Pastor Saeed’s Traumatic 48 Hours & What it’s like to be a Christian in a Country like Iran.

This is a three-part posting:

1. Jordan Sekulow, ACLJ Attorney who represents and speaks out for Pastor Saeed Abedini, wrote his followers today about Saeed’s “traumatic 48 hours.”

alcj saeed life in danger“This has been a traumatic 48 hours for American Pastor Saeed Abedini. Nearly two weeks ago he was moved from his prison cell to a local private hospital and promised medical care.

Then, two days ago, Iranian guards banned visits from his family, shackled him, and ordered that he return to his prison cell untreated.

This was devastating for Pastor Saeed and his family. He needs to undergo surgery for internal injuries he sustained from prison beatings.

You immediately took to Facebook and Twitter to share what had happened. Thousands began praying in earnest for Pastor Saeed.

Just yesterday we learned that Iranian prison officials reversed course calling the whole ordeal a “mistake.”  Pastor Saeed is now unshackled, but while he remains in the hospital, he is still not receiving critical treatment. He still desperately needs surgery and to be released to his family in the U.S.

You spoke out this week and made a tremendous impact. We need you to Be Heard again.

Sign the Petition Demanding Pastor Saeed’s Release Today.

[to sign petition, go to: beheardproject.org]

Jordan Sekulow
ACLJ Executive Director

2. NY Times article: “Iran’s Oppressed Christians” by Liana Aghajanian

110615 First of all, why was he in prison?BERLIN — I met Mori in the basement of a Lutheran church in Berlin’s Zehlendorf district. A 28-year-old refugee who once ran a small business in Iran, he converted to Christianity five years ago and spoke to me on condition that I use only his first name in order to protect his identity.

In 2011, delayed on the way to a secret Bible study session, he narrowly escaped when Revolutionary Guards raided his underground Evangelical church. He watched as his friends disappeared into Iran’s prison system; Mori suspects they’ve been killed.

“When you’re Christian in Iran, you can’t speak. You have to keep quiet and not talk about the truth that you know and that you believe in,” he told me. “There is no such thing as a comfortable life in Iran.”

Christianity of course is not alien to Iran. It arrived in ancient Persia not long after the death of Christ and has waxed and waned ever since. But in recent decades, especially in the last few years, things have grown worse. As Washington seeks rapprochement with Tehran over Iran’s nuclear and regional ambitions, the Obama administration must not let its protests over cruel treatment of Christians and other religious minorities fall by the wayside.

Christians make up roughly less than half of 1 percent of Iran’s roughly 80 million people. Numbers are difficult to determine: There could be as many as half a million Christians in the country, according to a report by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. It cites research by the World Christian Database indicating that there were 270,000 living there in 2010. Most of them are ethnic Armenians and Assyrians who, though closely monitored, are able to practice their own Orthodox faith. It is the other denominations — mostly converts from Islam to Evangelical Protestantism — that are more likely to be harassed, imprisoned or even murdered.

The World Christian Database counted 66,000 Protestants in Iran in 2010. Open Doors, a nondenominational organization tracking Christian persecution, estimates that Iran has 370,000 “new Christians from a Muslim background.” In the last decade, televised proselytizing, often by ministers from the Iranian Diaspora, has fueled the rise of Evangelical Christianity. Tehran’s ruling ayatollahs see the trend as foreign meddling meant to undermine the regime. Under Shariah law, defection from Islam is not only a sin: It is a criminal offense. Legal and ex-judicial punishment can be severe, yet refugees say that Christians have boldly begun discussing their faith with Muslim neighbors.

Persecution is well-documented. In 2004, Hamid Pourmand, the lay leader of Jama’at-e Rabbani, the Iranian branch of the evangelical Assemblies of God, was arrested with more than 80 other members, charged with apostasy and imprisoned for years before his release. A report last year by Ahmed Shaheed, a United Nations special rapporteur, talks of Christians being “prosecuted on vaguely worded national security crimes for exercising their beliefs,” with more than 300 having been arrested since 2010.

