Morgan Jones 0:00
This week's show involves mature themes and may not be suitable for children. It is also important to note that we have taken security precautions to protect our guests on this episode.
This weekend, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will join together to watch general conference. The Church’s members live in 196 nations and territories. General conference is available in 100 languages. A recent letter from the First Presidency states, "Although we speak many languages, we are united in our efforts to follow the Savior and rejoice in knowing that we are all children of God." I was reminded of the reality of that statement during the interview you're about to hear.
Roohina Arya grew up in Iran. She suffered incredible persecution for her desire to learn more about Christianity, but was ultimately led to the United States where she joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Yes, Roohina's is just one person’s story. But to me, it is representative of so many Latter-day Saints throughout the world who have made significant sacrifices to follow the example of Jesus Christ. This episode is a tribute to all of you.
This is all in, an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, what does it really mean to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? I'm Morgan Jones, and I am so excited to have Roohina Arya on the line with me today. Roohina, welcome.
Roohina Arya 1:36
Thank you so much.
Morgan Jones 1:38
Well, I am so excited to share your story with our audience and want to kind of start out with the very beginning. So you grew up in Iran, and I'm wondering, because most people listening to this podcast, including myself, will have no idea what it's like in Iran. We've literally only seen it in news footage. And so, can you tell me a little bit about what your childhood was like growing up there?
Roohina Arya 2:09
Yes, of course. Thank you so much for giving me this chance, Morgan. I'm so glad that I can be here with you all today. Yeah, I was born in Iran, or in English, Iran. And I was born in a Muslim family. My parents were both Muslim, my grandparents–so when you are born from parents who are Muslim, you automatically are considered a Muslim, in your whole identity.
The childhood, for the most part, it was good. You know, just as a child, like you don't understand much, you're just in your own little world. But growing up, as I grow older, it was so hard just seeing how they would treat women, and how the rules being changed, not just by the religion, just by the people.
So like my mom was a missionary for the Muslim religion when she was, and we were practicing all my household, we would practice everything, so I consider myself Muslim. But for like, when I went further, more searching down, I realized that there's so much that I'm missing and it was so dark. I could not find answers to my questions. All I was getting answered that, "You don't, you don't have . . . you can't think about those. You just need to you know, put a cap on it. Don't think about it, just, you know, do what you're asked to."
So it was bothering me that as a human being, I don't even have the right to think for myself and question things and search for myself. So it would just lead me to a really dark path. And I really thought that I do not have any future. I was so excited for dying, just because of that. Because there was no point that I could see in life.
Morgan Jones 4:12
Okay, so I want to stop there for a second. And you said that you felt like you grew up in darkness and you were excited to die. I think that . . . it's interesting because I feel like I've interviewed a handful of people who have said similar things based on where they grew up and the culture that they grew up in. And I think those of us in the United States have a hard time wrapping our heads around how a culture can be so all encompassing that you feel that way. But why, why was that? Why do you think that darkness was so prevalent and what did you believe would happen after you died?
Roohina Arya 4:58
The first time that I can remember that I was so lost was when I was five years old. I was the kid that I was always attached to my mom, she was my whole world. I couldn't even like, you know, stand like a second without her. So I always, always ask her that, "What happens, you know, when you die, like, what is death?" And she would always tell me that, "Don't worry, when you die, you don't even remember this life. You are going to be so worried about yourself and your sins and things that you need to take care of. That you don't even remember that you had a mom, that like, to search for me."
And it was so you know, too much for me. I mean, it's too much for five years old, but even like growing up, I thought about it. I was like, why should we all forget what we've done in this earth? And what is the point? So then this life should be pointless, then if it's pointless, I don't want to live it, you know? It was like, I have feelings, so I'm going through a lot and knowing that it's all for nothing and I'm just being suffered for nothing, it was just too much for me that I was just thinking that even if I die right now, it's all good. With these thoughts, it went on with these thoughts, I was always like thinking about like, where are like rights for women?
I grow older, like I was 11. My sister got married, and she had so much trouble. And she wanted to get a divorce. She couldn't because the rights were all with males for divorce. So, I was like, they are telling us that this life is nothing, and they are not even letting us to have any rights, even though it's pointless. So what is the whole thing about? And I saw her going through a lot. And I saw her, everyone around me, like I couldn't even ride a motorcycle, just because I was a girl.
