Photo: When Taher\'s faith was discovered, the secret police took him away.
Taher* and his family were secret believers in a closed country in the Middle East. When their faith was discovered, Taher was arrested and ruthlessly interrogated by the secret police - but he refused to give up the names of fellow believers. Here\'s his story.
When the man came to Taher and Donya\'s* door, only Donya was in. The man said he was a postal worker. Donya knew he wasn\'t, but by then it was too late.
“When I opened the door, he put his foot down so I couldn’t close it,” she remembers. He was from the secret police. And others were behind him. They ruthlessly ransacked the home shared by Taher, Donya and their daughters Farah* and Arezoo*. They were looking for any evidence of the family\'s Christian faith.
“In our house church, we used to sing ‘I Surrender All,’” Donya says, “and we always asked each other, ‘Are you ready and willing to surrender everything to Jesus?’” As the secret police tore through her house, Donya told the Lord:
“I am ready to surrender everything.”
In many other countries in the Middle East, worshipping in public or sharing your faith openly is dangerous. So many Christians choose to keep their faith secret and worship in isolation. That’s particularly true of Christians from a Muslim background, like Taher and his family. If their faith is discovered, they are likely to receive long prison sentences for ‘crimes against national security\'.
Taher was at his job in a textile factory while the raid was happening. He got a call from the secret service: “Taher, you need to come home, now.” When Taher got home, they put him in handcuffs, blindfolded him and made him get in their car. It was terrifying – but Taher wasn\'t alone:
“Right then and there, I felt Jesus beside me.”
This raid wasn\'t a total surprise. Taher knew that the secret service were targeting Christians. He was aware of the risk – but believed it was worth it, in order to tell others about Jesus and to disciple new believers. So he continued to meet secretly with other Christians, and to share his faith with his friends and co-workers.
He did all this, knowing what might follow.
The day Taher was taken away was the first of many long, terrible days of interrogation. The secret police questioned Taher ruthlessly for many hours, day and night. They wanted to know what he did with other Christians, what songs they sang, where he got money from. Most of all, they wanted Taher to write down the names of the other Christians he knew. They put a pen down before him and waited. Taher’s courage is astonishing: he refused to write down a single name.
Taher did secretly take the pen back to his cell, though. Rather than betray the believers he knew, he wanted to use the pen to encourage believers he didn\'t know. On the wall, in a corner of his prison cell, he wrote a version of Matthew 7:7: “Ask, seek, knock and it will be given to you.”
Taher desperately hoped these words would encourage Christians just like him – believers who would be arrested and find themselves in this same 3x6 foot cell. Perhaps these faint messages would give others courage to stay strong in the face of their interrogators.
The secret police didn’t just interrogate Taher. They threatened his family – taking him to a cell block which housed murderers, rapists and other dangerous criminals, asking “Is this where you want your kids to go? In here with them? This is where they\'ll end up if you don’t cooperate and give us the names of the Christians you know – now!” Taher remembers it as the greatest test of his faith. Of course, he wanted to protect his family. But he recalled the words of the same song that Donya had recalled: “I surrender all”. Despite everything, his faith stayed strong and he didn’t betray his friends.
The secret service eventually released Taher on bail. During his sentencing, Taher was given one condition for his release: that he stop telling other people about Jesus. The judge told Taher that he wouldn’t get such leniency a second time – that, if he were arrested again, he would be executed.
You might remember the apostles’ miraculous escape from prison in Acts 5. Peter and others had been arrested and put in the public jail – “But during the night, an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out” (Acts 5:19). As soon as they were released, the apostles once again began preaching about Jesus in the temple courts. When he was challenged, Peter said：
“We must obey God rather than human beings!”Acts 5:29
Taher\'s response was exactly the same. What did he do when he was released by the judge? “I went back home and started ministering and evangelising again,” he says. Amazingly, he has also forgiven the interrogators who persecuted him so relentlessly: “The time that I had with Jesus in prison was the real freedom for me.”
Taher, Donya and their daughters are now refugees in Turkey.
Spending time with Jesus isn’t something Taher always longed for. Growing up in his closed country in the Middle East as a strict Muslim, he felt something was missing but had never really considered Jesus – until his daughter Farah was ten and became very seriously ill.
Taher and Donya took Farah to many Muslim leaders for prayer and healing, but nothing happened. In desperation, Donya asked for prayer from some Christian friends, who courageously had not kept their faith completely secret. Shortly after this special gathering, God miraculously healed Farah!
Donya decided to follow Jesus, but Taher took a while to be convinced. When he did eventually put his faith in Jesus, he felt an instantaneous change: “It was like that burden came off my shoulders,” Taher says. “The burden I thought I would have – to give an account for my sins when I died – came off. It felt like I was flying. It was the most beautiful moment of my life.”
It was the most beautiful decision Taher ever made – and perhaps the most dangerous. Since then, he has known a deep and personal relationship with Jesus, but he has also had to leave the country he loves. After his release from prison, the secret service followed Taher and his family everywhere. He couldn’t find a job and the regular harassment became overwhelming. Eventually, they decided to leave their country. Now the family are refugees in Turkey – though they hope to return home one day, to keep telling the good news of Jesus to their community.
For now, life is difficult in Turkey. They are grateful to be a little safer, but refugees have almost no rights, work is hard to find and their future is uncertain. But Taher, Donya and their children are still sure of the joy of Christ. When asked if everything they’ve experienced is worth it – losing their home, their work, friends, family and material possessions – Donya doesn’t hesitate:
“Jesus is worth everything. In my opinion, we have not paid any price yet.”
No believer should face persecution alone – and, thanks to people like you, Open Doors is meeting secret believers in the Middle East at every stage of their journey.
Open Doors partners help people hear about Jesus online, offer discipleship and leadership training, give practical and spiritual support and provide a safe place for believers who’ve had to flee as refugees to a neighbouring country.
Without a Christian community, it is really difficult for an isolated, secret believer to grow in their faith – and to withstand the pressure to return to Islam. Your support can show your brothers and sisters in the Middle East that they are not alone, and help them persevere, stand firm in their faith and be bold witnesses to their community.
*Name changed for security reasons