In Iran, all believers from Muslim backgrounds are secret believers. It is completely illegal to leave Islam in Iran – and can even be punished with the death penalty. But despite the dire consequences if they are discovered, believers from Muslim backgrounds make up the largest group of believers in Iran!
These believers meet together in secret churches in people’s homes. Hospitality is an important part of Middle Eastern culture, and a big part of running a house church. Salma* is married to a pastor in Iran, and sees hospitality as an important part of their ministry. Salma says, “We often receive guests from other cities and it’s my joy to take good care of them.”
But at one point, she thought this ministry might have to come to an end. “I started feeling a pain in my hand. It got stronger and stronger until I couldn’t even lift a glass of water anymore. Can you imagine how I felt? How could I serve people with only one hand?
“A big lump started growing on my hand. I went to the doctor with it and he said it was a tumour that needed immediate attention. I went home and cried for hours. I asked God how he could allow this to happen, when he had also called me to serve. The next day we would be receiving guests - but how was I supposed to serve them now?
“Eventually, I fell asleep that night. And the next morning, looking at my hand, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Was I still dreaming? The lump was gone, and I didn’t feel any pain. I started screaming for joy. My husband rushed into the room, and I told him: ‘Look at my hand! It’s healed!’
“My husband urged me to take it easy and still ask for some help with the guests. But I said, ‘No, I wouldn’t even accept help from you. God has healed me!’ The lump never came back. And, while doing ministry in Iran comes with many difficulties, I know for sure that God has called me to serve him here.”
Raise your voice for our church family in Iran
There is no doubt that God is powerfully at work in Iran – but our brothers and sisters there continue to face horrific persecution. Iran is number 10 on the 2018 World Watch List. Dozens of Iranian Christians are currently imprisoned – they are often charged with being a ‘threat to national security’, when in reality all they are doing is running house churches, like Salmas, and sharing their faith with Muslims from their communities.
Victor Bet-Tamraz, his wife Shamiram Issavi, Amin Afshar-Naderi and Hadi Asgari, four Iranian Christians, have been sentenced to a combined total of 45 years in prison. Amnesty International are running a letter-writing campaign to call on the Iranian authorities to free them – write a letter and speak out for our brothers and sisters in Iran.
Please continue to raise your voice in prayer for our church family in Iran – particularly those who are in prison. Pastor Reza* was imprisoned in Iran, and he testifies of the huge difference it made when people were praying for him. For months he was in solitary confinement, and he didn’t know what day of the week it was, but he noticed that on some days he woke up feeling lighter. He says, “Later I found out that it was every Sunday that I had this feeling. Exactly the day that many were praying for me at the same time.”
*names changed for security reasons