Police raid church in Iran, 9 Christians sentenced to five years

October 23, 2019 by Lindy Lowry in Middle East

Our field has alerted us to nine recent convictions of Christians in Iran—where it is illegal to convert from Islam and to participate in a house church. Please pray specifically, by name, for these men who have been sentenced to five years in prison for their Christian faith and living it out.

Pastor Matthias Haghnejad: He was arrested on February 10 when Iran’s Revolutionary Guard raided his house church gathering in Rasht where he was ministering; Bibles and cell phones were confiscated.

The other eight were arrested between January 31 and February 23. The list below includes all Christians to pray for by name (including Pastor Matthias):

  • Pastor Matthias Haghnejad
  • Khalil Dehkanpour
  • Hossein (Elisha) Kadivar’
  • Kamal Naamanian
  • Mohammed Vafada
  • Shahrooz Eslamdous
  • Babak Hosseinzadeh
  • Mehdi Khatibi
  • Behnam Akhlaghi,

In March, seven of the accused were released on bail of 150 million Toman ($12,500), but Matthias and Shahrooz remained detained. Four months later on July 24 at a preliminary hearing, Pastor Matthias and the eight others were accused of “acting against national security” and “promoting Zionism.” Judge Mohammed Moghiseh rejected the lawyer representing five of the defendants. They rejected an alternate appointed by the court. Angered, the judge transferred the five to Evin Prison.

Four days later on July 28, the remaining four, Mohammad, Kamal, Hossein (Elisha) and Khalil appeared in court to face the same charges. At a final hearing on September 23, the defendants’ lawyer was allowed to attend. The verdict, pronounced on October 13, saw each receive five years in prison for “acting against national security”—a charge the state often uses to prosecute Christians for their house church activities.

The sentences are being appealed.

Pray with these nine Christians by name. Their friends request prayer for each man and his family:

  • Pray that the Lord will encourage these nine men and their families, strengthening their faith in this difficult situation.
  • Pray that the appeals will be successful and the unjust sentences overturned.
  • Pray that belief in Jesus Christ and following Him won’t be perceived as “acting against national security” by the Iranian authorities and that Iranian citizens will no longer be persecuted for holding to different religious beliefs.

Called to remember the prisoner

Open Doors has visited and ministered to enough ex-prisoners to know all too well that while believers like these demonstrate unimaginable perseverance and faith behind bars, they’re also suffering as they endure. They feel abandoned, depressed, oppressed. They are weary and crippled physically and emotionally.

But we can take comfort in knowing that our sovereign, omniscient and omnipotent God knows about every arrest, every conviction and every prison sentence, and every appeal won and lost. And that He has a plan our limited human view can’t comprehend. In the meantime, God has asked us to pray in these specific situations.

Writing in a time of great persecution for Christ followers who had lost property, been thrown into prison, were ostracized from their Jewish community, etc., the author of Hebrews offers a clear call to prayer for those who are suffering for the gospel:

“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Heb. 13:3).

And in Matthew 25:34-36, Jesus is clear that when we enter into the suffering of others, we are answering His call:

“Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.”

We also know, through conversations with ex-prisoners and our ministry partners, that the prayers of the worldwide church are like a nourishing lifeline. We are called to intercede for one another, and when we do, God uses that obedience to strengthen both us and the prisoner.

We have numerous accounts from ex-prisoners and persecuted believers telling us that they sensed the Body of Christ praying for them in their prison cell—and that they drew strength from that knowledge, especially in the most difficult situations.

When we spoke with Mojtaba, he said he remembered feeling the prayers of the Body of Christ—and it gave him the strength to go on. “I am the fruit of prayers,” he says. “The most important thing you can do is pray.”

Saman*, also a house church leader before he was arrested and imprisoned in Iran, said that knowing the global Body of Christ is praying for him and knows his story has strengthened him.

“I am encouraged that you visit us, that my story is shared, and that people pray for me,” he says. “You can’t imagine how much it means to me to know I’m not alone in this.”

 

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