Rachel* was shivering, hidden away in the farthest corner of her house while there was loud knocking at the door. What Rachel never expected to happen did happen that day – the secret police had come to arrest her. She looked at her nine-year-old daughter, clinging to her chest in utter fear. This was the price she had to pay for being a leader in the Church in Iran; this was parenting under extreme persecution.
Love, nothing but love. Endless, intense love. That was how Rachel’s journey with Christ started, about 10 years earlier. Going from a deep feeling of emptiness to being fulfilled with Christ’s love was so overwhelming for Rachel that she didn’t even think of persecution; or going to jail for her faith, for that matter. “I just wanted to worship God,” Rachel says. “Nothing else mattered.”
It was Rachel’s sister that had taken her to the house church service for the first time. Later that same day she had had a dream about Jesus and had given her life to Him. For two years she attended the house church of her pastors, drinking in the ‘spiritual milk’, as she calls it, poured out there. Her husband also found Christ.
And then Rachel’s daughter Kimya was born. Rachel’s church had been bursting at the seams with the new believers that kept coming in, and Rachel and her husband had become leaders in as little as two years’ time. Being a leader meant taking more risk than ordinary church members, but even with her daughter born, Rachel didn’t worry.
And it did go well, for a remarkable amount of time. Kimya and the other children grew up in a church that was blessed with a Sunday school, but they knew that they couldn’t talk about church with their class mates. “God gave our children wisdom,” says Rachel.
And then, one day, Rachel found herself hiding from the secret police, her terrified daughter in her arms. That day, Rachel made the police believe she wasn’t at home. But later, while her husband was taking Kimya to school, the police arrested her and took her to prison.
“They put me in solitary confinement and, all alone, I started to cry. I was thinking about my daughter and what would happen to her.”
DOUBT AND TRUST
Afraid and alone Rachel starts doubting her choices, doubting her God. What happened with the protection she expected from God? Why hadn’t He protected her, or her daughter, from this trouble? “The first 3 or 4 days I didn’t talk to God,” Rachel admits. “I was so disappointed in Him.”
The prison is hard on Rachel. When she isn’t in her cell all by herself, she is interrogated and insulted by the police officers. She is not allowed to make calls, to calm her daughter over the phone. In two weeks’ time she lost 13 kilos, her clothes were just hanging off her scraggy body.
But, and this is an important point for Rachel, she didn’t feel alone anymore. After just another day of long, humiliating interrogations, Rachel finally gets some sleep. And during that sleep she hears a verse: ‘He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him.’ (John 1:10). It’s a turning point for Rachel, “I was afraid in the first few days,” she says, “but when I had the dream, and started to pray again, I felt that God went with me everywhere I went.”
Having God by her side didn’t mean it was easy. Rachel thought a lot about her daughter, worrying about her. “Sometimes I think back to those days and wonder how I did it. I discovered that I could deal with my anxiousness about my daughter because I prayed for her in prison, praying every single day.”
LOVE OF JESUS
Two weeks after Rachel went into prison she was finally allowed to call her daughter. “I started crying as soon as I heard her voice,” Rachel remembers. “I learned that my daughter was sick and I felt so bad.” Rachel, trying to hold back her tears as much as she could, manages to calm her daughter down a bit. “I am ok, don’t worry,” she said. “Just be kind to your father, and I will be back.”
The woman sitting beside Rachel had been listening in on the call. She asked: “Why are you making it so hard for yourself? All for that Christ?” It was a question Rachel had learned to answer in the weeks before. She was firm in her reply. “I told the woman: ‘Jesus is real, and he changed my heart. He is worth it to give everything in my life.’”
After a month in prison Rachel got out on bail. Words can’t describe the happiness she felt when she got to embrace her daughter again. “She couldn’t let go of me. She said: ‘Mommy, please don’t ever leave me again.’” Holding her daughter, Rachel knew that if she stayed in Iran, she would go back to prison, and this time they might also take her husband. There was only one option left: flee Iran, no matter how hard it would be.
A family scarred by their experiences but having grown in their faith. “In prison I learned to trust God. Really trust God, on a deep level,” says Rachel: “I also changed as a mother. I am even more passionate to teach my daughter about Christ and spend time reading the Bible with her.”
Kimya, a few years older now, is a strong believer despite everything. “My daughter saw how God worked in my life, how He helped us to get out of the country. She never had a vision of Jesus, but this was a testimony for her.”
*Names are altered for security reasons.
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