Christians in prison, UN General Assembly and the UK Parliament are taking note
Farshid Fathi remains in prison along with at least ten other Christians. The latest Christians to be arrested are Afsar Bahmani and Massoud Rezaie from Shiraz. They were taken into custody on October 12th.
These believers endure arbitrary arrest, the confiscation of personal goods, usually weeks in solitary confinement and long hours of interrogation, and then a prison sentence. Their crime? Faith in the creed of the historic Christian church, a creed which believes in sharing the good news about Jesus Christ.
The UN General Assembly and the UK Parliament are taking note. This week the UN’s special rapporteur for Iran, Ahmed Shaheed delivers an update on the human rights in Iran to the UN General Assembly. On religious minorities he has concluded that while members of the Bahai faith face the most harassment, he states that over three hundred Christians have faced arbitrary arrest for their beliefs since 2010. On October 29, 2012, an All Party Parliamentary Group launched a report on the persecution of Christians in Iran for the UK Parliament. This report is based on numerous interviews with Christians who have suffered for their faith.
The Iranian church is growing, but is also suffering and we are our brothers’ keeper. Let us continue in prayer for those who are imprisoned, and do all we can to let them know they are not forgotten, for this, according to one ex prisoner, is the ‘worst nightmare.’ Let us join forces in supporting those who are campaigning on their behalf.
• Christians in prison to know they are not forgotten
• Impact of reports to UN General Assembly and UK Parliament
• An end to the persecution of Christians in Iran
Growing house churches, it’s about families and close friends
House churches will keep on growing in Iran because of this simple and Biblical principle. An Iranian has a powerful encounter with Jesus Christ – through a dream, a TV programme, a New Testament, a book, a desperate prayer miraculously answered – and their lives completely change. Instead of being depressed, they smile; instead of walking in fear, they trust; instead of cursing, they speak with love.
No government legislation can stop friends and families from noticing and wondering what happened to the person they once knew. For instance, take Golnar. When she came to Christ, the family asked, who turned grumpy Golnar into grinning Golnar? Now 30 members of her family are believers. Ebrahim is another example. Addicted to drugs for years, his was a dramatic salvation. A friend saw him afterwards and nearly fell over in disbelief at the change. He too became a Christian just two months ago and has witnessed to over 10 others in his family.
And so the Gospel cannot be stopped. As it was when Andrew told Peter, so it is today in Iran: the growing house churches are about families and close friends.
This of course brings its challenges. Extended family tensions and personality conflicts when left to fester can sap the new fellowship of spiritual vibrancy. Wise, mature leadership and counsel is needed to help bring resolution and peace in this hour.
• Extended families that form many new fellowships
• Wisdom for present leaders
• Resources and training to help leaders
The altar call, Iranians want to respond
At the end of a church meeting near the Iran region this summer, the preacher invited unbelievers to surrender their lives to Christ. Three came forward. Then the pastor of the church also stood up and invited other Iranians who had not yet experienced salvation in Christ to step forward. Another two came forward. The sinner’s prayer should have been said. But the pastor still hesitated. Then another leader stood up and gave the same invitation. Repent, believe in Jesus, and be saved. Two more came forward. Seven Iranians became Christians. Other pastors have had similar experiences.
Iranian pastors who are growing their churches believe in the altar call because they know there are usually people in the meeting who want to respond to Christ, but need the extra encouragement that an altar call gives. The altar call also means they can introduce the new believer to a follow-up programme immediately.
• Anointing when altar calls are given across Iran region
• Patience to wait
• Follow-up to be wise
Baptism and Holy Communion: ‘so excited…she fainted’.
It’s not easy for Christians in Iran to get baptized, or to celebrate Holy Communion. For one Christian lady, it all proved too much when during one meeting at a conference in the region, there was both a baptism service and Holy Communion: she fainted.
There is not just emotion at these conferences. There is also a determination among those there to learn as much as they can, to teach others in Iran. One lady who found it difficult to write notes and listen at the same time, worked late into the night and got up early in the morning to copy from her friends’ note books. Another faithfully typed up the notes so everyone in her network would benefit from the teaching. Some of them wrote down the lyrics of the songs to pass on.
Courage and commitment are needed by all who come to these conferences. Travelling is not easy, and there is real danger of imprisonment if participants are arrested by the authorities. But these conferences are crucial for the ongoing growth and health of the church.
• God’s continued anointing on conferences
• Wisdom for teachers
• Protection for participants.
