As many of you know, my spiritual father and mentor, Behzad Pakizegi, died last week after suffering with cancer. Special thanks to my family and friends for your prayers and timely words of comfort to me and Behzad’s family.
By God’s grace, I was able to fly to San Diego to spend personal time with him before his death. To help me process my grief last week, I wrote: Reflections On the Passing of My Spiritual Father: Behzad Pakizegi
In 2014 Behzad faced another life threatening illness when he suffered a severe heart attack and had to be admitted to a hospital in San Diego for triple-by-pass surgery. As he was lying in a hospital bed waiting for his surgery, we were, like recently, talking and emailing back and forth on our cell phones.
My youngest daughter, Laura, who had never met him, asked me if she could also write him an email. And she did. He told me later that words cannot express how much her email meant to him just before his open-heart surgery.
Little did any of us know that Behzad would keep Laura’s 2014 letter and draw great comfort from reading it again prior to his death last week. Behzad wanted me to share Laura’s letter with his family and friends again. So, here it is:
It’s likely that by now my proud and adoring father has told you all about me and maybe even shown you my picture or made you listen to my singing. I am sorry. If it’s any consolation, you are not alone. You join a long line of people who have been made subject to my parents’ doting and to whom I now feel more than slightly indebted.
My parents told me that you were in the hospital. I hate hospitals: the beeping, the fluorescent lighting, the smell of rubbing alcohol, the endless waiting, the food that looks and smells like it’s from space. Hospitals make the panic bird light inside my brain. So in the chance that you are at all like me, I hope this letter can provide a small respite.
Do you know — your story was somewhat of a legend in our household? I have heard about you since I was a very small child. My father is a born storyteller, and your story has always been one of his favorites to tell. It’s also one of my favorites to hear. Perhaps it’s the warmth that creeps into his voice and his eyes when he says your name. Do you also know — part of the tale made its way into a 1997 issue of Reformed Quarterly (the RTS seminary publication)? I’ll start the story myself and then let the excerpt provide the rest.
“Always the life of the party, Steve’s teenage years were steeped in rock concerts, riotous parties, and rides in his sports car with chrome side pipes. In 1973, he was studying business at Oklahoma State University when…
…one day he saw a sign in the dorm advertising a lecture on the claims of Christ. He and his buddies thought it would be great fun to disrupt the meeting and hassle the speaker. How dare someone come and preach to them! The speaker turned out to be a petrified student with a memorized Gospel presentation who was no match for their cynical questions.
“We had him up against the wall and were delighted with ourselves,” remembers Steve ruefully. “Suddenly from the back of the room, a Middle Eastern man stood up and walked forward, carrying a Bible and smiling broadly. With disarming gentleness, he took us on one by one and answered our questions with a boldness I had never seen. My friends grew tired of it, but this articulate and intelligent man fascinated me. I argued with him until 3 a.m.”
That night was the beginning of Steve’s spiritual pilgrimage with Behzad Pakizegi, a converted Jew from Tehran who was working toward his Ph.D. and had studied with Christian apologist Dr. Francis Schaeffer. Behzad bought Steve a bible and a few weeks later led him to Christ in his dorm room. Thus began a three-year discipling and mentoring relationship that has impacted Steve’s life ever since.
“He didn’t give up on me,” says Steve with a warm smile. “I would have probably given up on someone like me a hundred times. His commitment to me had to be God-given.”
Dramatic changes began to occur in Steve’s life, including a new desire to hear the Word with God’s people and a heavy burden for those without Christ. His parents didn’t understand; they thought Behzad was a “spiritual” guru out to take advantage of their son. Step by step, Behzad helped Steve mature in the Christian faith. During their second year together, Behzad decided it was time for Steve to learn how to share his faith, so he set up a meeting with the leader of the B’Hai cult on campus. Steve remembers that “he ate my lunch, but Behzad jumped in and rescued me.” It was on such difficult playing fields that Steve learned well how to share his faith.
