Christian Persecution Jul/Aug 2016

IRAN—An imprisoned Christian convert from Islam recently sneaked a message of encouragement to Iran’s Christians in the face of a government crackdown that has crippled the country’s house-church leadership.

Ebrahim Firouzi, held in the notorious Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj, exhorted Iranian Christians to expect persecution but to continue proclaiming Christ.

“If you are courageous in God’s way, God’s grace will be with you,” Firouzi said. “Do not fear what you are doing, and raise the banner of Jesus in the name of God.”

Paraphrasing the New Testament, Firouzi, said, “If you want to do good to others, who can harm you?…Keep your conscience clean so that people will be ashamed if they cause you harm. If it is God’s will that you should suffer, it is better to suffer for doing good” (cf. 1 Pet. 2:15; 3:17; 4:19).

The message has come at a dark time for Christians in Iran. The advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC), which confirmed the communication’s authenticity, reported that the government has left only a few Farsi-language churches open. Christians have no option but to hold meetings in homes, a move that is illegal and heavily persecuted.

Firouzi, 31, has been in and out of prison because of his faith since 2011. Now serving a five-year sentence that began in 2015, he encouraged prayer for the shuttered churches.

“I ask you to pray for the reopening of the churches in Iran…, so that the sound of worship and praise can be heard in the buildings again.”

Rob Duncan, MEC region manager for Iran, said Iranian officials have gutted the leadership of the house-church movement, imprisoning many and forcing pastors into self-enforced exile by harassing them to leave. “Most of the mature leaders have been forced out of the country,” Duncan said. “People are being called to pastor their house church[es] when they are really new in the faith.”

Firouzi’s case reflects the Iranian government’s continuing hostility toward Christians. When first arrested in 2011 and imprisoned for more than 150 days, Firouzi endured intense interrogation about his beliefs, how he came to faith, and the leadership structure of church bodies.

In March 2013, officials arrested him again. Authorities claimed he was involved in setting up and running a website about Christianity, disseminating Bibles, and acting against national security. On July 15 of that year, the court sentenced him to one year in prison, followed by two years of internal “exile” in the town of Sarbaz.

Firouzi should have been released from prison in January 2015; instead, authorities refused and charged him with “acting against national security, gathering, and collusion”—all of which they claim occurred even though Firouzi was in prison on previous charges.

In his message to Iran’s Christians, Firouzi said he wants his freedom but asked for prayer to be a strong example of Christ while in prison. “We are trying to preach the gospel, and Jesus is our example,” he said. “We sometimes have to sacrifice our freedom to live in God’s love, so I can’t only think about myself when there are so many other believers and churches suffering persecution.”

Firouzi said he hopes his imprisonment “stirs the international community to work to prevent such future persecution of new believers.”

by Morning Star News
(MorningStarNews.org)

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