In many of the countries in the World Watch List top 50, following Jesus can mean being put in prison. We share some courageous stories.
In many of the countries in the World Watch List top 50, following Jesus can mean being put in prison. In some countries, simply being a believer comes with a jail sentence. In others, spreading the good news or holding a church service could be the crime that puts a believer in jail.
This is nothing new. From St Paul onwards, many Christians living courageously for Christ have had to endure time in jail. What also hasn’t changed is God’s love and sovereignty. Here are three short accounts of believers from Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East who have been imprisoned for their faith.
Rachel*, an Iranian church leader, was frightened and alone. In prison, she had been placed in solitary confinement. In her sleep a Bible verse came to her: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognise Him” (John 1:10). The dream gave her courage and hope. “When I had the dream and started to pray again, I felt that God went with me everywhere,” she said.
Another prisoner urged her to give up her faith: “Why are you making it so hard for yourself?” Rachel answered, “Jesus is real and He changed my heart. He is worth it to give everything in my life.’”
Rachel has since been released. She and her family escaped Iran and are receiving trauma care and legal advice, thanks to Open Doors supporters.
Amir* and Vahid* were imprisoned for fabricated charges. In their Central Asian country, they knew that the danger of their street outreach, which they took part in with a local Open Doors partner. When they were sentenced to imprisonment, the judge didn’t even tell them how long their detention would be. A prison guard told they wouldn’t leave alive. “Lack of information is like torture,” said Vahid. “It was terrible to be in such a place, having no clue how long we would be there.”
Amir and Vahid spent the first two days in constant prayer. After Vahid’s wife Asiyah* visited, God spoke to her through Revelation 2:10: “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.”
They were deeply encouraged by this message from God, and started sharing the good news of Jesus with other prisoners. “After we believed this revelation was addressed to us, we began to boldly tell other prisoners about Jesus,” says Amir. “We knew that in ten days we would be released from this place, but the remaining prisoners still needed to hear the gospel.”
They were indeed released after ten days, and continue to share the gospel through literature distribution projects in Central Asia – and sharing their amazing testimony.
In Eritrea, Musse* was imprisoned for leading an unregistered church. Eritrean prisons are among the harshest in the world. Some prisoners end up in metal shipping containers, or tunnels dug into the sides of hills.
“In prison, one of my main purposes as a Christian was to evangelise,” Musse says. “We did it at night-time when everybody was asleep. We even had Bible portions we could study in secret.
“We saw many conversions. The gospel can’t be chained.”
Prison reveals the depths of Christian faith, but it also leaves scars. Supporting prisoners and ex-prisoners is long-term work, but the Bible tells us to “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them” (Hebrews 13:3). And the knowledge that others have ‘remembered’ them makes a real difference.
“I would like to praise and thank the Lord for inspiring you to pray for me,” says Musse. “May the Lord bless all of you who prayed for me while I was in chains.”
Dear God, we pray for all our brothers and sisters who have been imprisoned for their faith. We ask that You speak words of comfort to them and their families and, like Paul, they would have the opportunity to share the good news of Jesus despite their circumstances. Please ‘lead out the prisoners with singing’, as You promised in Psalm 68.
*Names changed for security purposes
God, here in the UK and Ireland we pray for our worldwide family who suffer extreme persecution because they have chosen to follow You. May all our supporting activities, advocacy, fundraising, prayer and events bring You glory and help our brothers and sisters who are following Jesus no matter the cost.
Children in Christian families often face discrimination, exclusion and even violence. Children who attend church might be ostracised by their Hindu family. Receiving messages from the worldwide church can make a huge difference – can you and your family send them encouragement?Send message