Praise the Lord for the release of prisoners in Iran and Laos. Elam reports that Farshid Fathi was released Dec. 21 after serving five years in prison for his faith. Many believers around the world have been praying for Farshid, and some have sent him encouraging letters. Please continue to pray for our dear brother in the coming weeks and months. Pray for protection, and for him and his family as he adjusts to life outside prison.
Farshid was originally arrested on Dec. 26, 2010, along with 60 other Christians, many of whom belong to house churches in Tehran and other cities. Iran’s Supreme Leader Seyyed Ali Khamenei made a speech in Oct. 2010 in which he stated that house churches should be “dealt with.” A new wave of surveillance and arrests against Christians followed soon after, with house church group leaders such as Farshid singled out for longer detentions. Most of the leaders have now been released. The governor of Tehran, Morteza Tamadon, described the detained Christians as “extremists” who “penetrate the body of Islam like corrupt and deviant people.” He added his belief that they were trying to establish “an extreme form of Christianity like the Taliban and Wahhabis in Islam.”
Farshid, a 35-year-old father of two, was imprisoned without trial in Evin prison for 15 months before being tried in January 2012. Born into a Muslim family, Fathi accepted Christ at the age of 17, and at the time of his arrest was working full-time as a pastor and house church leader.
Open Doors estimates that there are now about 450,000 Christians in Iran, of which the vast majority are from a Muslim background (MBBs). Evidence from the American Center for Law and Justice, Article 18 and Middle East Concern suggest that as of May 2015 there were 90 people detained in Iranian prisons on account of their Christian faith.
There is also good news from Laos concerning an imprisoned believer. After spending more than three months in prison, a Laotian believer who was imprisoned on accusations of evangelism in a small village in Laos, was finally released on Christmas day. Another believer who has been pursued by Lao authorities because of his stand for Christ was also allowed to return to Laos on December 20th, after hiding in Thailand for more than two months. We praise the Lord for answering the many prayers for His release, and for His goodness to these two brothers.
Christianity came to Laos in the 19th century, and although it was not widely accepted among the dominant Lao majority, the Khmer minority responded positively, as did other minority groups. In the mid-1970s, the communist regime carried out a devastating, but ultimately unsuccessful, campaign to eradicate the Christian minority from Laos. The Lao People’s Revolutionary Party took power in 1975, ushering in one of the few remaining Marxist-Leninist governments in the world, which celebrated its 40th Anniversary in 2015.
The pressure on ethnic and religious minorities has remained generally high throughout the past 40 years; despite the upheaval in the communist world over the past 25 years, Laos has not seen significant change. The country remains in the firm grip of the communist party and is plagued by internal networks favoring party members’ extended families or close friends. Those without access to these networks find it difficult to get good jobs or to obtain administrative positions. Moreover, without free press in the country, there is no public pressure pushing for accountability. The communist party remains firmly in control, supported by neighboring China and Vietnam.
While giving thanks for the good news of the release of these prisoners, continue to pray for God’s work in these two nations.
How we praise you, Father, for the release of these two men. Use their lives in now to spread the gospel of Christ throughout their nations. What Satan would use to thwart the power of the Church, we call on you to use it to ignite the witness of the Church in Iran and Laos. Protect Farshid and James as they return to their families and re-enter freedom. Grant them both courage and godly wisdom as they return to their work. Speak through their testimony of faith with power and authority. In the name of Jesus, who has set us free from the power of sin and death to proclaim the gospel to a world in need. Amen!