While St. Paul’s conversion happened on the road to Damascus, the faith journey of Farhad Mehraban changed on his commute to Hagerstown, Maryland, where he was then working.

Mehraban – who works in public relations and also assists and coaches individuals and companies in personal, professional and leadership development and project and financial management – was among 10 people who received the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and First Eucharist at the April 20 Easter Vigil at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Gaithersburg. Eighteen other people received sacraments of initiation for the first time that evening at the Maryland church.

His faith journey began in his native Iran, where he was raised in a devout Muslim family and taught to respect and be friends with people of different faiths, including some neighbors who were Jewish.

“My family was a family of religion, but of no discrimination of religion,” he said. “We were always encouraged to spend time with our neighbors, no matter what their religion was.”

As he was growing up, his parents taught him about God, and he read stories from the Quran and Old Testament. “God was important in my family,” he said. “…(They) my parents taught me there is a higher power that is there to look out for you and guide you… (and) being a good person is the most important thing.”

Witnessing personal acts of charity to those in need by his parents and grandparents, Mehraban said he learned “everything is better when you share.”

As a single father now raising his 10-year-old son, he said he appreciates what his parents taught him about being thankful. “Their greatest gift to me was to raise me to be an appreciative individual and thankful for everything I have,” he said. “They taught me you don’t need a lot of money and possessions to be happy.”

His father was a university professor who taught psychology and music therapy, and earned a doctorate in music education at Northwestern University in the Chicago area, where the family lived for about two years, with Mehraban attending middle school and participating in the Boy Scouts there. Mehraban noted that, like their father, he and his younger sister and brother all play musical instruments. As a boy, he excelled at playing the piano, and when he served in the Iranian military, he started a band at the base and played the trumpet. He continues to play several instruments and teaches music.

“The rhythm that God has created is music itself,” he said.

After earning degrees in business in Iran, Mehraban moved to the United States in 1999.

About four years ago, he had changed jobs and was rethinking the path he was on. During his commute driving from his home in Gaithersburg to his job then in Hagerstown, he would listen to seminars on leadership, a topic of professional interest for him. He also began listening to some sermons by Christian evangelists and pastors, and one speaker got him interested in St. Paul, and “how he transformed his life from Saul to Paul, becoming one of the most influential leaders in Christianity,” changing from someone who persecuted Christians to someone who became one of the world’s greatest Christian missionaries.

One day during his commute, Mehraban said he felt like he was having a nervous breakdown because of the stresses in his life.

“I could hardly see the road. At that moment, it dawned on me, maybe you need to go see God, (so) I pulled up my navigation system and put in ‘church,’” he said, adding, “I went to the first church on the list, Mount Nebo United Methodist in Boonsboro, Maryland.” A retired pastor there compassionately listened to his story and spoke with him.

Mehraban said “after that day, I decided to go to church,” and he began going to St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Derwood, where one of his best friends went to Mass.

Then he had a chance encounter at the dry cleaners with Father Agustin Mateo Ayala – the pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish – who used to be a customer at a local restaurant where Mehraban had worked. He said Father Mateo “was always so full of energy, always smiling (and) welcoming.” They remembered each other and chatted.

“The fact he was right in front of me, I didn’t consider it a coincidence,” he said.

St. Rose of Lima Church was located near Mehraban’s home, and he began attending Sunday Masses and Thursday Adoration there. After a while, he decided to look for a Bible to bring to Adoration with him and read, and he found one that another former restaurant customer had given him, with a related reference book. Inside the book, she had written, “Jesus said, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.’”

At Adoration at St. Rose, he met a parish catechist who invited him to come to the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) session there.

“It was good to know the community was a family based community, just like I grew up with,” he said. “It gave me the opportunity to share my thoughts and understanding, as well as listen to others’ points of view… I started going (to RCIA), and I enjoyed it.”

He added, “My intentions started growing stronger and stronger toward Christ. I decided to move forward and accept Christ as the son of God.”

His family, he said, “is 100 percent supportive” of his faith journey. His parents, who remain Muslim, live with him and his son. With his newfound faith, he said, “I am not denouncing anything… As I take this step, I have the same respect (I had) for Islam, and the same respect for Judaism.”

Mehraban, whose professional life has revolved around leadership, admires the humility and leadership of Jesus, “the following he has and the lives he’s changed” and the peace and forgiveness he offers to those who follow Him.

For his Confirmation name, Mehraban chose Paul, after the saint whose “transformation was a sign to me I could do anything,” he said.

Receiving his First Eucharist at the Easter Vigil was profoundly moving to him, and he said ”it gave me the feeling that I am closer to my Lord, (and) it also reminded me of the responsibility that accompanies the Eucharist… I believe Jesus my Lord wanted me to join His Church, and his holy presence has been with me throughout my journey, and now as I grow my faith, I have the responsibility to better the kingdom of God.”

He hopes to become active in the parish, and perhaps join the Knights of Columbus and help educate youth there about financial literacy and leadership. “I do believe I have a lot to teach, and a lot to share,” he said.

Two numbers have woven through Mehraban’s life and faith journey, 9 and 40. He first came to the United States in 1989, returned in 1999, his son was born in 2009, and in 2019 he became Catholic. He added, “This is the year I turned 40. It took the Israelites 40 years in the desert to find the way to the Promised Land. Jesus was in the desert for 40 years. Forty is a symbolic number of the Lord.”

And remembering the lessons taught him by his parents, Mehraban is thankful, for God’s guidance, for his family and friends, for the church community at St. Rose and most of all for his young son, whom he now prays with. “He’s God’s gift (to me),” he said.