Mori was one of the lucky ones. In 2011, he got a fake passport, paid 7,000 euros to a smuggler and joined the rising flow of refugees. The numbers entering Germany, known for its strong record for granting asylum, have soared in recent years, from 815 in 2008 to 4,348 in 2012, and will likely well exceed that figure this year, according to the Association of Iranian Refugees in Berlin. It is difficult to say how many of these people are Christian. A spokeswoman for the federal refugee office told me the government does not keep records on the religious affiliation of applicants.

Moreover, Iranians living in cramped conditions in converted schools and barracks are careful to keep their distance from one other, wary of talking about their cases or their lives back home. Many fear that Iranian government spies have been planted among them, a regular practice of Iran’s secret police.

Meanwhile, Iran’s crackdown on religious freedom continues. Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American pastor and ex-Muslim was arrested in 2012 on a visit to Iran and sentenced last year to eight years in prison for helping to build the country’s underground Christian church network. Though President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have both called for his release, the dream of better relations with Iran has clouded over sobering realities.

President Hassan Rouhani, often portrayed in the West as a reform-minded moderate, has urged an end to meddling in Iranians’ private lives. Last December, he sent his best wishes to those celebrating Christmas via Twitter, “especially Iranian Christians.”

But Mr. Abedini and others languish in prison. As a signatory of international human rights declarations, Iran must be held accountable for the appalling treatment of its citizens if it wants to normalize relations with the West.”

Liana Aghajanian is a freelance journalist. This article was made possible through a grant from the International Reporting Project.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on March 15, 2014, in The International New York Times.

Link to original article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/15/opinion/irans-oppressed-christians.html?hp&rref=opinion

[Images and emphases above were added; FreeAllThree.com has not verified any part of this article.]

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About the featured image used with the artist’s permission: “Reza Hoda Saber, 52-year old Iranian political activist and leading journalist for an opposition magazine Iran-e Farda, died in the custody of the Iranian prison Evin. [This happened] while on a hunger strike in protest of fellow opposition figure Haleh Sahabi’s death at the hands of security forces while at the funeral of her father. Saber was into his tenth day of a hunger strike when stricken with severe chest pains associated with his heart. Saber’s screams of agony were ignored by prison authorities for six hours before eventually being transferred to hospital for belated surgery to his blocked arteries, dying during the course of the operation. The opposition group Council for the Green Path of Hope condemned the Iranian government for the neglect and Saber’s unlawful detention without charge.” IanBunn.com

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3. Lessons learned from time in China and Russia during the 90’s:

Have you ever thought about what it’s like to live in a country like Iran that is openly and officially hostile toward Christianity? I do, having lived and worked in China for five years in the 1990’s, and visiting Russia and former Soviet states a few times.

In China I had the privilege of meeting several elderly saints, in their 70’s-80’s, who were imprisoned and beaten in the 1950’s and 60’s following Chairman Mao’s Revolution of 1949. Their bodies may have been scarred and hobbled, yet there was a joy on their faces. They were victors who overcame the world. Their soft reassuring smiles proved it!

Intellectualism and all religion were stamped out during the Red brigade purges after Mao’s takeover. Or so the Chinese leaders thought!  However, a huge underground network of Chinese believers maintained their faith over several decades of darkness. The west really had no idea what was going on in China, but feared the worst. But when the country finally ‘opened up’ in the 1980’s, Western Christians were amazed to find that a strong Christian community existed … underground, of course.

It was estimated that 10% of China’s one billion people were Christian, not including the ‘official churches’ that were shunned by many Christians at the time. One Bible, or more often only a piece of a Bible, would be shared by 5 or 6 people at gatherings.

“They were victors who overcame the world. Their soft reassuring smiles proved it!”

They were victors even if they walked with severe limps or bent over due to bones that repeatedly, intentionally, broken. Or like 83-years young Miss Lora Z. as she walked to the market, church or climbed the six flights of stairs to her small apartment. She never married after being released from “re-education camps”. As a child she saw her parents and older brothers taken away never to be seen again.

