How to prepare for arrest in Iran—one woman’s story of radical faith, suffering and escape

June 30, 2021 by Lindy Lowry in Persecution updates

Though it sounds like something out of a spy movie, Saghar’s story is a sobering reminder of what every secret believer in Iran must plan for.

Saghar found her seat on the plane. Her headscarf was draped loosely around her head; she tried—and failed—to stop her hands from fidgeting in her lap. If she knew that, at that moment, her name was being called on the loudspeaker in the airport, she would have been even more nervous.

Saghar tried to force herself to lift her head to look out the small window and take one last look at Iran, her home. But fear paralyzed her. If the secret service caught her, she might end up in prison. Perhaps even one of the worst ones.

The plane sat at the gate, the flight attendants making their rounds. And there was nothing Saghar could do but wait. Soon she would be free … or she’d be behind bars.

Saghar grew up in a Muslim family. Her first encounter with Jesus was through a vivid dream. “Follow me,” Jesus said. And it was that simple but powerful call that changed her life forever. In Iran, leaving Islam for Christianity is a dangerous choice.

Did she know what she was getting herself into when she said “yes” to Jesus? Probably not. But as her love for Christ grew, so did her courage. Saghar began to regularly gather with other Christians, worshiping and praying. It was always risky, but the fellowship was the basis of their growth in faith. They shared their lives together—and became family. Eventually, Saghar even decided to take the most dangerous job in church: the pastor.

And then, the unavoidable happened: Iran’s secret service raided the church. The officers entered the apartment where the house church members were meeting. They forced open the door with a crowbar but didn’t raise their voices to avoid the attention of the neighbors. They were silent in their aggression and focused on their objective. Before any of the church members realized what was happening, women were pushed into one room, men into another.

The church members looked at their leader, their eyes full of fear. Their faces asked: What will happen to us? Every Christian in Iran knows what might happen if they’re caught worshiping outside the small number of carefully monitored registered churches. House churches are regularly raided by police, and dozens of Christians end up in prison each year. During interrogations, the security officers lie to believers, entice them to give up the names of other worshipers or church leaders, and work to destroy the church from within.

The raid in Saghar’s church was no different.

Ready for the inevitable

During the raid, Saghar locked herself in the bathroom and deleted all of the names of Christians in her phone.

More and more Iranian Christians hold meetings to prepare for this inevitability, to share and learn about the practical and emotional ways to endure a raid with as little damage as possible. Just a few months before the raid on her church, Saghar had attended such a meeting. In the blink of an eye, theory became reality. Saghar entered the living room where she was called for interrogation. The room was full of burly men, one of them was filming everything. Saghar was terrified. But she tried to calm herself down: This was happening, and she couldn’t change it. She had a church to take care of.

Still, shivering with fear, lessons from the persecution preparation meeting came back to her. She had to let someone outside the apartment know about what was happening—for prayer and for advocacy. “Can I go to the restroom?” she asked the friendliest officer. In the restroom, Saghar grabbed her phone, snapped a selfie and sent it to the outside world: “Please pray for us, our church is being raided!”

She started deleting evidence and contacts from her phone. One of the female officers began to push on the bathroom door, trying to force it open. Saghar had learned that police have no legal right to enter, so she firmly told the officer about her rights, making the officer back out, reluctantly.

Her knowledge continued to pay off. When the officers told Saghar she was going to be arrested, she asked for the warrant and stopped the secret service officers from taking her to prison immediately. When they told her they had intercepted her passport—which was in the mail for administrative reasons—she didn’t believe it. Sure enough, the next day, she went to the post office and found her passport there. She also knew she would need to flee. If she was actually taken to jail, she knew she could face unthinkable prison conditions, torture and continued misery. And so, with legs shaking in fear, Saghar arrived at the airport just three days later.

“When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned.”

Isaiah 43:2

Read more about secret believers like Saghar in Presence magazine

Saghar knew it would be a miracle if she was able to leave. The warrant for her arrest was surely ready. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw who was in the line she was in: one of the secret agents who had raided her house a few days ago. This was the toughest moment in her life. And there she was: all alone, no family, no fellow Christians to help her.

In that moment, she realized only God could help her. Her only companions were the Bible verses she had memorized before her Bible was taken in the raid. The words of Isaiah 43:2 rang in her head: “When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned.” And so, Saghar stepped forward to board the plane. And while she could feel the agent’s eyes staring at her, a miracle happened: Saghar was allowed to board the plane. Only later did she find out that the moment she boarded the plane, the security service in the airport had called her name. They had just received the warrant for her arrest. But they were too late. Saghar’s plane took off safely.

Four years later

“I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you if it wasn’t for my preparation,” Saghar tells us. It’s four years after her escape from Iran, and we meet her in the country she now lives in—a place where she can worship freely.

“At the gathering with the other believers, I learned how to manage my emotions and what my rights are. That the officers sometimes lie to spread disunity.”

It wouldn’t be safe to disclose much about Saghar’s former house church. But the church went through their trials together. They didn’t believe the lies the officers told them: that they had no right to meet each other anymore, or that Saghar had betrayed them.

“The first thing the security services want is to de-unify us,” she explains, “but staying together [really helped] us in these times. Fellowship is essential for growth.” Saghar wants to emphasize that a miraculous escape story doesn’t mean the event didn’t leave its marks: The first year in her new country, she had the same nightmare about the raid each night. And that is just one of the many scars she still bears.

After four years of healing, Saghar is now doing relatively well again. But at times, flashbacks still haunt her. She knows it would have been much worse if she had gone to prison.

How can we help? “Pray!” says Saghar, reminding us prayer was important enough for her to send out a call for it in the middle of the raid. “No Christian should face persecution unprepared, and no Christian should go through it without prayer from the worldwide Church.

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