PROVO Joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was a leap of faith for Jamileh Zaifnejad Hogan, who in 1975 was the first Iranian woman to be baptized into the Utah-based church.
"Joining the church is a challenge," said Hogan, a Brigham Young University graduate who spoke to students on Wednesday. "(But) when it is really difficult, that is where there is room for miracles."
Some of those miracles include getting a visa and passport, which allowed Hogan to come to the United States. Another miracle was being able to work with the leadership of the LDS Church in creating a mission in Iran, which lasted only a little while until violence erupted. Another was seeing her mother and sister also join the LDS Church.
Hogan, who has worked as a language analyst for the U.S. Department of Justice for 10 years on Wednesday shared the story of her conversion, punctuated with details of the political unrest that gripped her country.
On the day she was supposed to be baptized, a student riot broke out at the university in Tehran where the 21-year-old was studying. Hogan described seeing the military move in and open fire on a group of students.
"Blood spattered on the heater (the wall)," she said. She ran to the women's bathroom and hid in a stall, hoping the soldiers wouldn't find her.
After hiding for hours, she started to leave so she could make it to her 4 p.m. baptism. She went through a crowd of soldiers who pointed guns at her head and one who hit her with the butt of a rifle.
Finally a senior officer told them to let her leave.
Hogan was introduced to the LDS Church through working with Lloyd Miller, an American and Mormon who was studying jazz in Tehran, and the two ended up co-hosting a radio program. Accepting an invitation, Hogan attended an LDS meeting in Iran, made up mostly of international members, not native Iranians.
That led to more questions, months of studying and finally praying to a God she hadn't ever believed in. On Jan. 8, 1975, after breaking through 3-inch thick ice on a neighbor's swimming pool, Hogan was baptized.
That night Hogan told her parents about the months of study and her new religion. She feared they might throw her out of their home or even disown her. Her parents, whom she praised for their patience and support, told her that if she believed in this religion, they trusted her judgment.
Her brother wasn't so understanding and disowned her.
After her baptism, Hogan traveled to the United States to visit Salt Lake City and the temple. When she arrived, she met with LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball and other church leaders who asked her to help translate mission materials and train future missionaries.
Despite being one semester away from graduating in Tehran, Hogan agreed and stayed in Utah. She enrolled as a freshman at BYU and began to work with church leaders. An initial batch of missionaries was sent to Iran but were redirected to England when riots broke out again in 1978.
Although there is no current LDS mission in Iran, Hogan said there are congregations of Iranian members in Switzerland, Italy, Ecuador and Japan something she didn't think possible 30 years ago.To hear Hogan's complete speech visit kennedy.byu.edu/events/lecture_archives.php.