On January 18 the Wahed family moved from Azerbaijan to Canada and landed in Portage la Prairie. The family experienced some extremely hard setbacks that were all focused on religious persecution against them.
Abdul and Safiya Wahed were Muslim and were born and raised in Dubai. Safiya converted to Christianity in 2013 when life would take a drastic turn that eventually led to Abdul's conversion through a miraculous experience.
His wife's conversion naturally caused Abdul much confusion and he left her for a time, but they soon were reunited as a happy family. Safiya was completely cut off from her side of the family and was beaten many times by her sisters to the extent that she was unable to work days on end.
"When my family, my sisters, two sisters, they are in Dubai when they came to know I can work, they didn't even give me a chance to talk. They just start beating me. They hit my head on the wall. Kicked me. I couldn't go to work for almost 10 to 15 days. I was at home only because of Mark (her son). Then they said, 'You're not one of us. If you want us to forgive you, still you have time. You can tell us that, 'I did mistake. I'll come back.' I said, 'No. I know what I am and I will never change. And God knows what is good for me.' My husband came to know about my conversion and he got angry. He went out from our house. It was 2014 New Year's Eve. And then he heard from one of my colleagues that I converted. He got angry and he moved out."
Safiya says then she began praying. She notes she would have accepted a divorce if that was her husband's wish.
The Waheds had a good life in Dubai where he owned a business, wrapping vehicles and making decals for vehicles. Although this was all they knew as home, they never had citizenship there and remained under sponsorship by a family friend.
Safiya's conversion eventually caught the attention of their sponsor and events soon led to their need to flee.
"When we moved from Dubai to Azerbaijan, we didn't take so much money with us because I was working as a driving instructor," adds Safiya. "I didn't resign from my company because there was no time. All my gratuity, I left in that country, and my car, also, I didn't sell. Abdul sold his car. I left my car there. Even my home; we left everything there and we moved to Azerbaijan."
Abdul says he didn't have time to sell and close his shop in Dubai, and just had to abandon it with all its equipment.
The Waheds obtained a one-month visa in Azerbaijan. It was there that a man offered to help them live in a hostel and set up a business for them. It turned out, this same man scammed them out of tens of thousands of dollars and left them without receiving any profit from the business. The man's girlfriend found them and reported her boyfriend to the police who arrested the man. She then allowed the family to stay with her for several months.
"The [police] put him in jail for one year and six months. But after we come to know that, after six months, he paid money to the police, or someone, and they released him. Immigration knew everything, but there was no one who wanted to help us. And they kept calling us at any time in the night -- sometimes 2 o'clock or sometimes in the morning at 6 or 7 o'clock."
They contacted the immigration office for help and were left waiting for hours at a time and eventually told they had to fare on their own. At one point, Immigration finally told the Waheds that they would take them to Iran's border and have them enter Iran to live, but they refused, noting it was more dangerous in Iran for her faith than where they were. Safiya says they held onto their faith in God. She notes her husband remained Muslim all of this time.
A Moment with God
"After all this happened, he saw in his eyes that I was praying, and I was telling him also, 'Just pray. Don't beg them. Don't tell them to help us or listen to us. They will not to listen. Who can throw your children on the street? No one came to help. They will listen to you. You have to pray only and you will see that. We will be in a good place. God will help us.' Then he saw with his eyes."
It was then Abdul says that he heard the audible voice of Jesus.
"One day he heard," says Safiya. "God talked to him. And then he changed his religion because he heard, himself. He heard from his ears. And I was praying. I was always praying to God, 'God, you are the one. You have chosen me. You will show him as well. You will change his heart.' And it's happened!"
She explains the words that he heard spoken to him.
"He said that the last week before we came to Canada, it was at the last Home Group worship there," explains Safiya. "In Azerbaijan, in the morning, he woke up and he was silent. He didn't talk to me. Then when he went to the Home Group after worship, he told me, 'I want to say something to everyone.' He then told me, 'Tell them that I want to accept Jesus.' I was so shocked. I didn't know because he didn't talk to me about that. I told him, 'When you decided to accept Jesus, you didn't talk to me.' He said, 'No, this morning, I heard something.' So, I said, 'What did you hear?' He said, 'When I woke up, I just heard someone. A loud voice and clear sound. Someone said that 'Today's time. You have to open your mouth. You have to accept.'"
She said it was on a Sunday before they took their flight to Canada the following Tuesday.
Abdul says, "This morning, I wake up. Somebody is talking to me. Someone is speaking something. I say, 'Who is this?' I say, 'How somebody's coming, man and policeman?' I don't know what happened to me. But I feel something happened for me. What is this sound?"
Pastor Glenn Loewen of Portage Evangelical Church heard about the family needing somewhere to live in Canada and made arrangements with several contacts to bring them over.
Safiya shares being in Portage la Prairie is like a dream come true.
"Are we really here in Canada?" Safiya often asks her daughter.
On the day they were flying out of the country to Canada, Safiya was thinking, "They know that we are moving today, so maybe they will come and take us. They can do anything. But thank God, we moved from there."
The Waheds now reside in Portage with their two children and are members of the Portage Evangelical Church.