Everyday encounters can lead to powerful conversions.
Just ask Johan Adineh-Kharat, who was simply trying to make small talk with an employee, Sheena, at his family-owned Valero gas station when his life was suddenly set on a new path toward spiritual awakening in 2021.
“I had asked her what kind of music do you listen to, are there any shows you watch? She said, ‘Well, you know I really like watching the show ‘The Chosen.’ I’ve watched it two times already, season one and season two,’” the 38-year-old shared.
He said he’d look into it, thinking he might watch an episode eventually. The popular crowdfunded show, streaming for free on the Angel Studios app and on paid streaming platforms, is about the life of Jesus (played by actor Jonathan Roumie), following biblical stories about his public ministry and digging deeper into the lives of his disciples through inspired storytelling.
“She said, ‘Great, I’ll bring you the DVDs tomorrow,’” Adineh-Kharat recalled, thinking, “Oh great, really, no. I was just making conversation. I didn’t mean anything by it. The next day she brings me the DVDs and I thought, ‘I guess I’ll watch it.’”
Because of that conversation, a powerful TV show and many other pieces of God’s plan falling into place along the way, Adineh-Kharat will be baptized and join the Church this Easter at St. Jude Church in Jacksonville, along with his sons Isaac, 20, and Diego Manriquez, 17, and his sister Magan Adineh-Kharat.
Growing up with an Iranian father and American mother, Adineh-Kharat had a sporadic relationship with religion. He attended a non-denominational church in Benton with his family every Sunday where his grandfather Charles Powell ministered for more than 50 years.
“Even though my grandfather was not Catholic, how he practiced his faith and the works behind it was beyond compare,” he said.
Even when his parents were busy working multiple jobs and the family stepped away from attending church when he was about 8 years old, thanks to his grandfather, he knew God.
As Adineh-Kharat got older, he began checking off the typical boxes in life — a successful career, financial stability, loving family. He excelled in business, maintaining several rental properties and building his Valero station in Beebe from the ground up. He and his wife Juanita wed in 2007, with his grandfather as the celebrant.
“You know how some people say, ‘If I had this amount of money, I’d feel so much better’ or ‘If I reach this level of success, have a good family life, great kids or this amount of money, I’ll be great.’ I have that. But why I didn’t feel satisfied, I didn’t know,” Adineh-Kharat said.
The answer became clear after his employee encouraged him to watch “The Chosen.” The first season aired in 2019 and is the first multi-season show about the life of Jesus. It has reached millions of fans and critical acclaim throughout its three seasons.
From episode one, “The Shepherd,” featuring Mary Magdalene’s life forever changed by Jesus, he was all in.
“I always thought you had to be perfect. The way they did it with ‘The Chosen,’ I’ve noticed all these people are broken. They all have trouble in their lives; they aren’t perfect. Man, if he wants me like that, that’s great. I’m not the best. I’ve done some things in my business life, in my personal life I’m not happy about,” he said. “‘The Chosen’ kind of pulled me in. From the get-go, it was ‘The Chosen’ that made me feel like this is what I need — not all this materialistic kind of stuff. Then it was up to me to find the answers.”
However, one thing was clear for him: “There is no way I’m going to be Catholic,” he told his wife.
She herself had fallen away from attending Mass regularly, only to rekindle her faith in early 2021.
He would go with her occasionally but didn’t understand the rituals.
In the spring of 2022, the couple planned to sell the gas station and mostly retire, allowing him to focus more on his spiritual life. While he thought he was finally on the right path, hoping his grandfather would continue guiding him on his journey, Powell died in February 2022.
“In his last days in the hospital, I made a promise and said to him, ‘I will see you in heaven.’ I love him so much, and I want to see him again,” Adineh-Kharat said.
He understood this loss could set his spiritual quest back, saying, “I could have made excuses with my grandfather passing.” But, he recalled in season two episode four, “The Perfect Opportunity,” when Jesus greets the paralyzed man who had tried for years to be healed at the Pool of Bethesda, only to be trampled and blocked each time the pool would stir with its healing waters. Jesus asks him directly, “Do you want to be healed?”
