Crushing demonstrations, killing political opponents, and silencing religious minorities, Iran’s regime has attempted to suck dry the hopes and aspirations Iranians have for a free society. Under such oppression – which outlaws anything not deemed Iranian or Islamic – many Iranians turn to addictions if they cannot find a healing faith to fill the void inside them. Farzad experienced both. From drug abuser to Christ follower, from being healed to being imprisoned and tortured for his faith, Farzad’s astounding testimony encourages us to rejoice in times of both joy and affliction.
Born into a Muslim family, Farzad (not real name) left his home at the age of fifteen after disagreeing with his father for taking a second wife. He began living with his aunt whose husband was an opium addict. “Their son stole opium from them and shared it with me,” Farzad told ICC. “Because of my inner anger and troubles, it was not long until I started smoking it on a normal basis.”
After three years, Farzad was so addicted that he would inject himself 16 to 20 times a day. “I realized that from my neck down there was nowhere to inject myself. No vein was available; I was damaged so badly.” Farzad went to the hospital to ask if they would inject him, but instead they called the police. When the policeman arrived, he refused to take Farzad to the station. “Let the refuse (garbage) collectors take him,” the policeman said. “I don’t want him in my car.”
“After this session at the hospital, I had lost faith in myself,” Farzad said. “I had been reduced to such a state that life wasn’t worth living after that. I decided to kill myself. Why live if I couldn’t live like a human being?”
Late one night, Farzad attempted suicide by overdosing. Halfway through the injections, everything went black. “It was like the electricity went out,” he recalls. Suddenly, Farzad saw a man standing between two bright lights who called him by name, saying, “Listen to me. You are not supposed to die. You are not supposed to just exist. You are supposed to go on living.”
“Who are you?” Farzad asked while trembling in fear. The voice replied, “The Father loves you so much that He sent me to save you.” Farzad’s eyes were then opened and he saw his body lying on the kitchen floor as if he was looking at his dead corpse. The syringe had fallen out of his arm and blood was oozing out.
Suddenly, Farzad awoke. He immediately flushed his remaining drugs down the toilet and realized what he needed to do. With a long and difficult road before him, he felt a strength to overcome that was not his own.
One night he relapsed by getting drunk and went to his Armenian friend’s home. His friend asked Farzad why he started drinking so much, trading one addiction for another. The friend went on to tell Farzad about the Bible. When Farzad told him about his dream, he directed him to Colossians 1:15, which says that Jesus is the “image of the invisible God.”
“When I asked my friend about the concept of embracing your enemy, he brought out the passage in the Bible. And, when I talked about sexual desire, he brought out the verse that says if you even look at a woman in a sexual way than you have sinned,” Farzad said. “I was quite impressed. What a fantastic God you have, I told him.
“All the years I had lived with religious convictions that were in opposition to what I was hearing, yet the words I heard from the Bible were touching my heart.”
The Armenian friend said, “Wait. I’ll show you something.” He read from John 3:16 that God loves the world enough to send His Son to save him. “Suddenly, it came to me,” Farzad said. “It was Jesus Christ who came and saved me.” At that moment, Farzad confessed his sins and gave his life to Christ. “It was very emotional,” Farzad said. “My heart was pumping. It was the moment I will never forget.”
Farzad went in for a medical test following his conversion. “The doctor said I had hepatitis C. My liver was 70 % dysfunctional and 96 % of my blood was contaminated. The doctor said it was too late for me. There was nothing I could do,” Farzad explained.
Farzad’s sickness was announced at a church he had begun attending. “The whole church decided to fast and pray for a whole week,” Farzad said while trying to hold back tears. “No one ate anything and they had a 24-hour chain of prayers for me.”
One member had a vision and at the next service he thanked God for giving Farzad his health back. He told Farzad that God had saved him and that he should return to the doctor for a second test. The test results came up negative. “Do you believe in miracles?” the doctor asked Farzad. “Yes, God has performed a second miracle in my life,” Farzad replied. Handing the doctor a Bible, Farzad said, “Read this so that you will know how miracles are performed.”
