For Kevin Kazemi, the journey from an abused and disaffected teen to a man willing to trek the globe in God’s service is the stuff of which movies are made. He’s an Iranian-born Muslim-turned-Christian who grew up in Sweden and met his Dutch wife in South Africa.
You need an atlas to keep track of Kevin Kazemi’s spiritual odyssey. He’s an Iranian-born Muslim-turned-Christian who grew up in Sweden and met his Dutch wife, Mariella, in South Africa.
In March, they will move to Scotland.
For Kazemi, 26, the journey from an abused and disaffected teen to a man willing to trek the globe in God’s service is the stuff of which movies are made.
“I’ve been involved in ministry since 1967. I’ve worked with thousands of young people,” said the Rev. Chuck Schumacher, pastor of High Mill Church of the Resurrection and Kazemi's friend. “He’s one of a few with an intensity like I’ve never seen. ... I believe God is raising up young leaders in Europe, and Kevin is going to be a key.”
Kazemi is the son of a former Iranian Army officer-police chief and a hairdresser mother who was forced into marriage at 13, becoming a mother at 15. Because of his father’s unrelenting abuse, Kazemi said his mother considered suicide when he was about 7.
“But she couldn’t leave us,” Kazemi said, “Because she knew we’d end up dead.”
Instead, she bundled up her three sons and fled Iran to Turkey. She paid a smuggler the equivalent of $15,000 to take the family to Sweden, where she had a sister. Once there, Sarah Kazemi made a comfortable life for herself and her sons but suffered severely from post-traumatic stress. Kazemi said his mother again contemplated suicide. En route to killing herself, she inexplicably stopped at a church.
“As Muslims, we see Jesus as a prophet and a good man,” he said.
There, Sarah Kazemi begged God to reveal himself.
“There was a painting of Jesus on the ceiling,” Kazemi said. “She said the eyes in the painting began to move, and she heard God say, ‘It was never my intention for you to suffer this way.’
“That day she came home. My mother was a totally changed woman ... She never took another pill. I did not recognize my mother when she came home.”
A nonobservant Muslim, Kazemi found kinship in a circle of immigrant boys who embraced guns, drugs and violence.
“All of us were fatherless,” he recalled.
When he was 16, Kazemi said his mother had a dream in which God assured her he had a purpose for her son’s life.
“In my heart I wanted to believe it,” he said. “But I was becoming more like my father. I was physically abusing my girlfriend. I was filled with rage. My mother kept praying for me, even though I was (emotionally) abusive to her at times, too. I thought, ‘Either my mother is insane, or everything she believes is true.’”
When Kazemi was 22, his mother moved to Miami and became a missionary. When she invited him to accompany her on a mission to Armenia, he reluctantly agreed, solely to spend time with her. While there, he repeatedly encountered people who told him God had a plan for his life.
“I didn’t understand it,” he said. “My prayers were bouncing against the wall. I thought, ‘God can’t change me in seven days.’ I was still taking cocaine and fighting in bars. It was almost like I was running from his voice. ... I thought, if God exists, he knows I’m taking this step for him. All I knew about Christianity was from my mother.”
His plans to attend a High Mill sponsored-conference in Poland fell through when it was canceled, but Kazemi ended up at a weeklong college conference in Armenia, also hosted by High Mill.
Kazemi said his mother predicted he would meet an American pastor there who would invite him to the U.S., “And you’d better not say no.”
The pastor was Schumacher. The conference would change Kazemi’s life.
“My life was transformed. I received the Holy Spirit,” Kazemi said, describing it as a “spigot being turned on in my heart.”
“I cried for two days,” he said. “A peace came over me that I’d never experienced before. ... While I was on my knees, Pastor Chuck came up to me, put his hand on my shoulder and said ‘God wants me to bring you to the United States.’ ”
It wouldn’t be that simple.
In Sweden, Kazemi had an assault charge hanging over his head from a previous bar fight.
Panicked, he deliberately injured himself and filed counter-charges to shore up his version of the fight. Days later police informed him the accuser was willing to drop the charge if he would do the same.
He arrived in Ohio in 2005 to study for a year at High Mill’s ministry school, staying with Mary Wallace and her family. The mother of five admits she had some trepidation but grew to love Kazemi as a son.
“It was God speaking to me personally, ‘Don’t you forget what I can do,’ ” Wallace said. “I’m so amazed at this 100 percent heart determination coming out of their lives. It gives me so much encouragement for what God is doing.”
A godly wife
After school, Kazemi returned to Sweden where he launched a Bible study group. His brothers became Christians. In the process, he forgave his father.
“I could not do that on my own. My wish was to grow up and kill him,” he said bluntly. “My mother has always encouraged us to love our father and to have a relationship with him. She forgave him.”
Kazemi went to South Africa for study under Youth With a Mission, where met his future wife, Mariella, 26. They married on Aug. 8.
A native of Tiel, Holland, Mariella Kazemi grew up in a traditional church, but left it to embrace evangelical Christianity. Though dating was prohibited, the two said they knew they were destined to marry. Kevin Kazemi said he had been praying for a “godly wife” because “if a girl is sensitive to God, she’ll be sensitive to you.”
“My mom freaked out,” Mariella Kazemi said, laughing. “She’d never (met) him. I had been gone for six months. She knew I was interested in him from our phone conversations, but ...”
“She’s an only child,” her husband added. “So it took quite a while for her parents to swallow the whole situation. Today, they’re the most wonderful persons in our life.”
The Kazemis aren’t sure what the future holds in Scotland.
“We believe God is opening doors among minority groups in different nations,” Kazemi said. “More than anything else, we want to follow him.”