Salvation, very much about marriages
Mr. was a compulsive liar; Mrs. eventually asked him to leave and tried to get a divorce. Mr. became a Christian and pleaded for Mrs. to return. Mrs. at first refused, because it would all be more lies. But eventually she said she would visit him for a day or two to see if anything had really changed. Mr. had said he had given up smoking, Mrs. was doubtful. But when she visited Mr., it was true. He no longer smoked. As Mrs. stayed longer she realized her husband had changed, he was a new man. That didn’t mean she should become a Christian, and Mr. didn’t try and persuade her. Mr. prayed a lot. And at a Christian meeting Mrs. had an overwhelming experience of God. She too is a new wife. And Mr. and Mrs. New Christians are now serving in a church – faithful and passionate because they know that Jesus Christ is not just the Saviour of their souls, He is the Saviour of their marriage.
These are real people. And this saving of marriages is going on in the Persian speaking church. Praise God for his zeal for marriage. Of course couple have problems and there is a dearth of sensitive counsellors who can give time to this all important ministry. There is also a need for many more resources, and in a somewhat male dominated church, an absolute conviction that happy wives and marriages are the key to a happy church.
• The Mr. and Mrs. New Christians building their marriages afresh
• Training of more counsellors
• More resources for marriage
The daughters of Mary, still sitting at His feet
In a land where the official laws are constantly demeaning women as being worth less than men it is not surprising that many women are turning to Jesus. And when they become believers, they long to sit at His feet and then go out and spread the fame of His name. In recent years hundreds of thousands of Iranians have heard the Gospel from women. They have pioneered countless fellowships.
It is important that space is provided for these daughters of Mary so they can be revived and strengthened. Elam Ministries regularly holds conferences for women in the region. One has just finished. Seventy-three women came together for worship and teaching and have left with a spring in their feet to serve. ‘Receptive’ is the word used by the conference organiser. The women just wanted to sit and drink in the Bible teaching. As many of the women came for prayer, so there were many breakthroughs, freeing them to serve more effectively. The team who lead these conferences will keep in touch with all the women who came and encourage them. And they will begin planning another conference.
• Seventy-three women who attended the conference.
• Leaders of conferences as they plan next event.
• Impact on churches.
Arrest of lawyer for Youcef Nadarkhani; the repression continues
The case of Youcef Nadarkhani faces a possible set back with reports of the arrest of his lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkah on April 29th 2012. Mr Ali Dadkah, a prominent human rights lawyer, was arrested while in court defending a political prisoner*. Meanwhile Youcef Nadarkhani remains in prison, awaiting the verdict of his second trial for apostasy. There are also reports that two Christians in their twenties have been arrested in Tehran. It is clear the campaign against Christians is continuing.
Despite the ferocity of the intimidation, Christian prisoners report sensing God’s comfort in prison, and seeing their situation as an opportunity to share the Gospel with people they will probably never meet again. This includes guards, as well as prisoners.
* source FCNN
• Immediate release of all Christian prisoners
• Release of Mohammad Ali Dadkah
• Profound impact of Gospel in prison
Thousands of New Testaments given out; no refusals
In the run up to the Persian New Year, and Easter just one Iranian church in the region gave out over 4,000 New Testaments. Other churches also got involved in scripture distribution. Despite all the hostility directed against active Christianity by the government, there has been no reports of even one of these New Testaments being refused, again proving the deep love Iranians have for the written Gospel of Jesus Christ. Given that often whole families will share a Gospel, it is likely that these 4,000 New Testaments, all with a clear salvation message, will actually be read by at least 12,000 Iranians.
Churches have also been full. Between 250 – 300 people gathered to hear the Gospel message in one city in the region. Newcomers came forward to give their lives to Christ. Despite the on-going crackdown in Iran, this remains a season of harvest.
· New Testaments to bring thousands to faith.
· Follow up for those who have recently turned to Christ.
· Printing of more New Testaments.
Archived 'Sufferring But Growing Church' Prayer News
Here I am, send me
With recent arrests in Shiraz, Isphahan, and Kermanshah, there are now nearly twenty known believers behind bars in Iran for their faith. These include Pastor Hekmat Salimi from the Anglican church in Isphahan, and Masoud Delijani from Kermanshah who has been sentenced to three years imprisonment. There is no sign that the harassment of Christians is lessening. Yet despite this Christians across the country are saying: ‘Here I am, send me’. They have experienced God in Jesus Christ. They have been rescued from a grim one-way journey to hell often fuelled by drugs or domestic chaos. Now they want to share the Gospel. They go prayer walking. They are not frightened to hand out New Testaments. They are ready to take any Christian training offered.