Or in so many points of the city you were not even allowed to ride a bicycle because you're a girl. So all of those, little by little, was just bothering me. And there was nothing I could do about it till I received a gift. Miraculously, and it was a necklace. At the time I didn't know what is on it, but it was a cross. So it was a cross shaped necklace that I received. And it was so, like, I was always wondering, because I never seen anything like that. You know, like if it's a star, so I was like always like questioning is it a star or something? Like it is–this is so beautiful. And my parents would just like reject that, answering like my questions.
Morgan Jones 8:05
And who was it, Roohina that gave you that cross necklace?
Roohina Arya 8:10
Oh, I actually received it, it was a necklace for my cousin who was living in United States at the time.
Morgan Jones 8:20
Okay. And so that necklace sparked this interest in you, and you wondered what it was, but then time passed, and you never knew what the cross stood for, why it was significant, but then you made a friend who was a Christian. So my first question is, how can anyone be a Christian in Iran?
Roohina Arya 8:45
It's really hard. Growing up, like it's so bad. Like growing up, I didn't even know there's other religions. Like I got so much older, I was more able to go and do some little research. But for Christian people it's so hard, because first of all, when they are born, they get this ID card that with that card, they can buy a bible, they can go to church. So the only way that you can get that card is if your parents and your ancestors were Christian. And even if you have that it's so, so hard.
So many of our Christian people over there, they can't even celebrate Christmas. They can't even have a Christmas tree or a Bible on your bookshelf. Because those are all illegal or . . . I've done a lot of researches and there is like so many of their churches, he put them specially like specifically in the middle of the week so less people can go because they're at work. They never put them in the country, the government never allows them to have those meetings on the weekend when they are free. They only have like a day in the middle of the week so less people can go.
Pretty much it's really hard and like as a Muslim, you never can go because you know you don't have that ID card so you can never buy a bible or go to their church. It's really small libraries, which not that many people have access to like have the bible in them and you can read them
Morgan Jones 10:33
And so then you got to know this girl who was a Christian, so tell me about how you met her and then about your friendship.
Roohina Arya 10:43
Yeah so it all started with that necklace, because I remember like as I was asking everyone my mom mentioned that, “This is for Christian people, you don't need to know about it.” So that's what the whole thing sparkled in my room, I was like, oh so then I have to go find someone who's Christian. And there was a friend in my class, I was 14 years old, she was not in my class, and I would see every time we have a religion class like we have a Quran class she walks outside.
So one day I asked her, I was like, "Why do you do that?" She said that, "I'm Christian so I go to my own religion class at that time." So in my mind I was like oh great, then I can ask her what does this necklace mean. I asked her and of course she was so scared because of the everything like they can't even talk about their religion, they can get arrested if they talk with other people, so she was so scared but then eventually we became really great friends and she opened up more.
Morgan Jones 12:03
Okay. So then she starts to tell you a little bit more and ultimately she invites you to . . . did she invite you to church? Or did she invite you to a bible study?
Roohina Arya 12:17
So she . . . yeah, she opened up, we started reading the book of John with her. One time I asked her that if I can have my own bible, so she accepted to buy me a bible with her own card and I kind of like tried to hide it in my room but of course like you can never hide anything from your mom, and eventually she found it, and I, one day I come home from school and I see her, she's just standing there with my bible in her hand, being so angry, "Why do you have this?" And she was like telling me that, "You can't keep this, you can't have something like this in our home." So next day she took that bible and gave it to her library.
And so, after that experience my friend invited me to a church but that was when I did the research and I realized I can't even get in to that church. So next thing, like three years and stuff passed she invited me to go to her bible study which was at her, her home, her family, her siblings and parents and some other, you know, family and friends. So I decided that, you know at first I was scared, but then I accepted and I went there but my parents both were teachers so, so many people knew them and they knew that I'm their daughter, even though I didn't know that they know me.
So I walk in and it was a small area, so we read the bible, nothing really crazy happened you know, just they like filled me in with Jesus’s love that He has for the whole world but during that, someone that knew me reported me, that I am like at this Christian person's home. Coming out of the home I saw there's two men and one woman waiting there for me, and at that moment they just arrested me. They took away everything–my phone, my purse and they took my friends family too and they took us just to a detention center for like, for quite a while like four hours like different people were trying to interrogate, asking me different things, what I was doing with them and stuff and eventually they brought a paper, put right in front of me and asked me that in order for them to call my parents and let me go, I have to sign this.
So I go through this paper, I read it. And the whole, you know, main purpose of the paper was saying that the family that I was with, which is my friend's family, they are terrorists. And with me like, you know, thinking about her little siblings, and parents, like, I could never do that to them. I knew like how wonderful they are. And they're doing nothing wrong. So I rejected to sign the paper. And I spent the night at the detention center.
