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IRANIAN WOMEN – SERVING GOD FROM HOUSE CHURCH TO PRISON

July 2020

When 13 Iranian Christians were recently arrested in three different cities in Iran, at least four women were among them. As Iranian women play a vital ministry role even under threat of arrest, Mojdeh*, who spent 40 days in prison in Iran, encourages SAT-7 PARS viewers with how God’s “utterly tangible presence” sustained her there.

“I was serving in a house church in Iran,” shares Mojdeh in a live Instagram chat with Insiders Presenter Hangameh Borji. “And about twice a month, I would go to Tehran to take part in meetings for house-church leaders.”

Although it is often overlooked, the ministry leadership of women like Mojdeh is not uncommon in Iran. Even when their family roles and power in the public sphere are limited, women play a significant role in house churches, often becoming leaders and worship leaders. Many testimonies received by SAT-7 PARS show that one woman’s actions can have a powerful impact on her husband, her children, her siblings, and her parents.

“Women are the praying backbone of the underground Church,” explains Panayiotis Keenan, Executive Director of SAT-7 PARS. “We have witnessed recent cases in which women faithfully prayed for their abusive husbands, who eventually chose to follow Christ. We have seen how a daughter shared the Gospel with her father, who then chose to give his heart to Christ, and finally so did her mother,” he continues.

By serving their families, their communities, and their house churches, women are a witness to Christ’s love – and some, like Mojdeh, are also called to walk with Him through prison.

ARRESTED AND IMPRISONED
“The last time I went to Tehran, I was particularly tired from work and decided to go earlier and stay at a friend’s home,” recalls Mojdeh. It was during this trip that she was arrested at the home of her friend’s mother.

“It was around 9 a.m. and we were still asleep when four or five men and one woman burst into the room. I opened my eyes to see these strangers standing over me, repeatedly ordering me to cover up with a hijab*. It felt completely unreal, like I was in a film. I asked them to step outside to allow me to get washed and dressed, but they wouldn’t let me freshen up and ordered me to ‘just get dressed quickly and come along’. I asked them where they were taking me and the man replied, ‘We have your arrest warrant and you will find out when we get there.’”

In the stress and confusion of this sudden awakening, Mojdeh prepared herself to go with the officers, but not before checking that they really did have an arrest warrant.

“I asked an officer why I was being arrested, and he responded, ‘Do you not know? You know what you have done. Are you not a Christian?’ I responded that I was. We were falsely accused of activities against the security of the Islamic Republic regime, but the real reason for our arrest was our faith in Jesus Christ. They accused me of some very strange things, but they also accused me of being an evangelical Christian.”

LIFE BEHIND BARS
Mojdeh’s life in prison was very hard. “I was taken to Lakan prison in Rasht,” she says. “It is the kind of prison you are sent to if the authorities want to make your life difficult. It houses prisoners on death row and those awaiting internal exile, as well as those accused of prostitution or serious crimes such as murder.

“The communal bathrooms were horrifyingly dirty, and we were given five minutes to shower. I always felt very vulnerable and unsafe. At 6:30 every morning, there was a loud whistle to wake us up and whatever the weather, we had to go out into a small yard to do forced exercises and sing revolutionary songs. As new arrivals in prison, we also had to clean the toilets, which was an awful experience,” she says.

GOD’S PRESENCE AND BLESSINGS
Some of Mojdeh’s hardest memories involve being interrogated. Each time she was questioned at the security building, a car journey away from the prison itself, she was subjected to a full physical search on her return. “It was an ordeal that was highly insulting and humiliating,” she says. “On one occasion I had already been searched and they wanted to search me again, and I burst into tears. I was crying so much people came out to see what was happening. As I was weeping I said that they were insulting me when I had not broken any laws or committed any crimes, and that it was only for my Christian faith that I had been sent to prison. The prison guard herself was moved to tears.”

But through all she endured, Mojdeh’s faith in God sustained her.

“When I entered prison, I was overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety, fear, and uncertainty,” she shares. “These were challenges that I wasn’t familiar with, and I kept wondering what would happen in court and how long my sentence would be.

“Yet every minute of every day, I was aware of God’s utterly tangible presence. I genuinely sensed God’s gracious, faithful, and loving presence wherever I was; in interrogations, in solitary, or in the yard.

“I spent a lot of time thinking and praying, especially when I was allowed out in the yard. I was not permitted to have a Bible, but I shared the good news of Christ with many people.”

WOMEN IN PRISON TODAY
The men and women arrested in Iran on 30 June, are likely going through similar challenging ordeals today. Please keep them all in your prayers. Pray that they too will know God’s presence with them, as they go through these dark days.

Please also pray for those participating in house churches, that they will be encouraged by Mojdeh’s testimony, and that God will continue to use women to change the lives of those around them.

*Name changed for security reasons.