And so despite all the suffering of the last year and more, the church continues to grow. Not because of any fancy human strategies, but because God is at work, calling believers. They know they have been set apart for the Gospel, and they see that it is the Gospel that is the power of God in people’s lives.
• Christians in prison to be upheld, their families comforted
• Courage for the Christians who get out and share the Gospel
• Wisdom for all involved in serving the church at this time
More arrests, more reports of impact of prayer for prisoners
The authorities have arrested more Christians in Shiraz and Tehran. On February 8th security forces raided a home group in Shiraz, arresting everyone there. At least seven Christians are now in prison. All their homes were thoroughly searched. According to reports the names of those arrested are: Mojtaba Hosseini, Sharifeh, Koroush, Masoud and husband and wife, Homayoun and Fariba with their 17 year old son, Nima. Their families have had no news from those arrested. On the same day in Tehran the Armenian minister, Massis Moussian, from the Assemblies of God Church in the suburb Narmak, was also arrested. It is thought he is being held in Rajaei-Shahr prison. Again, his family have had no news.
They join at least six other Christians who are in prison solely for their faith. Farhad Sabokroh, Naser Zamen-Defzuli and Davoud (David) Alijani were arrested during a Christmas service in December 2011 and are in Karoun prison, Ahvaz. Noroollah Qabitizadeh, who was arrested in December 2010, is detained in the same prison. Fariborz Arazm was arrested in October 2011, and is being held in prison in Karaj. Farshid Fathi-Malayeri was arrested on December 26th 2010 and is being held in Evin prison.
Prisoners arrested last year and now released have testified to the impact of prayer while they were in prison. One Christian wrote about how they would be feeling incredibly low, but then from nowhere a soft wind would blow in their heart; there would be a comforting presence. This was prayer.
• Release of all Christian prisoners
• Provision for the families of those arrested
• Policy of arbitrary arrest of Christians to stop
New Year, New Christians
Just as in the West, non-Christians like to go to church over Christmas. So in one town in the Iran region this year, nearly 200 people came together and were led in Christian worship by the Elam pastor and his team. Such was the spirit of joy that at the end of the meeting, some of the congregation just started their own traditional dance. During the celebration one man went up to the front. He was seeking God and a team member led him to Christ. In other churches Iranians have come to faith over this Christmas season. It’s a new year, and there are many new Iranian Christians starting to grow in their faith. They will all need discipling as they are prepared for baptism. When the storms of spiritual opposition erupt, they will need a wise Christian counsellor to explain what is going on. All this work of evangelism and discipleship deserves to be supported in prayer.
• All those who have recently come to faith
• That they soon be established in the church
• For those who disciple and pastor
One year on, the dark shadow of those arrests
The dark shadow of arbitrary arrests and imprisonment still hangs over the church in Iran. There are at least 12 Iranian Christians in prison solely for their faith in Jesus Christ. Some like Mojtaba Kashavaz or Shahla Rahmati have been sentenced to three years in goal on the charge of ‘sacrilege’ or supporting evangelicals. Others, like Farshid Fathi-Malayeri, arrested on December 26th December 2010, are still awaiting their trial. There are another twenty-two or more Iranian Christians who have been released after paying an exorbitant bail and awaiting trial. Many others have left Iran with just their clothes on their backs to escape the persecution.
This Christmas will be particularly painful for all these believers as they reflect on what has happened. All of them would love to be living as normal witnessing Christians in the land of their birth. None of them sought confrontation with their government. They are truly suffering for their stand for Christ. And it is that suffering, in the mystery of God’s providence, which weaves it way round the story of the church’s growth this year.
• All those Christians still in prison.
• All those Christians released on bail awaiting their court case.
• All those Christians forced to leave the land they love.
Prison and beating: the reward for giving out Scriptures
One reason why the church in Iran is growing is because evangelists take great risks to give out New Testaments; usually the pocket sized one published by Elam Ministries. By last summer one brother had passed on thousands of copies, but one afternoon his activities were spotted and he experienced the reward of being beaten for the name of Christ. He also spent over a month in jail facing abusive interrogation. In his first two days of detention this brother was depressed and in great pain. But on the third day the Lord ministered to his spirit and he sensed in his heart that every Scripture he had passed on had had a purpose. The Master was pleased with his work.
• All the brave Christians who give out God’s Word
• God to comfort those who have suffered for their ministry
• More New Testaments to flood into Iran
Prison and arrests continue, but interest in Christ still on increase
Christians are still being held in prison solely for their faith, and others are being arrested. According to Mohabat News the latest believer to be arrested is Fariborz Arazm. The forty four year old father of two was taken from his home in Robat Karim in the early hours of October 17th, and his home searched. There is no further news. There is also little news of other Christians still known to be in prison, such as Noorollah Qabitizade held in
Ahvaz for about ten months, and Farshid Fathi-Malayeri, held in Evin prison since December 26th 2011.