Next day, they transferred me to a jail. And for a week, they kept me there. And same thing, every day, they will just come with anything that, you know, verbally abusing, physically abusing, just asking me that I need to sign this paper. And each time I would reject, and just . . . I was 17. And just in my brain was just like, "No. What can they do?" You know, “If I just reject, you know, eventually they will let me go.”
A week passed. And they said that if I don't sign it, they have to transfer me to the jail that people with politic cases are there. So they transfer me again. And long story short, I was there for two months.
For two months, everyday being abused. Verbally, physically, being tortured. And all they want me to do is just telling my family, like my friend's family are terrorists.
And I remember the one day, which was the last day that I was in that room, it was just a really dark, you know, room. He–one of the guys walked in to me and he said that I need to sign this paper. Again, I said "No." And he looked at me and with really awful tone, he just looked at me and he said like, "Little girl, you really think we have time for you? It's nothing for me, like killing you and telling your parents that you attempted suicide."
And still, I'm thinking about, "No," you know, "They're just trying–I'm young. So they think that like this, they can scare me. And this is not gonna happen." So I wait there, saying nothing, and he just sees that I'm still you know, arguing, he grabs a bottle, breaks it and slit my wrists.
And just walk away. And I sit down, I still don't realize how serious it is. But as time goes by, my body's feeling like, more like aching. I'm more in pain, more, you know, feeling tired, and I just think about my dad, how would he react? If somebody told him that his little daughter attempted suicide? He would definitely not make it. He would not . . . yeah.
And especially, you know, after everything that they've done for me. And so I thought about it and like, after 10 minutes, I was like, no, this is not going to work. So I said that, you know, just bring the paper, I sign it. Let me go. I signed the paper and they put me outside, and all I can remember is that I just found a stranger and I told him that I really need to call my parents so he let me borrow his phone, I call. And I can't, couldn't remember anything till the point I was just in hospital. My parents are there. And they really think that I attempted suicide. So they're like, sad, but also kind of angry, trying to see what's happening. And I'm trying to explain and be like, “No, I never–like I thought . . . I may have thought about it but I wouldn't do it because of you two.”
I know how hard it would be. But they wouldn't, you know, accept it, the fact that I was telling them that yeah, these people arrested me. This whole month I was not lost, I was just in the jail. It was so hard for them. They never, you know they couldn't understand how serious it was. It took a while for me to get better and go back to school. And I tried to search my friends, never find any . . . like I asked everyone, nobody heard of them. Nobody knew like if they moved or anything, she never came back to the school.
Until this day, I did a lot of searches for her. I could never find her in any social medias, or the friends that they knew her. But after a while, somebody came out our door, my dad answered, and it was one of the people from that. Just telling my parents that next time if this happens, it's not just going to be me, it's going to be the whole family was going to be in trouble. And that was the moment that my parents finally believed me that this happened, and it was really hard for me because I was already struggling a lot thinking about, you know, God, like, if He's there, if He's really, if He really cares about us, if there's any point and just my family, not believing me was also bothering me.
But I remember that was the moment that I kind of opened up to my parents. And I told them that, that last day, when they slit my wrist, I prayed to God and Jesus Christ for the first time. And I really believed that they can help me. And I asked him, if it's His will, I will be getting out of that place.
My parents, they were happy, but also kind of sad. Because of my beliefs were changing, it was not their beliefs anymore. So they just told me that you have to be super careful. You can't just go like this. And so I tried to be more careful. But still so much problem. I have been arrested 18 times. Different reasons, but I've been arrested for having nail polish. You know, my nails were painted. And I got charged 400 bucks for each nail.
I've been arrested because there was . . . I had these jeans that they were ripped. I've been arrested for that. I've been arrested for biking, and for, like so many different things. So it's so easy. But I tell people, they all like look at me like this, but I'm like, "No, it's so easy for you to get arrested there. You need to be careful."
Morgan Jones 22:43
Yeah, the question that I have is, why would religion be so important that you're willing to put your life on the line? Because a lot of us, you know, we claim to believe these things, and they mean a lot to us. But we've never been asked to put our lives in danger in the interest of believing, so why would you say these things were so important to you that you were willing to risk everything?
Roohina Arya 23:18
It's because it gave a meaning of life to me. For the first time. I believed that someone actually loves me. Jesus Christ actually cares about me. Before that, I just believe in a God that He's so angry, He punished me, that's why I'm on the earth. And even He–this life is just a punishment, He doesn't even care about it, so I can't even remember it after I passed like all these sufferings, all these learnings. So just that hope that came, you know, in that darkness, I just saw a little light and I was trying to get towards that so I can come out of this darkness.