Farzad began dedicating his musical talents to the church and completely surrendered his life to ministry. He sold everything he had to open a studio to record Christian music in Farsi. “It took off nicely,” Farzad said. “But, one night I got a call from the police that the studio had caught fire and burned down. I couldn’t believe it. Where had the fire come from? We had taken every precaution to prevent a fire when we built it. And, it was a rainy night!”
Just like that, Farzad lost everything and was $65,000 in debt. “I resorted to driving a taxi for a while to pay off the bills,” Farzad said. “Yet, this never stopped me from sharing about my faith in Jesus Christ.”
With the help of an organization, Farzad began training outside the country to become an assistant pastor. After returning home to share the Gospel and baptize new believers, an informant for Iranian intelligence who had slowly infiltrated into his church group arrested him. “They arrested me; tortured me to get names. They hung me by the feet from the ceiling and lashed me,” Farzad said. The picture at left was taken weeks after the lashing.
Farzad’s uncle, a mullah who had refused to speak or even shake Farzad’s hand after his conversion, asked Iranian authorities to release Farzad temporarily so he could receive medical attention at a hospital. After the treatment, the mullah promised, Farzad would be brought back to prison. The Iranian authorities agreed.
“I was worried about my uncle,” Farzad said. “He had promised to return me to the prison.”
One night, however, Farzad’s uncle knocked on his door. “He said to me, take your wife and children and leave the country. It’s too dangerous for you. They’re determined to kill you. Don’t worry about the bond, just leave,” Farzad said.
They left the next day. “We didn’t even have time to say goodbye to the family,” he said.
Today, Farzad continues his incredible ministry by teaching Iranian fellowship groups and leading worship services. Please pray for Farzad and his family who live off a meager income provided by donations alone as they are not allowed to be employed as refugees in a foreign land.
In the early 1990’s a small, quiet Bhutanese man who had recently converted to Christianity decided to attend a prayer meeting in Nepal, where he lived as a refugee. Little did he know that the choice would land him in prison for over a year on trumped up charges or that the beatings he would receive from police would still be affecting his health nearly twenty years later.
At the time, the tiny nation of Nepal was ruled by a Hindu monarchy and converting anyone to another faith was strictly illegal. Local authorities could legally arrest and deport you if they suspected you of trying to convert a Hindu. Two decades later, the political landscape of Nepal has changed drastically, but the same laws that sent Raju to prison and discouraged Christians from sharing their faith are still in place. If something does not change quickly, these laws will continue to rob the people of Nepal of genuine religious freedom.
In a little less than two weeks, the government of Nepal is planning on signing a new constitution into law, which, if the current draft is used, will include “anti-conversion” language that makes it practically illegal to share your faith. India uses the same type of language in their anti-conversion laws and Christians are routinely persecuted for their faith. Christian organizations are hesitant to conduct even basic charitable activities out of fear that their actions may be seen as predatory and their members prosecuted.
Imagine being arrested and thrown in prison for working at a soup kitchen or handing out clothing to the homeless on behalf of your church and you get some idea of what it would be like to live under these types of laws. Needless to say, Christians living in Nepal today are hoping that somehow their new constitution creates a world where they don’t have to be afraid of talking about Christ.
This is where ICC comes in. As Raju may not have known that he would end up in prison for attending that prayer meeting nearly twenty years ago, he probably never imagined that one day he would be walking around the capital of the United States, sharing the story of his persecution in the offices of U.S Senators and Congressman (left, center). Raju was brought in as a guest of ICC to serve as a key component in our most recent “advocacy tour”. These tours are designed to influence and inform Congress, the State Department, and the White House on issues of religious freedom and persecution. In this most recent case, the tour was designed to draw the attention of lawmakers to the issues in Nepal’s constitution and to ask for their support in encouraging the Nepalese government to make changes that would allow followers of every faith to speak openly about their beliefs.
Although tiny Nepal might not get much attention from the wider world, it is certainly reaching what could become a pivotal point in its history, and thousands of Christian believers who call it home are praying for a change. Thanks to connections that could only have been foreseen by God, last month Raju and ICC were able to work together in an effort that creates the potential for very real and very important change. If Nepal uses this opportunity to create a nation which protects the religious freedom of its citizens in its constitution, then the positive changes we played a part in today could make life that much better for generations of Nepalese believers still to come.