Despite the ongoing pressure on Christians, the interest ordinary Iranians have in Christ continues unabated. Contacts with Christians who share their faith all have the same theme – Iranians want to hear about Christ, and they love to receive a New Testament. One evangelist who had given out thousands of New Testaments reports that not one had been returned. Even those who look as if they would never want the Christian Scriptures warmly receive them. This evangelist passed such a man and first thought it would be best just to somehow leave a New Testament for him to find. A meeting could have been too confrontational. But he felt led to say something, and when he did and presented the New Testament, the man who had appeared so hostile, said he had always wanted to read about Jesus
• Those still in prison.
• Their families.
• For continued distribution of New Testaments.
Baptisms, waters of joy
Again nearly twenty Iranians have passed through the waters of baptism in the region. Many of their lives had already been marked by difficulty, and now, from this world’s point of view, they have just added another one. As baptized Christians from a Muslim background, they are now very officially apostates. That means living in their own country and their own communities got a whole lot harder the moment they emerged from the water. But for them, and for the hundreds, probably thousands, of others, these are waters of joy. And their testimony last week-end, as is so often the testimony of Iranians determined to be baptized is that Jesus Christ has met them in their difficulties. He has not waved all the hardship of their life away with a magic wand, but He has come alongside them and upholds them. Hence the joy. They have met God. Anyone who doubts this, try and get to an Iranian church meeting, and hear some of their stories.
• All those recently baptised.
• For Jesus’ joy to always be with them.
• For thousands more to hear the Gospel and be baptized.
Silence from the prisons, prayer at the conferences
Vahik Abrahamian; Farshid Fathi; Abrahim Firouzi; Masoud Delijani; and Noorollah Ghabitzadeh are still detained, and the situation of Yousef Naderkhani who was sentenced to death for apostasy is unclear. It has been rumoured that Vahik Abrahamian is suffering from ill health and has been denied basic necessities like a tooth brush, but generally there is silence from the prisons. A silence that further increases the stress on the family and supporters of the imprisoned. This is the suffering side of the Iranian church. The growing side in the summer months is clearly seen in the many conferences held all over the world where Iranian Christians gather for worship, teaching – and prayer for those in prison.
• More news from those in prison
• Their families
• The conferences to be anointed with a spirit of intercession
Yousef Naderkhani, nothing is certain
Arrested in September 2009, Yousef Naderkhani was sentenced to death for being an apostate to Islam on November 13th, 2010. His appeal against his sentence was then rejected on June 27th, 2011. As news of this spread on the internet, Mohabat News then reported that the death sentence had been suspended. But Yousef Naderkhani had also been told to ‘repent’ from his apostasy. There are no reports of what will happen if he does not oblige, which is unlikely. So nothing is certain for Yousef Naderkhani, his wife Fatemeh Pasandideh, and their two children. A severe sentence has also been meted out to Yousef Naderkhani’s lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah: nine years in prison and a ten year ban on practising law for ‘actions and propaganda against the Islamic Regime’. Mr Dadkhah has lodged an appeal against the sentence.
At least seven other Christians remain in prison solely for their faith in the doctrines of the church of Jesus Christ. They are: Vahik Abrahamian; Farshid Fathi; Abrahim Firouzi; Masoud Delijani; and Noorollah Ghabitzadeh.
• Clear annulment of death sentence for Yousef Naderkhani
• Acquittal and release of all Christians held in prison
• Hostility of government towards Christians to end
A year ago nothing; now a church
At least seven Christians are still in prison with no news about their case. As they suffer, the church continues to grow. Recently about ten or so Iranians were baptised in a town where a year ago there was no church. Now there is a small and thriving fellowship.
As with so much church growth in recent years, it began with fairly young believers sensing a call to a place and being ready to be sent. Some might have said they were too young in the faith; that they needed more training; more experience. But the answer is – look at what happened. It is a sincere heart and the authority of the Gospel that has the last word. Sure, there are steep learning curves, but that curve is going somewhere.
• Grace for those in prison
• Courage for church planters
• Protection of new believers
One faithful witness: a new church, new ministers
At a recent prayer event a lady who had been a believer for many years heard the leader calling people to join with others from their own cities to intercede. She was only expecting one or two to join her, people she would probably know from the past. To her surprise this was not the case. There were about eight in the group – nearly all new believers. This was proof to her that the church, even in her city, was growing.
The growth is happening often through the witn