And I was just trying to do anything, you know, of course not putting my family in danger, but for me, it was like I die, or I get to that light. You know both ways, there's a good ending. So that's why I like, I try, like I really went for it. And I did all this research, but not really, not really easy. So because of that, so many people just choose to go with a normal life, because there is a lot that can happen to you.
But just after like all of these things, I realized that I can never find that hope in that country. That light that I see, I can find it somewhere else. So I decided to move to another country. One of my sisters, she was married and her and her husband, they immigrated to Canada. So I tried, you know, to go there, visit her there and see if I can stay there.
But it never happened. So I came back and I started school. But something in the back of my mind was just like knew that nothing, I'm not going to get anything out of, you know, here. So many of my friends had, you know, bachelor's, they couldn't find any job. Religion was like, also, you know, trying to keep them in a cage. The study was for nothing, so it was completely waste of life.
And after a year of going to school, I decided that I want to come to United States. I came here as a visitor visa, which was miraculously happened to me because I put everything like all the money I had, all the money that I got from my dad, and everyone was laughing me, they were like, "You're wasting your time, your life, your money, your energy. Because your school, you're young, you don't have much. Like United States don't give a visa to this person."
And even the lawyer that I got, he really looked at me, and he was like, "There's a 5% chance they accept you." I was like, "Okay, great. If it's not zero, I'm good. There is at least some hope."
So I did apply, I got my visitor visa, I came here. And I was thinking about a way to stay. And during that time, as I'm trying to, like, see how I can do that. I was like, okay, finally I am free. I can go like, I can search. I can talk with people. So I started going to churches. Every week, I would go–I literally went like up to like 32 different, like 36 different churches. And it was always like, you know, one week, I would go, some of them I couldn't feel the connection. Some of them my belief wasn't matching.
Until the time that one of my brother in laws told me that he was living in Texas with my sister, my other sister, and he told me that he has a great friend. He knows him for eight years and he trusts him so much and he's Christian. He goes to church every Sunday and he comes to him and like talks about his church. So he thought that maybe like, you know, for him it was like, "Have you tried his church? Maybe like try his church too." For like seeing like different ones. I was like, "Okay, awesome. Yeah, I haven't tried this one."
So I called him and for him was, he just like, looked at me and he was like, "Oh, you want to know about my church? I have two good friends, they can help you." So I've contacted the two great friends and I'm waiting for two 50 year old guys like come and I opened the door and I see these 18 years old boys and I was like, "What? These are the friends?" Like immediately I felt the, you know, the peace that they brought, the light. Invited them in, and they started talking about the Godhead, you know if I believe in God, if I believe in Jesus Christ, and I saw like, how the belief is so same thing as I believe in.
And they started talking about Joseph Smith. And just the fact that I was 14 years old when I received the gift and he was 14 when he had the question, it just made me like a relief that you know . . . you know, same thing, so many people are going through this, they're struggling, they want to know the truth and you know, get more information.
So I decided that yeah. I want to go to their church. Next Sunday I go, and from that every time. And my brother-in-law, because my English wasn't good at the time, my brother-in-law was in every single lesson with me to translate for me, and he will call the church with me too with my sister.
So we were like, every Sunday, our family, we would go, and one day they wanted us over to watch a baptism. And in the baptism, I really had this strong feeling that I should be baptized too. This is the right church.
And I asked them and missionary said that, unfortunately, because I'm still here with the visitor visa, and if I can't stay I have to go back, that's not safe. They can't baptize me. I was so mad at missionaries. I don't know why, they didn't have anything to do with it. But I was so mad. I just came out, I was like, “I don't want to see you again.” And I just went home crying, and my brother-in-law was like, "What is happening?" Like, "It's okay, like, stop crying, I promise if you stop crying, I'll help you to talk with people and see what we can do."
I was like, okay, let me just go ahead and, you know, maybe read a little bit of like Book of Mormon. And, as I open, I opened it to Book of Moroni and chapter 7 verse 33, it says, and "Christ hath said, if you will have faith in me, you shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me."
And reading this brought me so much peace. And I just realized that I need to correct my prayer. And till that point, I was kind of like you know, ordering God. I was like asking, "God, I want this to happen, like, make it happen." But I realized that this is not how, like, if it's expedient in Him. So I just immediately kneel down. I think that was my first correct prayer that I said in my life. And I asked Him that, if you, you know, allow it, make this happen. And lo and behold, next day, my brother-in-law helped me calling so many different people, and I finally got the approval to be baptized.