At the end of 2010, we asked our donors to help us build a home for children whose parents were murdered in the 2008 attack against Christians in Orissa, India. The deadly riots that claimed the lives of more than 100 Christians and forced more than 50,000 to flee their homes has many Christians in Orissa still reeling.
This year, thanks to your gifts, we launched an orphanage to take in at-risk children who lost one or both of their parents in this tragedy. One of the children we took in was Gracy (left) – a young girl whose father was captured and brutally beaten by a mob of Hindu radicals during the 2008 riots. Though he initially survived the attack, he succumbed to his injuries and died weeks later in a relief camp. After her father’s death, her mother left Gracy and her siblings with relatives and never returned.
Gracy and the other children in our orphanage are being cared for by two Christian families who not only take care of their basic needs, but love and nurture them and teach them about the love of Christ.
The picture above was taken when Gracy first entered our orphanage, and the picture at right was taken just recently. You can see a remarkable difference in Gracy’s countenance!
Sign up for our e-newsletter this month to read more stories of hope from orphans and other Christians we’ve helped all year.
A Courageous Christian Woman Tells of Her Fiancé’s Death on Egypt’s ‘Bloody Sunday’
After a long march from Shubra, Viviane Magdi and her fiancé Michael Mosad finally reached their destination at the State TV building in Maspero near Tahrir Square in Cairo where a mass crowd of demonstrators – both Christian and Muslim – had gathered.
Upon arrival, however, the protest that Michael and Viviane had joined took an unexpected turn. Above the chants for freedom and an end to military rule, the couple could hear screams and the crackle of gun fire rising from among the demonstrators into the evening air.
Although nervous about the apparent violence that had broken out in what started as a peaceful demonstration, Michael refused to return home. “There are people who fell; we have to stand with them,” Viviane remembers Michael saying.
Viviane Magdi with her fiancé Michael Mosad
A moment later, a military vehicle veered into the crowded street at a speed fast enough to bring imminent danger to anyone standing in its path. The truck swiveled on and off the sidewalk, reversed, and went forward again. Demonstrators scrambled and tripped over one another, uncertain where the vehicle would turn next.
“He held my hand and said, ‘Don’t let me go, stay with me, don’t be scared.’ Then suddenly, I felt myself pushed away,” Viviane recalled.
Looking behind her, she saw Michael swept under the truck and crushed beneath its tires. His skull was fractured and his legs were left dangling visibly from his body as the truck sped off. Soldiers following swiftly behind the vehicle began beating Michael’s unconscious body. One soldier turned on Viviane, who was begging them to stop hitting her fiancé.
“A soldier with a red cap came, shouting, cursing and hitting me with a stick then tried to beat him up. I threw my body on him (her fiancé)… and the soldier said to me: ‘You infidel, why are you here?’” The Associated Press reported Viviane as saying.
Finally, a lone soldier intervened, loaded Michael’s lifeless body on a truck, and drove him and Viviane to a Coptic hospital. Laid beside three other corpses on the hospital floor, Viviane held her fiancé’s hand and cried out in despair, “I will not leave you!”
A photo taken of her clasping Michael’s hand and the testimony she would later give to the Egyptian press circulated throughout the country and Viviane soon emerged as the unforgettable face of the October 9 massacre.
“I feel I am still with [Michael],” Viviane explained while reflecting on his death. “I’m glad I’m alive because I’m able to do him justice… There must be a reason I’m still alive… Michael’s blood is still on my hand. We must do him justice by creating a better Egypt.”
Michael was one of 26 Christians killed on the evening protestors quickly dubbed, ‘Bloody Sunday.’ An initially peaceful demonstration demanding justice for the destruction of a church by an Islamist mob in Aswan a week earlier was met by the worst violence Egyptians have seen since President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster in February.