“He leans into him and tells him, ‘Pick up your things, get up and walk.’ He feels his feet start moving. He’s crying and laughing at the same time. He just hugs Jesus. That was it for me,” Adineh-Kharat said. “OK, I’m in. I’m going to start moving toward a faith of some sort.”
He tried attending a handful of churches, without feeling a strong pull anywhere.
“So then, of course, I thought, ‘Well, the only thing I can do is do it on my own. I’ll research the Bible, figure out my own answers and go from there,’” Adineh-Kharat said. “I started answering my questions with the Catholic faith. It kind of made me accept it just a little more.”
But soon, he hit a wall. He needed guidance and listened to his wife by enrolling in the RCIA program.
“We want to interpret how we want to. I had to just give it all up. ‘Fine, I’ll listen to you, I’ll join RCIA, and we’ll see how it goes.’ When I stopped taking control, things got a lot better,” he said, adding that he feels he’s honoring his grandfather by following Catholicism. “It is closest to the heart and root of Jesus Christ. The interpretation of the Bible cannot be misinterpreted because of the magisterium, and it will help guide me to heaven through the sacraments. The Catholic Church teaches that your salvation is based on faith and works, which is what my grandfather did.”
Juanita, 38, admits she wasn’t sure if her husband would actually go through with RCIA. Her one request had always been that the two would be married in the Church so she could receive the Eucharist again, which they did on March 25.
“He always gave me a hard time saying certain things about the Catholic Church. I really did not think he’d join the Church. It was a big shock for me but a very good one,” Juanita said. “... Now that we’re all together as a family in the Church, we handle things better.”
Adineh-Kharat quickly immersed himself in the Catholic faith. His RCIA classes used “Symbolon: The Catholic Faith Explained,” which allowed him to finally understand the beauty of the Mass, the sacraments, saints and more about Jesus’ love. He read “What We Believe: The Beauty of the Catholic Faith” by Marcellino D’Ambrosio and Andrew and Sarah Swafford, which “really made a difference in my life.” They enrolled their sons in RCIA and in the parish youth group.
“Meeting everybody there, definitely making new friends and enjoying what we learned from Mass whenever we all go together,” Isaac said was what he enjoyed most, with Diego adding, “We made new Catholic friends.”
While he didn’t initially think his sister Magan Adineh-Kharat would be interested in RCIA, he invited her anyway. And she said yes. The 27-year-old had been on her own journey of faith, trying to find a connection at various churches, with none pulling on her heart like the Catholic Church.
“I went home and did some research" and agreed to attend RCIA, she said. “The more I learned, the more I fell in love with it. … I’ve read different stories in the Bible, I’ve gone to different churches with Bible studies, but I feel I have learned more about the Bible and understood more this year than in the last 26 years of life.”
She procrastinated a bit before watching “The Chosen” but was soon hooked.
“Once I started going to church with him I thought, ‘Oh yeah, I need to watch that show.’ So I went home and watched it and wound up binge-watching it. I was in tears for most of the scenes,” she said.
For the Adineh-Kharat family, each is looking forward to something different about becoming Catholic — for Magan, it’s the longing for the Eucharist; Johan, “the hard work” and staying grounded in the sacraments; Isaac, it’s about finding Jesus and going to heaven one day; and Diego, though initially “forced” to go to RCIA, he said he “found my faith. I found what I needed in life.”
But none of them would be at this moment if it were not for that simple invitation to watch a TV show. Adineh-Kharat said he’s grateful to God for working through his former employee and “The Chosen,” so he can experience his own life-changing encounter with Jesus, along with his family.
“I’m just so grateful for how they put the show together and how they portrayed all the characters the way they did,” he said. “You get a chance to see how they were before (Jesus) and how they are now. You can see the change that happened. It’s beautiful.”
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