By Daniel Young
As members of the Catholic faith, we are acquainted with the story and teachings of Jesus Christ. Christ’s teachings are timeless in their wisdom and ability to uplift and guide us to a holy life in communion with God.
One such teaching can be found in the way Jesus cared for the marginalised people of his time. In both Luke 10:25–28 and Luke 16:19–31, the parables of caring for the needy are powerful examples of this and how we, as Catholics can truly be in touch with our faith in practical terms.
One person who would know the real-life experience of this is Farzan Khan, also known as ‘Zam’. Khan, who is originally from San Juan and is now living in Port of Spain, sat down and gave his story very openly, a testimony to the power of faith.
Zam grew up and lived as a Muslim in San Juan for most of his life until approximately 10 years ago. At the time, Khan was working as a tradesman, doing anything he could to support himself, focusing on metal work and painting, eventually moving on to straightening car parts. Through his experiences working in vehicle maintenance, he got into tinting car windows and was a team member of the Tint Master business in San Juan for a time.
To make a better living for himself, Khan would explore various professions but eventually reached a downturn in his life when he changed professions to lettuce farming, and with the divorce between him and his then wife.
Zam says the person who hired him would give him drugs to sell and physically abuse him. For his time working as a lettuce farmer, Zam never received a salary and would be forced to sleep in the trays of pickup trucks.
He relates being taken advantage of and falling into the trap of drug use himself as a way of coping with his divorce.
Life grew increasingly difficult for Zam in San Juan as using and selling drugs was his day-to-day reality. Even as a lettuce farmer, Khan would beg on the streets for money, which was used as he says, to support his boss’ unhealthy lifestyle.
This cycle of abuse came to a pinnacle when he landed in jail for drug possession. He pled guilty, stayed six days in jail and was fined for the offence.
The flux in Farzan Khan’s life ran concurrently to the changes in his faith. Inherently, Zam is a prayerful and faithful man but when he sought solace in his faith, he found difficulty.
Khan would go to the mosque for worship but was challenged with understanding the Arabic language. He mentions not fully understanding what he was doing. Ultimately, his respect for religious doctrine did not allow him to commit himself to the worship in the mosque.
He says, “I did not want to make a mockery of the religion. I did not want to worship without knowing what each act meant. When I bow, I want to know what it means and I want to know the meaning of the prayer and when to say it.”
Zam felt a change was needed; his desire to connect with God needed to be fulfilled so he tried going to a Hindu temple with his then wife. He had met his wife at the time of the drastic changes in his life and, being Hindu herself, she became a helping hand to Zam’s spiritual well-being.
For a time, this helped but things between himself and his wife became difficult leading to the aforementioned divorce.
Khan’s time in jail although relatively short, left an impact on him. Upon leaving the Remand Yard, he promptly left San Juan in search of peace of mind and a better life.
At this point in his life, the drug use had a firm grip on Zam’s mind. He managed to get to Ariapita Avenue, Port of Spain where he began begging and struggling for money to support the habit.
Khan talks about the reality of being an addict, “when you are an addict, you become aggressive when it isn’t in your body. Your body craves it …. there’s nothing that can compare to the first time you take it; it is like the highest you could ever be and from that point on you just chase that high constantly.”
In chasing the high, Zam began helping the local restaurants in the area by removing their trash, for which he would receive a small amount of money.
At night, Zam would sleep in front of a particular store, a health store that specialises in selling medical equipment. The owner, Christian Aboud, saw him one day and offered to give him some money to help keep the front of the store clean and ensure the building was kept relatively safe.
This began a unique relationship as Zam became a pseudo-employee of Aboud. Khan continued begging to support himself but his life would slowly change as he spent more time in his new environment.
A new start
While living on Ariapita Avenue, Zam met a fellow homeless person who introduced him to LIFE in Life Ministries, an organisation focused on the teachings of Christ with a special advocacy for the homeless in various neighbourhoods.
Through LIFE in Life, Zam came to an awareness and appreciation for Jesus Christ. He would regularly read the provided Bible and when he had enough money to allow it, he would go to the boardwalk in Chaguaramas and study the teachings of Christ. The Bible would become an invaluable tool for Khan as he lived on the streets.
One evening as he managed to get a little bit of money from begging, he was returning to his sleeping spot when a gentleman called him over. He says, “I heard ‘My Brother! Can I speak to you?’ and I turned and looked around, there were so many people around, why did this person call me?”
He continues, “I walked up to him and asked him ‘In Jesus name, I am a homeless guy, out of everybody why did you call out to me?” Zam explains that the gentleman who called him over was a pastor who, upon feeling compelled by the Holy Spirit, called out to him.
The pastor gave him a large sum of money and imparted the Lord’s blessing upon him and left. In his own words Zam talks about this being an increasingly regular occurrence.
He mentions meeting, as he calls them, two angels who, by way of their interaction helped to nudge his belief in Christ further along its path. He says, “the reason why I consider them angels is the way they approached me.”
He talks about meeting a very old lady whose “voice was very young, like that of a sixteen-year-old.” Speaking to him in parables about Jesus in English and in Arabic and telling him that he would need to join a church served to convince Zam of an angelic experience.
This interaction Zam says was before his journey with LIFE in Life Ministries began and the interaction with the pastor who helped him.
The second encounter Zam considers an angelic one, came during an especially difficult night on the streets. An intoxicated individual insulted him for begging for money. Khan
stood up for himself and the individual followed him back to his sleeping spot, where he proceeded to viciously attack Khan with a makeshift wooden weapon. Bystanders were in shock at the attack and did nothing to assist.
An older gentleman approached him. Zam begged the older gentleman for help. The individual simply smiled and lifted Zam to his feet. Instantly Zam says he felt relief from the attack just as the paramedics arrived.
While conversing with the paramedics he says he felt no pain and never needed to go to the emergency room but remained in shock from the entire ordeal.
These experiences imprinted on Farzan Khan in such a deep way due to their frequency and timing.
He felt a need to follow the Word of Jesus and continues to do so with his journey in LIFE in Life Ministries. His relationship with Aboud has blossomed more over the past few years as well.
Through his determination for a better life and his deep search for a connection with God, Zam has lifted himself from being homeless on the streets to a Facility Manager at Casali’s Pizza on Ariapita Avenue, a promotion that has not come easily.
Khan talks about a particular instance where drugs threatened to fracture the relationship with his new boss but through that same determination for a better life, he was able to move past it.
Christian Aboud corroborated that story in his own account of their relationship. He says the reason he was able to employ Zam as an employee in his business without any doubt in his mind was, he saw in Zam an ability to lift himself out of homelessness.
Aboud recounts the moment he realised this, “when I told Zam we could not continue the agreement we set due to Zam not respecting what we agreed upon, he said that he understood. That blew me away.”
In that moment, Aboud realised that Zam was living on the streets as someone whose circumstance put him there. He was able to see Zam in a compassionate light.
As time passed, he would see Zam from time to time and they would greet each other and talk. When Casali’s fully opened, Zam requested his old duties be reinstated and Aboud obliged without question.
Zam is now one year clean from drug use, a Facility Manager for a new business and a homeowner. It is not through luck but a deep desire for a better life, an unshakable faith in God and the efforts of the people around him who want the best for him that Zam is now a part of a very small percentage of individuals who are succeeding on the road to recovery.
Zam may not see it in these terms himself but will be the first to say that it would not have happened without God.