But God blessed Miss Lora in her later years with several younger live-in helpers, one after the other. It was a mutual blessing to all of them. She was called Grandma by everyone who knew her. Her mind was sharp and her spirit was gentle. It reminded me of Jesus’ admonition to be “wise as serpents, but gentle as doves.”

Indeed the local saints were always cognizant of the Chinese authority’s intentions to harm and disrupt their activities and growth, but they always presented themselves in a peaceful, confident manner. The people of this large Chinese city lost their church building and outbuildings, built with missionary support during the first half of the century, to the new Red Chinese government and military.

After about 25 years, the church grounds were given back; they applied to be a ‘registered church.’ Plans to restore it were constantly blocked and delayed. By the time I was there though, it was a beautiful well furnished church – packed to the seams on Sundays! In fact they piped audio out to the courtyards where 100’s more gathered to quietly listen. This was quite common at most official or ‘registered churches’ that I visited … at touching site!

Underground churches had to be very careful, of course, and we were advised not to attend as a westerner in a Chinese apartment block would not go unnoticed. They were often led by men and women who also attended registered churches. In fact that was their ‘recruiting ground.’ But many people distrusted registered churches since spies could easily be present; so they would not attend them. Additionally pastors had to be ‘State-approved’ and were State-monitored, which hampered them from speaking out on contemporary issues.

The Chinese saints were an inspiration to me. It reminded me of the Apostle Paul’s words that “these were only light and temporary afflictions” that we face here on earth.

Toward the end of my time in China, I found that most younger people were interested as they were curious about “anything western.” Older people, say age 30-40 and up, had learned to keep their thoughts private, except to close family and friends.

The number of Christians has grown significantly over the years, even as China’s official policy has not changed. Today the law against unofficial religious gatherings is enforced unevenly. But when it is, it is often brutal, especially in rural or less populated areas. Several Pastors and home group leaders are still executed or ‘disappeared’ annually.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NIV)

In Russia, my personal impressions were different and may not be universal. Several generations grew up under the well-entrenched Communist-Soviet regimes. Young and old would quickly, firmly declare that they were atheists; there is no God, thus no Christianity needed. No after life. Whether this reflected their true inner thoughts was difficult to gauge. One can only plant seeds at such times.

The new openness in Russia, after the Berlin wall and Soviet empire broke down in 1989, created new opportunities. Hundreds of western missionaries flowed into the former Soviet states. The large Tulsa church I attended sent their head pastor and his wife, music and prayer teams into St. Petersburg and Moscow for about 4 days every month for nearly 2 years in the early 1990’s.

The Pastors would fly out on Sundays after the last service and return back home by Saturday night. They would give the congregation both verbal and video reports on Sunday mornings! They marveled, for example, that Russian public schools allowed Americans to put on skits and distribute literature with overt gospel messages. Something not permissible in the U.S.!

Thousands of people were saved on each trip; videos showed men, women, whole families literally running toward the front of the largest auditoriums in the city after an altar call. And millions of miniature ‘Bible summaries’ were passed out and left behind. Pastors were also trained and prepared by follow-up teams.

Negative western influences also flowed into Russia in the 1990’s, such as drugs, sex (HIV/STD exposure) and hard-core metal rock … and the pursuit of money at any cost, the end justifying the means. Crime and corruption abounded in government, banks and large companies.

Two countries, two different outlooks. I pray for both.

Daniel

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About FreeAllThree.com:

From January 1-July 4, 2014 there are 184 days (6 months and 4 days). Iran has been given 6 months (180 days) to show good faith regarding their nuclear programs. America must insist that no more billions of US dollars, gold or other resources will be unfrozen and transferred to Iran as a result of further sanctions loosening. Nor should oil exports flow freely to other nations, including Russia that has negotiated a side deal worth $1.5 billion per month known as ‘oil for goods.’ In this barter system Russia would continue building Iran’s nuclear facilities in exchange for oil that may be used or sold on the open market. Finally, the main purpose of the current negotiations, the cessation of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, must be realized and continually verified.

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