Mojtaba Hosseini is 30 years old. He used to be one of the leaders of a quickly growing house church movement in Iran. That was before his church was raided and he was arrested and imprisoned for three years in an Iranian prison (following a first arrest resulting in probation). Recently, we visited him (he was released in 2015) in a safe place outside Iran.
Mojtaba’s story is an important reminder that while God may (and often does) use the suffering of persecuted believers to bring others to Him, the depth of isolation and pain they experience is still very real. He also shows us the importance of praying with our brothers and sisters whom God is using in miraculous ways in the darkest of places.
Like all Iranian Christians, Mojtaba knew the high stakes.
If he organized and led a secret house church—an illegal act in Muslim-majority Iran seen as a “threat against national security”—he, along with anyone participating in the church, could be arrested if they were discovered. And since he was a leader, his arrest would likely mean a conviction followed by a lengthy prison term. If he was arrested and somehow avoided prison, a second arrest would surely mean a long sentence behind bars.
Still, just as the disciples of 2,000 years ago and today’s persecuted church leaders risked their lives to build the Church around the world, Mojtaba persisted.
“Why didn’t I stop my work for the church after I was first arrested?” Mojtaba says, smiling. “I don’t really know. There was no logical explanation, but we felt that the Lord wanted us to continue. We knew this would mean we could get arrested at any moment.”
Mojtaba tells his story with an eye for detail and a passion for Christ. He takes time to think about his answers and often grasps his Bible to look for a verse.
“I Corinthians 1:29 says that ‘God did all this to keep anyone from bragging to Him,” he says.
It is a central theme in his prison story: “It’s all about God, not about me.”
He knew God was with him when he was in prison, Mojtaba explains. But that knowledge didn’t make prison life comfortable—far from it.
For the majority of his sentence, he was in a ward with murderers, robbers and drug dealers. No one could be trusted. He also struggled to find hope—not knowing when, or if, he would actually be released.
“I felt a deep fear inside of me,” he explains. “And often, even though the Lord was close, I was sad about my situation. My hands were tied, my voice wouldn’t be heard by human beings.”
‘It’s Not About You’
It was those uncertainties of not knowing if he’d be robbed, killed, or even if he’d be released that were the most challenging. In his darkest hours, desperate for help to go on, he turned to prayer.
“I prayed; that was all I could do,” he says. “At first, they were prayers of repentance. I thought God was punishing me for my mistakes by putting me in prison.” That was the moment, he says, he realized he was “nothing.”
“Then the Lord spoke to me. He said: ‘Stop being selfish Mojtaba, it’s not about you; it’s about Me. Look around you.’”
For the first time since being jailed, he began to truly look at people, attempting to see them as God does.
“I saw poor people, people who had committed the worst crimes. People that felt so alone.”
Mojtaba felt a prompting from the Holy Spirit to share God’s Word with these people he saw every day: “God spoke again to me, saying, ‘It is time that you share Me with them. They need Me.’”
Mojtaba offers a hindsight observation: “It’s funny how God works sometimes. It would have been absolutely impossible for us to pass the big gates of prison to bring the gospel to those who needed him so badly inside. But God just placed me and other Christians inside the prison, among them to shine His light.”
An Unlikely Source in an Iranian Prison
The former church leader began sharing his testimony and the gospel with the other prisoners. Some came to faith; others were just very happy he wanted to pray with them in Jesus’ name. He began to long for and pray for a Bible, even repeatedly asking the guards for one.
“I didn’t get one,” he said. “None of the Christians did.”
Then God intervened—through one of the most unlikely sources. The prison imam, who came every day to pray with the Muslim inmates, offered to help.
“He was impressed by our commitment to our God,” Mojtaba says. “I think it was God who filled his heart with kindness for us.”
Getting a real Bible into an Iranian prison was impossible, but the imam had an idea. He would bring in printouts of the Bible disguised as an English lesson. One of the friends Motjaba had made in the ward was good at English and translated the scriptures into Farsi. From there, Mojtaba copied the texts and gave them to the prisoners who had requested them—both those who were curious about his faith and those who had already given their heart to Jesus.
Soon it became known among all the prisoners that Bible verses were circulating.
“We even got requests from other wards,” he remembers. “People were asking us for more. And the best thing was that prisoners were giving their lives to the Jesus of the Bible.”
‘God Placed Me Among the Prisoners’
Reflecting on his time behind bars, Mojtaba offers a revelation that we can all learn from.
“I never prayed for God to release me from prison,” Mojtaba says. “I can serve God anywhere, inside or outside of prison. It doesn’t matter what situation I’m in. I can work in God’s Kingdom wherever He places me.
“And at that time God placed me among the prisoners.”
He urges us to pray for his country and for those who are in prison for their faith. Currently, an estimated 21 Christians are imprisoned in Iran for their faith with an estimated 14 awaiting verdicts on their conviction appeals.
“My prayer for all Iranians is that they hear the good message of Christ,” he says. “And for the Christians who are under pressure, I hope and pray they can experience the big contrast I felt. They might not be in a good situation, but I pray they feel an inner peace and joy because they know Jesus.”
Recently Mojtaba participated in a trauma care conference for Iranian ex-prisoners that was organized by a partner organization and partly supported by Open Doors. Ministry to ex-prisoners like Mojtaba and Morad is one of the ways Open Doors is working to strengthen the church in Iran.
We encourage you to click here for this helpful list of Christians imprisoned in Iran (and their stories and photos) and pray for them by name.