“In the six months I was [in prison], they executed 20 people” —Believer from Iran
Saman and Morad, two ex-prisoners from Iran, share their experience—and remind us all that suffering for Christ often comes with doubt, pain, loneliness and sorrow, but in the end, it’s still worth it to follow Jesus.
“Prison was a terrible, terrible place,” says Morad, a man in his 40’s, when we meet him at the trauma care training he attends for ex-prisoners. “In the six months I was there, they executed 20 people. They announced it through the prison loudspeakers. Some of them had been in my cell; it was heartbreaking to see the fear of death in their eyes.”
Morad used to be a teacher at a church. He was arrested while teaching a new believer in another city. “No one knew where I was,” he says. “The interrogators made fun of me and kicked me while they were asking me questions. Everything I said was used against me. I talked to God: ‘Lord, you see all this; why do You allow this?’ but God was silent.”
Saman* is also attending the ex-prisoner trauma care training. He is a young man who used to lead the youth of his fast-growing church. He was a strong, passionate believer, but when he ended up in prison, this changed rapidly. “When they took me to prison I left my mother shaking and crying at home; she had seen how the authorities took me to prison. It broke her heart. It was terrible to see that. In prison, I was afraid and felt hopeless. I felt so far from God that during the first days of imprisonment I couldn’t even pray.”
Saman struggled with his interrogators, or as he sees it, with the devil himself. “They tried to break me by telling me what a nobody I was. They broke my identity.” Saman felt so far from God that at some point he even doubted his faith. “I thought: ‘Is this it? Have I wasted 13 years of believing in Him? Does he even exist?’”
The two men further broke when their friends were set up against them. In Morad’s case, one of his fellow church members who shares the same ward is incredibly angry at him. “He told me how the interrogators threatened to abuse his son, that I ruined his life because I showed him Christ. He also testified against me in court.”
Saman has seen his blindfolded friends brought in by the interrogators one by one. If they are asked whose fault it is that they are there, all of them say “Saman” and all of them are willing to testify against him in court.
Two heartbreaking stories—stories without big miracles or easy answers. But they are stories not without God, the men testify. “After one of my interrogations, I remembered a quote from Abraham Lincoln,” shares Morad. “‘At the end of the world, I fall on my knees.’ And that’s what I did, I fell on my knees. And finally, God spoke to me. He said, ‘Be silent, embrace me, and embrace me like you are stuck on me with glue.’”
Saman also finds peace when he starts praying. “I got so angry after my first telephone conversation with my mother and sisters. I shouted through the hallways when I was being brought back to my cell. I shouted ‘I don’t deserve this!’ Then in my cell, I started shouting at God, ‘Where are you?!’ Slowly my prayers became soft, until the joy of the Holy Spirit came over me and I started dancing and singing, ‘Jesus is alive, Jesus is alive!’”
It has been a few years after Morad’s imprisonment. He sips from his coffee on a couch in the hotel where the training takes place. “If you ask me why God was silent back then,” he says, “I still don’t know. But what I do know is the assignment He gave me: to live out the gospel.”
Saman has been struggling with God since his release. “In prison, I felt God was so close, but also the most distant. And when I came out of prison I didn’t receive the care I expected from the Church. I felt forgotten. Not only by the church, but also by God. Still, I never felt that God really left me.” Here at the trauma care training, having received art therapy and Bible studies about suffering, he feels for the first time that the fire he used to have for God is coming back.
“It’s not the same yet, but I believe it will return.”
“Being imprisoned for Christ is not easy, it’s real and it isn’t a nice experience,” Morad concludes. “But it is also a reality check. Am I willing to suffer for my Lord? And even after those horrible months in prison, I can still say…
“Yes, it’s more than worth it. I believe in Jesus, and if this means I have to suffer, then I am willing to do so.”
*Names changed for security reasons.