As Michael and Viviane were marching with fellow countrymen, state-run television broadcasts were simultaneously calling on “honest Egyptians to defend the soldiers” against “armed Copts.” While radical Islamists responded by descending on the scene with sticks, firebombs and guns, many Muslims saw through the façade, understanding that it was the military, not Christians, who were responsible.
“Muslims get what is happening,” Nada el-Shazly, a Muslim who heard the broadcast and knew fellow Muslims who had joined the Christian demonstration, told The New York Times. “[The military was] trying to start a civil war.”
“I am embarrassed that I work in TV,” Dina Rassmi, an Egyptian reporter, wrote on her Facebook page. “The Egyptian television is calling for a civil war between Christians and Muslims. The Egyptian television proved that it is a slave to whoever is the master.”
Meanwhile, according to The New York Times, hundreds of armed Islamists chanted in the streets, “The people want to bring down the Christians.” They continued into the evening, shouting, “Islamic, Islamic.”
Many Christians believed the violence was purely religious based. “The government and military are killing Christians. It’s that simple,” said Coptic activist Wagih Yacoub, who was shot with rubber bullets during the protest and, like Viviane, had a friend who was run over and killed by a military vehicle. “It was a peaceful march, so why did they shoot real bullets on a peaceful people? We were going there just for two or three hours then we were going to leave. We want to worship in peace, that’s all we want.”
As Egypt’s elections draw near, uncertainty and fear among Christians increases. Islamist-based parties, like the Muslim Brotherhood, are expected to win a majority seat in the Egyptian parliament which will grant them greater authority to significantly alter the constitution and impose Sharia (Islamic law).
Some church leaders, however, refuse to lose hope. “We are passing through a dark tunnel of violence, feeling grief of death and injustice…” Bishop Thomas of the Coptic Church told World Magazine from Cairo. “Trying to bring forgiveness and justice together is a big struggle, but we are committed to the love that never fails. We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed.”
It was on October 18 that ICC received an email from its representative in Ethiopia. The emails reported that three Christians had been imprisoned for preaching the gospel to Muslims. An Ethiopian staff member at ICC started to make phone calls to police officials who arrested the Christians. A few days after they received the calls, the police released all three Christians. But one of the Christians, a former Muslim leader, still faces criminal charges for “insulting the Quran and Islamic faith.” ICC is closely monitoring the situation.
ICC Interviews the Released Christians
On November 4, we talked to two of the released Christians. According to the Christians, they were arrested after they had preached the gospel to Muslims. During the conversation, one of the Christians even cited a verse from the Qur’an to tell the Muslims about Jesus. At this point, the Sheiks became enraged and called the police.
The Christians also told ICC that this was not the first time that they were arrested for preaching the gospel. One of them, a former Muslim leader, faced persecution after he became a follower of Jesus and abandoned the mosque in which he had been a leader. He later built a church near the mosque and most of his former Muslim congregants became followers of Jesus. The mosque, the former Muslim leader told us, is now empty!
So when they were arrested by the police this time, it didn’t come as a surprise to them. In fact, they used the time in prison to continue their ministry by preaching the gospel among the prisoners. They told us their experience in the following words:
“During our time in prison, we prayed for people and demons left many of them, we shared the gospel and twelve people came to Christ, six of them are attending churches right now. We even preached the gospel to the policemen. We saw the hand working in prison so much that we didn’t even want to be released. The people we shared the gospel would have not been saved, if we hadn’t been imprisoned.”
The Muslim government officials were angry at the Christians, particularly at the Christian who had been a Muslim leader before converting and becoming an evangelist. A Muslim public prosecutor warned this Christian to convert back to Islam or face 25 years in prison, but the Christian man wasn’t swayed by the threats. He even preached the gospel to the public prosecutor himself!
The released Christians have words of gratitude to ICC for calling the police. They said immediately after receiving the calls from ICC, the police held a meeting after which they confronted the prisoners, asking them, “How do you have people in the US who have asked us to release you?”
The released Christians told ICC, “After you called, the police started to respect our rights. Before that, they didn’t care about us. They had been threatening us for preaching the gospel. Your work gave us a lot of hope. Thank you very much. May God bless you.”