Our field has alerted us to nine recent convictions of Christians in Iran—where it is illegal to convert from Islam and to participate in a house church. Please pray specifically, by name, for these men who have been sentenced to five years in prison for their Christian faith and living it out.
They heard the verdict on 13 October, after a short hearing late September, pronounced each receive five years in prison for “acting against national security”—a charge the state often uses to prosecute Christians for their house church activities.
Pastor Matthias Haghnejad: He was arrested on February 10 when Iran’s Revolutionary Guard raided his house church gathering in Rasht where he was ministering; Bibles and cell phones were confiscated.
The other eight were arrested between January 31 and February 23. The list below includes all Christians to pray for by name (including Pastor Matthias):
- Pastor Matthias Haghnejad
- Khalil Dehkanpour
- Hossein (Elisha) Kadivar’
- Kamal Naamanian
- Mohammed Vafada
- Shahrooz Eslamdous
- Babak Hosseinzadeh
- Mehdi Khatibi
- Behnam Akhlaghi
They were arrested in a series of raids in northern city of Rasht in January and February. Three of them, as well as Abdolreza Ali Haghnejad, had been co-leading a house church in the absence of their pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani. Nadarkhani was sentenced to 10 years in prison in July 2017 and recently went on a hunger strike to protest the treatment of his children by the education authorities.
Five of them, including Pastor Haghnejad, were sent back to Evin prison under increased bail after their lawyer was rejected by Judge Mohammed Moghiseh and they refused to accept an alternative lawyer appointed by the court.
The men are appealing their sentences.
Iran is number 9 on the 2019 World Watch List. Christians make up less than one per cent of the population, but it is believed that the number of converts is increasingly rapidly.
Friends of those who have been sentenced request prayer for them and their families that:
- the Lord will encourage the nine men and their families and that their faith in Christ will be strengthened
- the appeal will be successful and the unjust sentences overturned
- Pray that belief in Jesus Christ and following Him won’t be perceived as “acting against national security” by the Iranian authorities and that Iranian citizens will no longer be persecuted for holding to different religious beliefs.
Called to Remember the Prisoner
Open Doors has visited and ministered to enough ex-prisoners to know all too well that while believers like these demonstrate unimaginable perseverance and faith behind bars, they’re also suffering as they endure. They feel abandoned, depressed, oppressed. They are weary and crippled physically and emotionally.
But we can take comfort in knowing that our sovereign, omniscient and omnipotent God knows about every arrest, every conviction and every prison sentence, and every appeal won and lost. And that He has a plan our limited human view can’t comprehend. In the meantime, God has asked us to pray in these specific situations.
Writing in a time of great persecution for Christ followers who had lost property, been thrown into prison, were ostracized from their Jewish community, etc., the author of Hebrews offers a clear call to prayer for those who are suffering for the gospel:
“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Heb. 13:3).
And in Matthew 25:34-36, Jesus is clear that when we enter into the suffering of others, we are answering His call:
“Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.”
We also know, through conversations with ex-prisoners and our ministry partners, that the prayers of the worldwide church are like a nourishing lifeline. We are called to intercede for one another, and when we do, God uses that obedience to strengthen both us and the prisoner.
We have numerous accounts from ex-prisoners and persecuted believers telling us that they sensed the Body of Christ praying for them in their prison cell—and that they drew strength from that knowledge, especially in the most difficult situations.