Stories from the Global Church - An ‘Ordinary’ Iranian Christian
The missionary organisation Operation World reports that the church in Iran is the fastest-growing in the world (19.6% growth per annum). The following story is from an Iranian Christian lady (anonymised for her own protection).
P grew up in Iran in a Muslim family. Her family were loving and kind and quite affluent. However whilst on the surface her life seemed fine, increasingly as she became an adult she was troubled that she had “no peace” as a Muslim.
She would often be anxious about whether she was devout enough and whether Allah would be merciful to her. Equally P felt insecure as a person in her relationships and in her job. A friend who was a Christian invited her to church and after a number of years of declining her invitation one day she decided to go. Much of what happened in that church service was foreign to her but during the service she felt powerfully overwhelmed with peace and broke into tears.
She still did not want to follow Christ but she did want the peace that she had felt that day in church and so she kept attending for a year. Eventually through going regularly the gospel started to make sense to her. In particular, coming from a Muslim background, P was impacted that there was nothing she could do to merit God’s approval but that God offered it to her freely in Jesus Christ and through his death. Because of this she gave her life to Jesus.
As a Christian P would go out into her town’s main park with gospels and would start conversations with people. She is quite a shy person and found this hard because she wasn’t naturally bold but she wanted people to know the assurance she herself knows and so she kept going. She found that there was a remarkable hunger and openness, and that for every 10 people she spoke to 9 wanted a gospel and to talk more.
After a few years the Supreme Leader of Iran outlawed Christianity and all churches were shut. A number of her Christian friends started to be arrested and put in jail. She was understandably very afraid. After a few months she got a phone call from the local police station telling her to come in to be arrested. She was fearful and wondered if she should go into hiding. She prayed with her Christian friends and decided to go to the police station.
P was swiftly arrested and put In prison without trial for apostasy. She spent the first 25 days in solitary confinement in a cell that was 2x1.5m. Her bible was confiscated, she was allowed out of her cell for only two half hour periods a day, the light in the cell was always on, and she was aggressively interrogated at all hours of the day and night.
One day nearly at the point of giving up God came to her in the cell and she felt overwhelmed with God’s peace again as she had in that first church service. She later found out that at the same time her Christian friends had gathered to pray for her!
P resolved to keep trusting in Christ and from her interrogation she managed to conceal a pen and take it back to her cell. There she tried to remember as much Scripture as she could and wrote it on the wall of the cell. She kept doing this and this kept her going for the three years she was imprisoned until her release.
She now has to be careful on how she lives as a Christian in Iran but she continues to witness and has seen many people turn to Christ and remarkable growth in the church. She concluded her story saying this with tears in her eyes:
“I am just an ordinary believer, I am not special in any way, I am not naturally bold or brave but I am here to tell you that if God has called you to stand or suffer for his name - he will equip you and strengthen you!”
- The Spirit makes us bold even when we are naturally fearful. 2 Timothy 1:7 says “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” It is not that God only uses those who are by personality bold. Instead it is the supernatural work of the Spirit to make us bold! Also it is not that we feel particularly bold - clearly P often felt frightened and overwhelmed but she obeyed God, stepped out in faith and the Spirit emboldened her and used her.
- The gospel rarely advances without suffering. In 2 Corinthians 2:16 Paul writes that “To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume.” The gospel polarises people and we are not in control of their reaction. Many of us do not see much (if any) gospel fruit because we are so fearful of people’s reaction. P experienced much suffering but she also saw remarkable gospel growth.
- God is faithful! God kept P in quite amazing ways and she testifies to his amazing faithfulness. Fear is not driven out by avoiding difficult circumstances, it is driven out by knowing God’s faithfulness in the midst of difficult circumstances. Will you trust God to be faithful whatever you may face?