‘Don’t leave God if things don’t go right in your life’

Published 8:09 pm Friday, May 6, 2022

Prayer breakfast focuses on how to handle tragedy

Citizens and leaders from Suffolk and beyond started Thursday, May 5, the National Day of Prayer, by gathering for the 2022 Suffolk Leadership Prayer Breakfast, which was a sold-out event at the Liberty Center with more than 400 people in attendance.

Among the speakers were Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears; Edward Graham, grandson of the late evangelist Billy Graham, a former U.S. Army ranger and current vice president of operations for Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization; and Benyamin Zazay, of Afghanistan and now the U.S., who is part of a ministry aimed at making disciples for Christ among Afghans in the San Francisco Bay Area, the U.S. and the world.

The program for the breakfast noted that historically, leaders in the U.S. “at all levels of government and business have turned to Almighty God for strength and guidance.”

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Prayer breakfasts were inaugurated at the national level and have also been developed for years at the state and local levels as well.

“As a natural outgrowth of these and other leadership breakfasts,” the program concluded, “many citizens throughout the United States are finding a relationship with Jesus Christ and a fellowship that is helping to build true community in their city, state, nation and world.”

The prayer breakfast in Suffolk on Thursday featured a variety of remarkable moments, including a live update via Zoom from Ukraine. Natalya Khom, with an organization called Orphans Promise, shared how the ministry was going and what conditions were like amid the war there. Included in her update was the news that a man involved in the ministry had been killed just the night before.

While Khom was still online, Virginia Supreme Court Justice D. Arthur Kelsey prayed for her, the ministry and all of Ukraine.

Later during the breakfast, Sveta Spear, of Russia, prayed for Ukraine, and Oksana Rubio, of Ukraine, prayed for Russia and her country, with Oleksandra Yakovlyeva, a fellow Ukrainian, interpreting in English for her.

After that, Moguo Sun, of China, prayed for Taiwan, and Gene Hou, of Taiwan, prayed for China.

Sears opened her remarks by stating: “I want to say that it’s an amazing time to live in because we see what’s happening in other parts of the world, and we know that in America we are very blessed, we’re very blessed. But it’s going to come to us one day, and we’re going to have to make decisions on who we are and what we are and how we’re going to live.”

She shared how she came to know Jesus Christ personally when she was 12 years old while living in Jamaica.

Then she spoke about her life in America, serving in the Marine Corps, living in California and moving to Virginia.

Where she lived was just the backdrop of her story, though, as she focused on her spiritual life and how people should respond to tragedy.

She noted that she had fallen away from a strong focus on Christ, having never been discipled, or trained.

She got married, and did not receive spiritual training until she gave birth to her youngest daughter.

“A voice said, ‘She is going to grow up not knowing me, and she is going to blame you,’” Sears recalled. “And I thought, ‘Oh, no, she can’t blame me for not introducing her to the Lord.’”

Sears worked hard to find a church, and she found one, Calvary Revival Church, in Norfolk, where she was finally discipled.

“I tried to live my life in a certain way, and sometimes I’m successful with it and sometimes I’m not, like everybody else,” she said. “Sometimes I’ve got something really good that I could zing somebody with, and I’ve done it, and then the Lord says to me, ‘And now what? You got ‘em. You got ‘em good. And now what?’ And now I have to go back and apologize.”

In her faith walk, she said she has learned to let things be in those situations because God is going to make her go back and apologize if she does not.

“But then what do you do when the knock comes at the door, 3 o’clock in the morning,” she said, “the proverbial 3 o’clock in the morning knock and the two sheriffs say to you and your husband, ‘Your daughter is dead. Your granddaughter is dead, and your other granddaughter is on life support.’ What do you do?

“I heard something coming out of my mouth that said, ‘The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.’ And then I collapsed into a chair.”

Sears said that after they went to heaven, she struggled with sadness and realized she was sad “because they never had a chance at life.”

Then, she said, God spoke to her.

“And he said, ‘What do you mean a chance at life? Do you mean that they wouldn’t know if they were rich, whether people loved them for their money or whether people loved them for themselves. Do you mean they never got the diseases and all that comes in this world? Do you mean that they were never insulted and their names were slandered? And he kept going on and on, and then finally he said, ‘What do you have here on earth that’s better than heaven?’”

She later added, “I almost lost my way because of what happened to my family. So they’re in heaven having a good time, and I’m down here feeling sorry for myself and missing them.”

She noted how a lot of people will turn away from God in tragic moments, questioning why he allowed those moments to happen, but then she noted how God is never wrong.

“You can’t argue with somebody who’s always right,” she said. “So he was not wrong to take my family. He loved them before I did. He was right to take them. They belong to him. They never belonged to me. And they don’t want to come back.