At Behzad’s direction, Steve became involved in Campus Crusade for Christ, a ministry that would also shape the rest of his life. He took all the training which they offered, including advanced leadership instruction, and began discipling others. His teaching gifts were obvious – large groups of people began attending weekly Bible studies in his apartment. During his junior year, he poured himself into three new converts, a ministry that opened the door for yet another Bible study group and a Sunday School class, and then another door and another…
“I just tried to honor God faithfully and let Him show me what to do next,” says Steve. “Eventually I found myself speaking about the claims of Christ in university fraternities, at times to as many as fifty or sixty hard-core partiers and cynics. I laughed at God’s sense of humor; I had been just like them only two years before.”
By his senior year, Steve began to sense the Lord might be calling him to full-time Christian work. Steve’s father wanted him to go on to law school, but Steve wanted to acquire some more experience in ministry and consider going to seminary. His father agreed to allow Steve to move back home and follow that plan, provided Steve could earn enough money to pay his own way.
So, taking the principles of discipleship he had learned in college, Steve developed a Bible conference called “Journey Into Usefulness,” which he began to teach in local churches. In 1977, during the summer after his graduation, he met the woman who would share that ministry – his wife, Becky. They married in August, 1980.
I don’t know who wrote this piece but it’s clear whoever it was also noted the warmth of my dad’s affection for you. It’s also clear that my father told the same story he has been telling me ever since I was old enough to understand it. My favorite part?
“Suddenly from the back of the room, a Middle Eastern man stood up and walked forward, carrying a Bible and smiling broadly. With disarming gentleness, he took us on one by one and answered our questions with a boldness I had never seen.”
It always gave me the chills!
But may I also point your attention to where the tale ends: with his meeting Becky and marrying her in August 1980. Just between us, I promise you that Becky would never have married Steve if it weren’t for a converted Jew from Tehran named Behzad Pakizegi. I also promise you that Steve and Becky’s third child, Laura, would never have been born if Becky had not married Steve.
So I guess what I am saying to you is that I know very well — and have know for a long time — that if it were not for you, I wouldn’t have even been born. But it’s more than that. What you have done for my father has positively impacted me throughout my life in different ways. I’ll give you just five.
By teaching my father about Reformed Theology, you influenced my education. For my sisters and me, attending Covenant College has shaped our thinking and our worldview. Some of my richest friendships with other believers also began during my time there.
By introducing my father to the writings of Francis Schaeffer, you influenced my thinking about art and life. Schaeffer’s thinking is ingrained into the ethos of our family. This has been great for me—the only family artist and musician! In the past few years, I have often thought about taking a trip to L’Abri — not only to learn more about God amidst the beauty of the Alps, but also to see for myself the Mecca of the thinking in which I was raised.
By being honest with my father about your own failings, you influenced my understanding of sin. When I was in college, I realized some ways my dad had failed me. But when I confronted him about it, he was completely honest with me about his wrongdoing. It rocked my world to have someone I esteemed so much reveal himself as such a sinner. But his honest acknowledgement of his own frailty ultimately led to me developing a healthier view of Christian leaders. He told me then that you taught him this lesson many years back when you decided he was mature enough for you to openly reveal your flaws to him. I hope that I, like you and my dad, can also be a person that is humble and vulnerable with others about my sin. Simul justus et peccator!
By teaching my dad about Jesus, you influenced my perceptions about Jesus. When my dad talks about Jesus, his voice has the same warmth it gets when he talks about you or his own dad–real people he has known and loved. To him, Jesus is not just a gateway to eternal life. He’s real! He’s alive! He’s present! He’s powerful! When Jesus was here on earth, He laughed and He cried. He hugged people. He felt everything we feel. I don’t normally hear Christians talk about Jesus affectionately. I want to be a person that does.
By leading my dad to Christ, you paved the way for me to meet my grandfather one day. You likely know better than I do about how difficult it was for my dad to lose his father soon after he graduated from college. But think about it: he now knows he will live for eternity with his father in the New Heavens and the New Earth. I, too, look forward to that time of reunion when I’m planning to plant a huge kiss on my grandfather’s cheek. As an aside, do you know that my dad describes you as having the same “quiet strength” that his father had?
You should know, Behzad, that I do not warm to people easily. It’s actually a great flaw of mine — just ask my parents. So please do not take it as flattery when I say these things in gratitude to you. The truth is, though I don’t know you, I consider you as part of my family. I don’t know if God will ever give me a chance to meet you on this side of eternity–I hope He does. But if he does not, please know that there is a girl out there who considers you her uncle Behzad.