A mother’s worst nightmare in Iran

April 30, 2020 by Christopher Summers in Presence magazine

Rachel* shivered as she held her daughter tightly. The pounding at the door kept getting louder.

 

Her terrified daughter, Kimya*, looked up fearfully at her mother. From the corner of the room, hiding out of sight from any doors or windows, Rachel could do nothing but pray. The day she had never thought to fear had arrived.

 

The Iranian secret police had come to arrest her for helping lead a secret house church.

 

Finally, the knocks stopped and the police left. Rachel and Kimya could breathe again—Rachel had escaped imprisonment.

 

But the day of her arrest wasn’t far off.

A path to Jesus’ love

Rachel’s journey toward faith took her to a house church service for the first time. Later that day, Rachel had a dream about Jesus and gave her life to Him. She went from a feeling of emptiness to being filled with Christ’s love. The love she felt from Jesus was so overwhelming that it pushed aside anything else—persecution wasn’t a concern, much less getting arrested. “I just wanted to worship God,” Rachel says. “Nothing else mattered.”

featured in presence magazineFor two years she attended the house church, drinking in the “spiritual milk,” as she calls it, she received at the house church. Her husband also began to follow Jesus. Soon, they had a daughter. The journey with the love of Jesus continued.

Rachel’s house church was bursting at the seams with all the new believers who kept coming. After attending for about two years, Rachel and her husband became leaders of the house church. Being a house church leader in Iran meant carrying more risk than being ordinary church members, but even with the birth of her daughter, Rachel didn’t worry. “Of course, the risks crossed my mind every once in a while, but I always tempered that thought saying ‘God will protect us,’” she says.

Even with God protecting them, Rachel and her fellow leaders were very cautious in communication, and always used public phones to talk with each other. Kimya and the other children grew up in a church that was blessed with a Sunday school—which can be rare in the underground church in Iran—but they knew that they couldn’t talk about church with their classmates. “God gave our children wisdom,” Rachel says.

And then, one day, the secret police came for Rachel. She escaped the first time. But the second time, they were more careful. While her husband was taking Kimya to school, the police arrested Rachel and took her to prison.

Alone and scared

The notorious Evin prison in Iran.

“They put me in solitary confinement and, all alone, I started to cry,” Rachel remembers softly. Tears well up in her eyes. “I was thinking about my daughter and what would happen to her.”

Had she prepared her daughter for her arrest? “Not at all,” she says, staring at the floor.

Afraid and alone, Rachel began doubting her choices—and began doubting God. What happened with the protection she expected from God? Why hadn’t He protected her, or her daughter, from this trouble? “The first three or four days, I didn’t talk to God,” Rachel says. “I was so disappointed in Him.”

Prison was hard on Rachel. When she wasn’t alone in her cell, she was interrogated and insulted by police officers. She was not allowed to make phone calls—even to try to calm her daughter over the phone. In two weeks, she lost almost 30 pounds, her clothes hanging off her body.

Watch Rachel’s story

Where was God?

After another day of long, humiliating interrogations, Rachel finally got some sleep. And in the midst of her rest, she heard a verse: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him” (John 1:10).

That was a turning point for Rachel. “I was afraid in the first few days,” she says, “but when I had the dream, and started to pray again, I felt that God went with me everywhere I went.” Even in a prison cell, alone and isolated, she wasn’t alone. God was with her, just as He had promised.

Having God by her side didn’t mean prison was easy. “Sometimes I think back to those days and wonder how I did it,” she says. “I discovered I could deal with my anxiety about my daughter because I prayed for her in prison, praying every single day.”

‘All for that Christ?’

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Two weeks after Rachel went into prison, she was finally allowed to call her daughter. “I started crying as soon as I heard her voice,” Rachel remembers. “She was sick, and I felt so bad.”

Rachel tried to hold back tears as she calmed down her daughter. “‘I am OK; don’t worry,’ I said. ‘Just be kind to your father, and I will be back.’”

As Rachel hung up, she realized there was a woman next to her who had been listening in on her call. “Why are you making it so hard for yourself?” the woman asked. “All for that Christ?”

It was a question Rachel had learned to answer in the weeks before. She was firm in her reply: “I told the woman: ‘Jesus is real, and He changed my heart. He is worth it to give everything in my life.’”

After a month in prison, Rachel was released on bail. She held her daughter tightly, so happy the family was finally reunited. “[Kimya] couldn’t let go of me,” Rachel says. “She said, ‘Mommy, please don’t ever leave me again.’” As she held her daughter, Rachel knew that if she stayed in Iran, she would go back to prison, and this time they might also take her husband. There was only one option left: flee Iran, no matter how hard it would be.

‘I give myself to You’

Kimya, Rachel’s daughter, plays a song of worship on her guitar.

And that’s where Rachel is now, with her husband and Kimya in a house somewhere outside of Iran, struggling to make ends meet. When Iranian Christians flee Iran, they often have to go to countries where there is little opportunity for them. They often can’t work legally, and kids may not be allowed to attend school. As refugees, the only things they can do are wait and hope they can gain final status somewhere so they can continue their lives.

The family has been scarred by their experiences but grew in their faith. “In prison I learned to trust God—really trust God, on a deep level,” Rachel says. “I also changed as a mother. I am even more passionate to teach my daughter about Christ and spend time reading the Bible with her.”

Kimya, a few years older now, is a strong believer, despite everything her mother went through. “My daughter saw how God worked in my life, how He helped us to get out of the country,” Rachel says. “She has never had a vision of Jesus, but this was a testimony for her.”

As Rachel speaks, Kimya was in a separate room, but now she enters shyly. But she is not so shy she won’t play a song on her guitar. “This is my favorite song,” she says. “When I sing this song, even though I can’t play it perfectly, it feels like I am close to the Lord. When I feel sad, I play this song.”

Her hands strum the strings, and softly she sings to the Lord:

“I flee into Your arms, drink of Your love

I wash my sins with your pure blood;

And forgive everyone through the strength
of Your name.

“I put my sorrows, fears and my burdens
on Your shoulders;

I put my hope and goals at Your feet;

Separated from this world, I give myself to You.”

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