“So don’t leave God if things don’t go right in your life, because I would have been a fool to do that when they’re having such a good time without me,” she added. “God bless you, and keep your faith in the Lord, because you are going to die, and you are going to go somewhere. Don’t let any tragedies that you’ve suffered keep you from the Lord.”

Before the conclusion of the breakfast, Zazay and Graham shared their stories of God’s call on their lives.

Zazay, who is from Kabul, Afghanistan, noted he was born into a Muslim family.

After graduating from high school, he served in a trained Afghan fighting force.

In this work, he was exposed to the death of Afghan people and remembered asking himself what the reason was for people killing each other there.

“If they’re saying that our religion is the peaceful religion, why are we fighting?” he said.

He noted having a mentor who had a Bible. This mentor came up to his room one time and asked him if he needed anything.

“I just tell him, ‘No, I don’t need anything. I have everything in my room,’” Zazay said. But then he added, “It’s coming out from my heart to ask about Bible truth from him.”

Zazay said that right away, the mentor brought him the New Testament in English.

“So he just gave it to me and said, ‘This is the Bible,’ and ‘Read it,’” Zazay said. “So I just sat in my room and started reading the Bible from the first chapter of Matthew until the Sermon on the Mountain.”

Zazay indicated that he was impacted personally in that first-time reading of Scripture, being exposed to a God of peace and love.

He later mentioned having a striking dream.

“In my dream, I heard a voice,” he said. “The voice called, ‘Share my Bible with your people, my son.’”

Zazay shared this dream with his mentor, and his mentor encouraged him to keep reading the Bible, which Zazay did, every day.

“I gave my heart to our Lord Jesus Christ in 2007, (believing) that he has died on the cross for our sin, and he gave us this grace,” Zazay said.

In 2013, he had a second dream, and he said he saw Jesus, and he saw his hand that was pierced from when he was crucified, and he said Jesus reached out to grab his hand.

Zazay had married an Afghan woman, and he shared his dream with her, and then he tried to seek out other Christians through Facebook, finding an Iranian Christian Facebook page.

“This is the first time I read the word of God in my mother tongue, in Farsi,” he said.

He connected with an Afghan brother on Facebook, and shared his second dream with him.

“He encouraged me,” Zazay said. “He said, ‘Wow, that’s from our Lord.’”

The man connected Zazay with an Afghan house church pastor.

Zazay went on to become baptized in Afghanistan and was evangelizing people there.

Then he was arrested by authorities.

“They threw me in the prison for six months,” he said, noting that he was interrogated, asked why he was sharing the Bible in the country. “They were beating me, they were torturing me, they tried to kill me in prison, so I just kept praying all the time, and God shut my mouth.”

He said the ones holding him did not receive any information about other brothers and sisters in Christ in Afghanistan. 

He got out of prison after six months but then faced another trial. His in-laws told his family that they did not want their daughter to stay with “your infidel son.”

“They were against my family,” he said, adding that they sent divorce papers from his wife’s side.

Zazay sought the Lord, praying, and he once again was drawn to the peace and love of God amid difficult circumstances.

Zazay described a later instance in which he came under attack from extremist Muslims who stabbed him four times in his left shoulder. One of the extremists even talked about shooting him.

“My head pastor sent a prayer request to the other missionary brothers and sisters, and at that time they were all praying for me,” Zazay said.

One of the missionary brothers was living in Badakhshan Province, close to the border of China, and he said to send Zazay there, indicating they would take him safely and he could stay there.

“He came to the airport, (and) he took me to his house,” Zazay said.

Then Zazay explained that he started praying and sharing the Bible with the people there.

It was after this that Zazay had the opportunity to come to the United States.

“The U.S. embassy called me, and I just got back to Kabul for an interview for a medical exam,” he said, adding that he took his visa, and he reached U.S. soil on Feb. 22, 2017.

He said he thanked the Lord for everything he had done for him, including bringing him to a safe country. 

But he added, “Lord, my mission’s not finished.” 

Recalling his first dream in which God told him to share the Bible with his people, he said, “Lord, please connect me with my brothers and sisters. I want to keep going.”

He said God answered his prayer. He was able to connect with many fellow Afghans in California.

“We started the Afghan-American Church,” he said. “We planted the Afghan church in Fremont city in the Bay Area.”

There Zazay helps evangelize the Afghan people.

The church states on its website that its primary mission is “to make disciples among Afghans in the San Francisco Bay Area, the United States and the world.”

Near the conclusion of his testimony, Zazay said, “I just want to suggest to you guys, please pray for Afghanistan’s situation,” asking that peace and love would prevail there, with people seeking God and believing in him.