Morgan Jones 32:20
Amazing. I love that that scripture stood out to you, the one in Moroni that uses that word “Expedient.” Recently, I was reading the scriptures and that word stood out to me. And I looked it up because I was like, what does that word even mean? And it says–there's different definitions of it–but one of them says, "Conducive to advantage or interest, as opposed to right." Meaning, I think, to me, at least, what I took away from it is, if it's something that's going to help move you forward in your life, then God can help us prepare a way to accomplish that thing. And I love that thought.
So you were able to be baptized, and then shortly thereafter, you ended up deciding that you wanted to serve a mission. Is that right?
Roohina Arya 33:11
Yes, that is right. One day, you know, a year passed. And one day I just thought on myself, I can do something more. It was so crazy, because it was the second hour, and just the thought came to my mind. And I told my sister, if it's okay if I become a full time missionary, and she said, "Yes." So I was like, "Okay, you sit down here, I'll go talk with Bishop right now." I go talk with bishop, and bishop immediately gives me these papers. And he said that, "Oh, go fill this out. That's so great. Whenever you're done, come back."
I come home, show the papers to my brother-in-law, and he just immediately starts laughing at me and he's like, "Girl you are crazy. You're having toothache for two years, you can't even fix it because you don't have insurance or money. And now, you want to go on a mission in here it says like you have to do checkups, you know, for your tooth, like vaccine, how you going to bring all this money?" And I thought I don't know. But I immediately said a prayer. And I asked God if it's something that I should be doing. If it's His will–make it happen.
Next day, I started searching and I found a really cheap insurance for the women for low income. And nobody believed it but I completed those papers in less than a week. Next Sunday, I put the papers right above my bishop and he just looked at me and he was like, "That was fast." And nobody could believe it, just because God wanted it, He made it happen and I'm so grateful for it.
I served my mission in California as the first Persian missionary native speaker served. And we were able to start a whole community for Persian people. Start the first Persian branch, second Persian branch and bring the Persian language to the MTC. Before that they were not training the Persian language in the MTC, and now they have started it.
And I'm just so grateful that Heavenly Father gave me this chance to find that hope. Now I have a purpose for my life, now I know what I want out of life and I wanted to spend my whole life with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
Morgan Jones 35:48
And there are a couple of things that I think are so cool that has happened since you joined the Church. So your brother-in-law and your sister also ended up joining the Church, is that right?
Roohina Arya 35:59
Yes. Yeah my brother in law also joined the Church six months after. And they were in all my lessons too but they took the lessons for themselves too so they can have their own thoughts about it. They got baptized and while I was on my mission they got sealed with their whole family.
Morgan Jones 36:19
So amazing. And you are now a Persian speaking teacher at the MTC, is that right?
Roohina Arya 36:27
That is right.
Morgan Jones 36:29
So cool. Roohina, before I get to my last question, I just, I wonder if you could share with us how the gospel has brought light into your life and changed your life, and also how you feel toward that friend that introduced you in Iran to Christianity?
Roohina Arya 36:52
I am so grateful for my Christian friend in Iran that helped me. Without her this would not be possible. I'm so grateful that she was so brave enough that she even put her life to introduce Jesus Christ to me and the gospel of Jesus Christ has brought me so much love comfort and peace that I could never find it with anything on this earth.
And every single word when I read it, you know, when Nephi–when he talks about that they came to this land with the hand of God, I think about how Heavenly Father helped me to come to this land, even everyone was laughing at me. And just those makes me be stronger and be more powerful and bring those lights to my family, to my friends around me.
Morgan Jones 37:55
Absolutely. Roohina, my last question for you, and before I get to this, I just want to say thank you. Thank you so much for sharing your testimony with us and what an incredible story. I think it just is a reminder to me of how many things I feel like sometimes I take for granted and don't appreciate as much as I should, so thank you for that reminder. My last question for you is what does it mean to you, to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Roohina Arya 38:25
To be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ that means being part of the body of Christ. All of us to be one, and try to do what He asked us to do. To be more like Him, to bring more love and peace to this earth and to carry it to everyone when we receive it, and so that everyone who have experiences like this enduring darkness be able to find that hope and light.
Morgan Jones 39:03
Thank you so much, Roohina.
Roohina Arya 39:05
Morgan Jones 39:09
We are so grateful to Roohina Arya for sharing her story on this week's episode. We are also grateful, as always, to Derek Campbell of Mix at Six studios for his help with this episode, and we're grateful to you for spending your time with us. We hope you all have a wonderful conference weekend and we'll be with you again next week