At 15, teenager Miltan Danil lost the woman he had known as his mother and found out that she had really been his grandmother. This was the first of an avalanche of revelations that shattered everything Miltan had believed about his family and propelled him onto a road towards addiction. Now long recovered and a pastor and presenter on SAT-7’s Persian-language channel, he tells a remarkable story of how God shaped him in order to minister to many more drug-addicted people in Iran.
Born into an Assyrian, nominally Christian family in Urmia, north-west Iran, Miltan was too young to understand what was happening when his actual parents divorced. He spent most of his childhood being brought up by his grandparents, whom he knew as his mum and dad.
Sitting in SAT-7’s London studio where Miltan hosts live shows Our Neighbourhood and Principles of Faith, he recalls the day when his mother re-entered his life.
“One hot summer’s day, as I was walking along a street, a very nice car stopped in front of me. Two tall, beautiful ladies stepped out. ‘Do you know us?’ one of them asked me.
“I was very interested that she spoke Assyrian,” Miltan explains. “’No’, I replied. Without any introduction, she said, ‘I am your aunt and this’ – pointing to the woman next to her – ‘is your mum!’”
Miltan was confused. “My mum has passed away,” he replied, thinking they were teasing him. He left them and walked home, feeling very sad. Hours later, his grandfather found him alone and crying and asked what was wrong.
“He explained everything to me,” Miltan remembers, “but I wished that he hadn’t. In a moment my whole world was shattered and all I had left were questions.”
“I had a lot to process,” he explains. “The person I had known as father became my grandfather, the person I though was my mother was really my grandmother, my eldest brother was really my father. And a woman who was a complete stranger to me turned out to be my mother.”
The emotional storm and confusion was more than he could handle. “Before long I found myself drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. I got into music and became a drummer because it enabled me to pour out my anger on the drums. I made friends with the wrong people and finally, aged 17, I became addicted to heroin for ten years. I hated my parents because I felt that I was the victim of their broken relationship.”
Despite his inner turmoil, Miltan persevered with his education and graduated as a laboratory technician. He worked in a national health centre but soon became known to the authorities as an addict.
Then, when the Iranian revolution swept through the country in 1979, he was fired from his job. Unemployed and prevented even from earning some money as a musician when the revolution closed music clubs, he became a member of a criminal gang.
“I wanted to destroy this man”
Miltan describes himself as a fervent Assyrian nationalist at that time. Knowing that Syriac was the language used by Iran’s Assyrian Christian churches and Armenian was the language of the Armenian Christian minority, he was outraged when he heard that an Armenian pastor was preaching in Farsi, the language of Iran’s Muslim population. Although only nominally Christian himself, Miltan saw this as a denial of the pastor’s ethnic Christian identity.
“I wanted to destroy this man,” Miltan says. “My gang destroyed some of his property, including his car.”
At one time there was even a plan to kill the pastor, Miltan recalls. But his own inner conflict was overwhelming him. His heroin addiction and drug dealing made him homeless and landed him in prison several times. Despite drug rehabilitation treatments that his father arranged for him, none worked.
Then, one day, Miltan’s twelve-year-old stepbrother pointed a finger at him and said, “Miltan, Jesus can save and heal you.”
“What must I do?” Miltan asked him and was told, “You must come to our church.” Which church, he asked. “Brother Edward’s church,” he replied.
Miltan gives a wry smile: “Brother Edward was that Armenian pastor.”
Miltan found that the church had been waiting for him: “I didn’t know that he and the whole church had been praying for my salvation for one year.”
Their prayers and Miltan’s long search for peace of mind were answered together. “Aged 27, I was miraculously saved by the grace of God,” Miltan says. “From the moment I submitted my life into His hand, I promised to serve Him with all my strength, talents and whatever He has given to me.”
Miltan married, and he and his wife, Shemiran, served the church in Iran for a number of years before eventually leaving for the UK. Today he pastors churches in London and Brighton. He broadcasts live on SAT-7’s Persian-language channel twice a week, giving pastoral counsel and biblical answers to thousands of viewers.
From the correspondence SAT-7 receives it is clear that many see him as a father figure and that he has helped many others find release from drug addictions.
A fellow broadcaster on the channel from time to time is that Brother, Pastor Edward Hovsepian. After replacing his martyred brother, Haik, as leader of the Assembly of God churches in Iran in 1994, he eventually came to the UK in 2003. Today he is senior pastor of the Iranian Church in North London and also a frequent broadcaster on SAT-7.
God’s love in Christ long ago replaced Miltan’s aggressive nationalism. Instead, Miltan says that in 1993 God gave him a dream and vision to serve Armenians. In a recent episode of Principles of Faith the two pastors answered viewers’ questions and messages together.
One viewer wrote recently, “Brother Miltan … I have happy news for you. In the last programme, when Pastor Hovsepian was with you, I asked you to pray for my friend N, who is a religious person, that her eyes would be opened to the Lord Jesus. Within a week, on Good Friday, she came to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and received Him as her Lord. She has even caused my faith to become stronger.”
Miltan’s testimony is one that wins the attention of even the hardest of hearts because he has been there himself. “Jesus is my personal Saviour, redeemer and Lord,” he says, “If He was able to save me, He can save everybody else.”
Miltan and Shemiran Danil will speak at SAT-7’s Envision Scotland event on Saturday 14 September 2019 at Wishaw Baptist Church. The programme will also include updates on what is happening in the wider Middle East region, video clips of broadcasts, and news of SAT-7’s ministry across the Persian, Arabic and Turkish-speaking world. Reserve your free place here.