In her introduction of Graham, Wendy Griffith, emcee of the prayer breakfast, noted that he had served 16 years in the U.S. Army and was part of eight combat deployments as an Army Ranger with the special operations community. She said he was moving toward the rank of general when God called him into the ministry of Samaritan’s Purse in 2019.

“I came to Christ at 5 years old,” Graham said. “I was at my grandfather’s crusade.”

It was in California, and he said his mother answered questions he had and then led him to Christ.

“But I didn’t make that faith my own until much later,” he said.

He noted that he grew up with two posters on his wall — an Army Ranger poster and a West Point poster, and he said he got to live his dream.

However, there was a brief detour, as he originally chose to go to Liberty University and play soccer.

“I realized I’d made a mistake,” he said. “I applied to West Point, so I started all over, and it’s OK in life to start over sometimes.”

Graham mentioned that he was born Sept. 11, 1979.

“My junior year of West Point, I went to go celebrate my birthday, but instead the towers were attacked, the plane crashed in Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon was attacked, and that changed my career forever,” he said.

He wanted to be an infantry officer and serve in the ranger regiment, but he said his academic performance got him field artillery.

He said he spent the next 16 years of his life deployed in combat. He did eventually get into the infantry and a ranger platoon. 

Of his eight combat deployments, two were to Iraq and the rest were to Afghanistan.

Describing the ups and downs of his spiritual life, Graham noted that he began to draw the attention of girls while at West Point, and he made mistakes.

“A friend of mine who’s now blind — lost his eyes in combat — he’s the one that called me out,” Graham said. “I think it took a lot of courage to call out Billy Graham’s grandson and say, ‘You’re not living for Christ.’”

Graham said this man was firmly grounded in God’s word, and “he pointed me to Christ again, and after that, I haven’t stumbled, I haven’t looked back.”

Graham noted that he loves the military, and this contributed to a conflict when his father began to ask him to come help him at Samaritan’s Purse.

“My dad, over and over, asked me, ‘Are you ready to get out?’” Graham recalled. “My answer was always, ‘No. I was called to the military, and I’m living my dream.’”

Then one night at Joint Special Operations Command, Graham’s eyes were trained on some monitors, some that were showing an exercise being performed and one in the corner that was showing a raid going on in Afghanistan. The raid was taking place in a building that Graham recognized having been in himself, twice before, while serving over there.

He said he had captured the husband in a family staying there.

“Year later, I went back and unfortunately I killed one of the sons, and now we’re back the third time,” he said. “Three times — that I know of — the special operations community has been in that compound, and I realized nothing I’m working on right now lasts forever. Nothing I’m doing lasts forever. 

“Death isn’t permanent,” he continued. “What comes after death and where you spend eternity — that’s what matters, and I want to be part of the kingdom of Jesus Christ that lasts forever.”

He said he started praying and went back and read the book of Matthew, including the story of how Jesus walked on water. He mentioned how Peter, because of his faith in Christ and courage, was also able to walk on the water, but then Peter took his eyes off Christ and faltered.

Graham noted that people today talk about Peter in that story in light of his failure, but Graham instead highlighted where Peter succeeded due to his faith and courage.

“I also realize Peter was a part of a miracle, and if you want to be part of a miracle, you’ve got to get out of the boat,” he said. “Everyone else was safe and secure.”

Graham said that too many Christians are safe and secure in the walls of their churches and even their small groups, and they need to be out, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with the world.

To that end, after his realization at Joint Special Operations Command, Graham spoke to his father and agreed to get out of the military, exiting two months after that conservation.

Graham emphasized, particularly to the high school students present at the breakfast, something his grandfather, Billy Graham, had shared with him while answering his questions that he posed to him about the Bible when he was young.

“He goes, ‘Edward, I don’t understand every word of it, but I accept by faith that every word of it is true,’” Graham said. “If it’s not, it all breaks, it all falls.

“The church is struggling right now with people and false teachings and doctrine,” Graham added. “A progressive mindset in the church is trying to change the word, (saying) that you can’t believe every word of it. Every word of it is true. Every last bit of it is true, and I want the whole world to know about it. I want the whole world to know about Jesus Christ. I want Afghanistan to know about Jesus Christ, I want Ukraine, Russia (to know). And I’m fortunate to be where I am.”

Graham said his hope and dream is to one day go back to the places he was deployed to and share the gospel of Jesus Christ there.

He closed his remarks with an emphasis on prayer.

He mentioned that during his years as a ranger in combat, he would put a thumbtack on a map in his grandfather’s office so his grandparents would know where he was deploying.

“My grandfather would pray over me,” Graham said. “He’d put his hand on the map, it’d be trembling, and he’d pray. That was his ministry the last few years was prayer.”

Graham said, “Pray for the church, pray for the unbelievers. We’re at a prayer breakfast. Prayer works. I’m here today because of it.”