government forces in Iraq, plunging the country into devastating conflict. Christians were forced to flee their towns and villages in the wake of atrocities. Only one city remained safe: Ankawa, in the north of Iraq. It became a sanctuary for Christians from all over the country, and neighbouring Syria.
Dean explains, when working in Ankawa, the profound effect of the attitude of the Christians around him: “I was inspired; despite what happened to them, even at those times, they showed no hostility. That was another big moment that drew me into exploring Christianity - and one of the greatest influences on my journey.”
Eventually, Dean and his wife sought a new life in the UK, and moved at the end of 2016. A chance encounter with a woman, who approached them in a café, led them to share their story – and she suggested they get in touch with a man named Brian, a devout Christian who often visits Iraq to aid the Christians there. Dean would later come to discover that this woman had felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to speak to them – paving the way for what would come next.
Speaking with Brian, Dean revealed his interest in learning more about Christianity – and this led him to the Alpha Course, running at Harbour Church. Dean shares how each week, this opportunity to explore, speak with others without fear of judgement, and to find answers to his questions helped pave the way to coming to know Jesus.
“My group were extremely supportive. The sessions were great – simple information, yet deep enough to introduce me to faith. I was fascinated, and deeply touched by the positivity: stories of sacrifice, the cross; our sins forgiven. How Jesus died for us, and we will meet him again.”
Accepting that Christianity was a relationship, not a list of rules to follow, was a stark contrast for Dean, and took a while for him to get used to: “My biggest question was ‘What do I need to do?’ – The idea of grace and forgiveness didn’t make sense at first. But the more I digested it, the more it did. It gives you inner peace, and liberates you from anger, negativity and hostility. I looked for anything spooky, or crazy – but soon realised all I needed to do is love Jesus Christ.”
Through the Alpha Course, Dean came to accept Jesus. He read all of the gospels, and truly got to know the loving God of the Bible. But after hearing of how Christians could receive the Holy Spirit and experience His presence in their lives, Dean was desperate to go deeper. The Alpha Day away was the perfect opportunity. Not expecting much, Dean went along; but during a session in which the congregation were invited to accept the Holy Spirit, he found breakthrough.
“I thought it would be like any other Alpha session – but I was wrong! I vividly recall the vicar explaining that the Spirit could be a little spark, igniting you from inside. I loved these words. The moment came, and we prayed and prayed - and finally I felt it. This little spiritual thing I felt must have been the Holy Spirit. Due to my past experience, this was the first time I had been able to pray.”
Since then, Dean continues to grow in faith: “I read my Bible, and pray more and more. I speak with people about Christianity.”
But most importantly for Dean, knowing God represents a new chapter in his life; a new dawn free from the shackles of the past, and a bright future in knowing God. “I reflect on it,” he reveals, “peace; forgiveness; love. I’m much more calm, liberated and free. It has a deep impact on me – more than I realised. I’m a better person – without a doubt.”