“My, you must be very, very rich!”

These words surprised us when Jalili, an Iranian educator, who had come to our home for dinner, shared them with us.

“In my country only the very rich can afford rugs throughout their home,” he continued. “And, very few people have such beautiful curtains. And, you have two cars!”

We certainly weren’t considered wealthy by American standards. We were just an average family, with three children, often struggling to pay bills and put food on the table. In fact, I often had several part time jobs to help us cover expenses. It was hard to understand why somebody would think that we were wealthy.

Jalili was part of an exchange program and he was spending about a month visiting education programs in the United States. He was a math teacher and an administrator for the Iranian government and was to spend the last two weeks of his visit with us at Penn Manor.

Our experiences with him were unusual and we didn’t appreciate his anxiety and concern until many years later.

At the time of his visit, the Shah of Iran ruled Iran. He was a dictator but was supported by most western governments. Later he had to flee into exile, being forced out by the Islamic movement. We had no real comprehension of the fear the Iranians must have had of him and his government.

For example, at a social event early in Jalili’s visit, he got caught up in the casual conversations and made the comment to somebody, “If you don’t sell us arms, we won’t sell you oil.” This remark haunted him for the rest of his stay.

He told me that he was now sure that when he returned to Iran his family would be gone, he would lose his job and he would be thrown into prison for making such a statement. He said he was just a country boy who had worked his way up the educational ladder in his country. We often laughed about his reaction and his worry, but he actually almost had a nervous breakdown because of this concern.

As he watched television he was horrified at the way people, especially elected officials, criticized our President. Such freedom of speech and openness was unheard of in his country.

One of the strangest incidents came when Jalili came to me and asked me to rush him to a location where he could send a telegram to the Shah. He hoped to cover his “mistake” by telling the Shah how much he appreciated him and that he had Jalili’s full support.

The telegraph office was in the back room of an apartment house on Lime Street in Lancaster. The location added to the intrigue of what we all thought was a comical, overblown situation.

But were his fears really overblown?

After he left for Iran, we never really heard from Jalili again. Was his family there when he returned? Was he taken off to prison? Was he demoted? And, if he did survive, what happened to him when the Shah was chased out of the country. We will never know the answers.

As we watched the developments in Iran during following years, we began to realize that his fears might have been legitimate. How difficult it must have been to live without the freedoms that we have taken for granted. How difficult it must be to live in a society where you must guard every word that you say.

Throughout my lifetime I have been very fortunate to live in the United States where we have had freedom of speech and amazing liberties. I hope that you, too, will enjoy these rights and liberties, which have made this country unlike any in history.

However, I fear that this might change. We as a nation have abused our freedoms and we have strayed far from the Biblical foundations on which this country was founded. I also believe that Iran will continue to play a major role in history and in your lives. I believe that they will be a major part of what the Bible says about the end times.

Fortunately, the Bible tells us what will eventually happen. We know the end of the story. And, we who are part of God’s family know that we are on the winning side.

I have learned to thank God everyday not only for my abundant material blessings but also for the many freedoms, which have been won through the sacrifices of so many.

Don’t take your blessings and freedoms for granted!