This year, the world took time to remember the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz. Some of the people who survived their experiences returned to a memorial; others, despite their advancing years, made the point of visiting schools to share their experiences and remind this generation of what can happen when evil ideas spread. All of them made the effort to remember the refrain, “Never again.”
Memory is important—especially in issues that matter. That’s why I want to take the opportunity to remember our brothers and sisters who suffer persecution especially those in Iran.
Despite people being peaceful, despite their belief in a God of love, it is still dangerous to be different. As a visible minority myself, I have seen first-hand how a social construct can lock some cultures out of opportunities and perpetuate institutional prejudice—all while claiming to be innocent of its effects.
And so, when I met these Iranian Christians I had some understanding of what the ugly face of discrimination can look like. But when I heard their stories, I could only stand in awe of their love for God and their willingness to sacrifice everything to be a disciple of Jesus. Below are the stories of some of the most beautiful people you’ll ever meet: the kind that the book of Hebrew speaks of when it says “the world is not worthy of them.” (Hebrews 11:38) It is nothing short of an honour to serve in their presence.
One day, while he was still in Iran, Saeed found a Bible hidden in his house. A Christian had given it to his wife. Because converting to Christianity is illegal in Iran, she had hidden it from her husband so she could secretly read it. But when he found it, he too began to secretly read—putting it back in the same place so his wife wouldn’t what he was up to. By the time six months had passed, he had read the Bible from cover to cover several times. At last it was time to tell his wife, “I believe in Jesus.” At first Saeed’s wife was hesitant to believe him. Nevertheless, they both began watching Christian TV on an illegal satellite dish. Fully convinced, Saeed decided that he wanted to give his life to Jesus, so he called the Christian TV station and, despite their warnings that the station was monitored by the secret police, Saeed made his public confession of faith: “Jesus is real; he will save me.” Days later, the secret police arrived on his doorstep and took his wife and child away with a clear threat: “You’ll never see your wife and child again unless you come back to Islam.”
Saeed asked the police to return his family, giving him four days to consider their demands. Miraculously, his family was able to escape to Turkey where they lived in a refugee camp and joined the local church. It was then that the United Nations called him to say he had a place in Canada. Settling in Toronto, Saeed began telling other Iranians about Jesus. Before long he had a group of about 60 people, some of whom were refugees fleeing Iran because of their faith in Jesus.
Now Saeed’s church has asked CBOQ to help them become a Baptist church—all because someone gave away their Bible in Iran, risking all to share their faith. Because of that one catalytic act, new believers in Jesus have left everything to follow him.
While on holiday in Malaysia, Milad attended a transformational meeting with a Christian evangelistic team. At the end of his holiday, he returned home to his parents with a big announcement: he was now following Jesus. Milad was immediately exiled from his home and disowned by his family. For Milad that was not an insurmountable problem. “I’m following Jesus now,” he said as he left. Later, Milad was able to move as a student to study in Windsor, Ontario.
Stories of people who suffer for their faith often have common factors like leaving family, friends and work to find a place of safety to openly be a Christian. Therefore, on arriving in Canada, one of the first things these believers want to do is get baptized by immersion—a once distant dream becomes a new reality. Yet, even here in Canada we are not allowed to show their faces in pictures so that those who remain in Iran are protected.
As some flee the place of persecution, many choose to stay and live with the pressure and risk of violence, arrest or worse. Consider Haik Houvsepain who was the leader of the Protestant church in Iran. In 1994, Haik was brutally martyred along with many other pastors. His story became known around the world, igniting the prayers of the Church. Despite persecution, the Iranian church, led by men and women, has become the fastest growing in the world today. As Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12) This joy today and the heavenly reward are the benefits of persecution and all this mixed together has given great impetus for the Church to grow in God.
In his prophetic book, Rings of Fire: Walking in Faith through a Volcanic Future (NavPress 2019), Leonard Sweet asks, “Do you know the names, even one Coptic Christian martyr? The early church passed on the names of martyrs and spoke them out loud as part of the cloud. The world needs to hear these names, famous or not. They deserve it. We deserve it. The air deserves it—not just to clear the air but clean the air.”
Today we have the opportunity to recognize that persecution is an issue and to remember our brothers and sisters who suffer for their faith—who have given up everything to follow Jesus.
How can we remember our persecuted brothers and sisters?
- Pray for the protection and encouragement of Christians who are suffering persecution today
- Download the Open Doors world watch list. Opendoorsusa.org/wwl
- Consider using social media platforms to record your Sunday services or sermons by your church leaders. YouTube, Facebook, and podcasts can be viewed by people all over the world. (One church leader found that his services were getting lots of hits from North Korea!)
- Find an organization that works with persecuted Christians that you can join. Consider hosting a speaker in your church or home group who can share stories about your persecuted brothers and sisters.
- Take part in the International Day of Prayer for the persecuted Christians. This usually takes place the first Sunday in November. There are lots of resources available for you to use for prayer and ways you can support organizations serving the persecuted church.
According to the World Watch List 2019
- 245 million Christians experienced high levels of persecution
- 11 Christians were killed every day for their faith in 2019
- 2,625 Christians were detained without trial or arrested or imprisoned
- 1,266 church buildings were attacked