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Compass – Iranian Christians are mourning the death of Ghorban Dordi Tourani, an Iranian believer assassinated two weeks ago by an unnamed group of fanatical Muslims and the first Turkmen in Iran known to have been martyred for his Christian faith.

A house church leader in northeastern Iran , Tourani (previously identified as Ghorban Tori), was arrested from his home in Gonbad-e-Kavus on November 22. A few hours later, the 53-year-old convert to Christianity had been stabbed to death, his beaten, bleeding body thrown in front of his home. (See Compass Direct, “Iranian Convert Stabbed to Death,” November 28.)

An ethnic Turkmen, Tourani was born in Gonbad-e-Kabus to a Muslim family from the Sunni Hanafi tradition. Through the influence of his devout father, who raised his eight children to follow Islamic principles, Tourani’s ambition by the time he finished high school was to study Islamic theology in Egypt and become a Sunni Muslim leader.

But his father was unable to finance such an education at Cairo ’s prestigious Al-Azhar University , so instead the boy read Islamic books constantly, searching to find God. When he failed to satisfy his spiritual search after several years, he finally became convinced that there was no God. He became frustrated and angry, getting into fights and participating in various criminal activities. Eventually he became enamored with Marxist philosophies.

After his marriage, while his wife was pregnant with their third child, Tourani decided to cross the border to get a better-paying job in nearby Turkmenistan , then still under communist rule of the Soviet Union .

But there he got into a violent argument with someone, and when a fight broke out he ended up drawing a knife and killing his opponent in self-defense. The manslaughter charge landed him in jail in 1983, sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Three years later, Tourani tried to commit suicide, but he was hospitalized and survived the attempt. Now and then a group of Christian evangelists managed to visit his prison to preach and talk with the prisoners, but he was vehement in rejecting their message.

Later on, a Russian Christian named Constantine who had been arrested for his faith was transferred into Tourani’s cell. Befriending Tourani, Constantine slowly began to share his faith in Christ with him, melting down his cellmate’s insistence that there was no God at all, let alone this Jesus whom Constantine said was the “Son of God.”

“The more he got to know Constantine , the more he was impressed by the love and peace he had,” an Iranian Christian remarked.

Through the visiting evangelists, Constantine obtained a New Testament for Tourani, telling him: “Read this book to get to know the Jesus I share about with you. Then you will realize whether it is worth fighting against him or not!”

Taking the book, Tourani read it clear through in just two weeks. Deeply impacted, he told Constantine he was ready to become a Christian. Within months, his life was so dramatically transformed that when he approached the head of the prison and asked for permission to have Christian meetings inside the prison, the man agreed.

Even Constantine was amazed by the prison official’s decision, telling Tourani that he and other Christians had been jailed in that prison for years without ever getting such a concession.

“You are a new believer, but God has started using you in a mighty way,” Constantine told Tourani.

Then the Russian Christian counseled Tourani: “After you are released from prison, go back to Iran , to the Turkmen of your nation. God will use you among the Turkmen in a house church ministry.”

When Tourani’s sentence was completed in 1998, he did just that. Arriving at his home in Gonbad-e-Kavus, he saw for the first time his third child, a 15-year-old daughter who had been born while he was in Turkmenistan .

Beginning in his own home, Tourani began to share with his relatives, friends and other members of his Turkmen tribe the Christian truths that had changed his life during his years in prison.

After 12 Turkmen became Christians within two years, Tourani sought out a church leader in Tehran who mentored him in discipling and teaching these new converts.

“Ghorban was a very brave and fearless Christian,” this Iranian pastor said after Tourani’s death. “He would boldly share about Jesus in different places, in the streets, shops and bazaars. He was convinced that he should not keep his faith to himself, but should share it with others everywhere.”

As a result, fanatic Muslims from his community had threatened him, and his own brother once slashed his face with a knife. Nevertheless, dozens of Turkmen in his city and outlying areas came to faith in Christ through Tourani’s witness and ministry.

The Iranian government, which sent its secret police to search Tourani’s home and confiscate his Christian materials after his death, has told his family that local Muslims who were “angry about his conversion” apparently murdered him.

Tourani is survived by his wife Offool Eachicke and four children: the eldest is a married daughter, followed by a son, Hadi, 23; daughter, Aysen, 21; and daughter, Anahid, 4.

SIDEBAR

Prayer handwritten by Ghorban Dordi Tourani

I Am Willing to Give My Life

[A prayer handwritten by Ghorban Dordi Tourani and mailed out of Iran a year before his death]

Dear Lord, Jesus, let me come into your presence, so that I can touch your nailed feet. Dear Lord Jesus, let me worship you in humility and kiss your nailed and wounded hands and feet. You were hung on the cross in Golgotha and nailed with four nails, while your blood was pouring out.

In this desperate situation, how could you still love your created beings? You were willing to even embrace those who crucified you. You were tortured because of me, yes because of me. Not only me, but also for my father and mother. Because of me you suffered the most severe pains on the cross for six hours. I wish I was not sinful, so that you would not suffer because of me. How much I was willing to be there, and to pull the nails out of your beautiful hands when you were on the cross. How desperate are my thoughts when I think I might have been able to help you not to suffer so. Lord Jesus, please let me glorify your holy name in every moment of my life on this earth. I am willing to give my life that belongs to you, for the sake of you and your church.