How do you see persecution? According to Open Doors, 1 in 8 Christians worldwide experiences persecution for their faith. That’s 1 in 8 of us whose faith can come at great cost — in some cases, even at the cost of life itself. This month, in response to this painful statistic, we will be sharing stories in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who so often live out their faith in the shadows. We pray this would shine a light in the otherwise-darkened corners of our world and connect us all to these hidden members of the body of Christ.
Married and the father of two children, 44-year-old Farhad* had grown up in a devout religious family in Iran.
Farhad, however, was fearful and felt peace was missing from his life. In 2017, he decided to leave his country and thought about doing so illegally before giving up on the plan because he couldn’t afford it. Through a friend of a friend, he learned about the United Nations’ policies for dealing with refugees, he explained to TWR when he got in touch months later.
When he consulted a lawyer, Farhad learned that he would have to build a case to be accepted as a refugee and that seeking classification as a religious refugee might be his best chance. The lawyer recommended that he consider changing his religion to Christianity.
So Farhad could begin building his case, the lawyer sent him questions and links to YouTube videos about the faith. When he started the first one, there was a question: “What are the names of Jesus’ disciples?” Immediately, Farhad stopped the video. This was disbelief in the religion of his family and culture! Over four days he battled fear and stress to the point he became depressed and ill.
Why? He had grown up in an environment where it was taught that the Christian Bible had been a holy book but was then corrupted. Furthermore, Jesus Christ had existed by was not crucified and was not the Son of God. In Farhad’s homeland, followers of Jesus are not allowed to evangelize and the distribution or import of Bibles in the national language of Persian, or Farsi, is prohibited. People who belong to the majority religion risk social and legal penalties rising to the level of imprisonment.
On Open Doors World Watch List 2021, which ranks the countries where it is most dangerous to be a believer, Iran sits at No. 8, a step up (i.e., worse) than 2020. The listing places it firmly in the “Extreme” category. Even pretending to be a Christian could be risky.
The lawyer explained to Farhad that declaring himself a Christian was just a “white lie” and that he wouldn’t really have to change his faith. So Farhad downloaded the Bible and began to read in spite of the risks.
Before getting to know the Bible, he said, he considered himself to be close to God and was proud because of that. But in reading Matthew, his eyes were opened and his passions increased.
“Finally, I realized, according to this book, I was condemned to death: Not only am I not close to God; I’m far away. I was lying. I was very proud. I was angry. I was hypocritical, and all the time, [Scripture] said, ‘love, love, love.’”
For three months, he kept reading and his passion about what he learned kept growing.
“Without my wife realizing, I repented and believed in Jesus and prayed in Jesus’ name. Amazingly, God answered my prayers and provided everything so I could [relocate to another country] and come to church for the first time.”
Six months later, after living in a new land, going to church and gaining understanding about the transformation he was undergoing as a new believer, Farhad went before his pastors and the other church members and publicly repented of his sin.
“Yes, I wanted to use the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for my desires,” he said, “but God changed the path of my life and gave me eternal life and salvation.”
Now, this new man has committed his life to serving the Lord and the Church. Our ministry partners who are in touch with Farhad added the perfect postscript to his story: “We prayed for his wife, and his wife accepted Christ as well!”
Along with our partners, TWR provides programs for Iranian Christians and seekers over radio waves. Discipleship on Air is a mentoring program for house-church leaders in the Middle East. Radio Bible Project and Persian Oral Bible offers Scripture in audio form since it is difficult or impossible to easily obtain Christian literature. Among other programs broadcast by TWR to this nation of over 83 million people is Women of Hope, which provides practical advice and spiritual nourishment in a friendly, conversational format.
* A pseudonym and stock image are used to protect the person’s privacy.