Fear Not them which Kill the Body
By Gabriel J. Waddell
Special to ASSIST News Service
FRESNO, CA (ANS) -- For 33-year old Pastor Behrouz, waking up in an Iranian jail cell has to feel like a recurring nightmare. But while even the worst nightmare ends in waking reality, the threat of death – for nothing more than sharing his faith – is the reality greeting each morning for this house church leader.
The First Arrests
Pastor Behrouz in prayer with fellow believers
Three years ago, Tehran-based pastor Behrouz Sadegh-Khandjani was arrested over Christmas, pulled from his home for charges of evangelization and the corresponding “threat” to Iranian security that such ministry entailed. The modus operandi of the Iranian security forces was as simple as it was brutal: show up without warning in the early morning hours, and haul off unsuspecting house church leaders for a day of interrogation. Most leaders subjected to this treatment throughout December, 2006, were released quickly, but not so for Pastor Behrouz. Instead of release, he was held for weeks, even after the evangelization charge was dropped, and he was instead charged with failure to pay off debts.
It took an unlikely mediator to cause his release – another Middle Eastern government stepped in, according to Pastor Behrouz's brother, and negotiated the release. Pastor Behrouz was released with a new understanding of the ability of Iranian authorities to “kill the body.” (Matthew 10:28) Faced with such a demonstration, the only logical choice would be to comply with the orders of those with such a power. But not for this courageous pastor; his ministry continued, and it grew.
Because of his courage, Pastor Behrouz is again under persecution – new, fresh, and far worse than before.
Baiting a Pastor with his Congregation
According to the Iran Human Rights Voice, the authorities detained a number of people suspected of being Christian, in the southern city of Shiraz in early January, 2010. They interrogated these believers, and through the interrogation identified Pastor Behrouz as the leader of the house church.
They then used these arrested members of his congregation as bait, calling him before the Ministry of Intelligence on January 11, 2010. Thinking that he could facilitate the release of these believers, Pastor Behrouz, along with five others, went willingly.
They promptly disappeared. Fearing the worst, their families began the search, and eventually learned that these leaders had been arrested and were being held in an undisclosed location, on familiar-sounding charges: evangelization and apostasy, and thereby threatening Iranian security.
Since that time, their families have been led on a crooked maze of disinformation as they have attempted to find information on their loved ones. Pastor Behrouz's brother, living in Turkey, has been informed multiple times that the authorities will allow the prisoners to communicate with their families, but these promises have never been fulfilled. Hearing nothing from the authorities, this brother and many others are working frantically behind the scenes to put pressure on the government for his release. Most of all, though, they are praying.
Pastor Behrouz (right) preaching in the Middle East
Only one thing has been communicated loud and clear: Instead of simply being charged, this time Pastor Behrouz and his fellow leaders has been convicted of apostasy and evangelization.
Under Shariah law, apostasy is a conviction that bears the death penalty, and it is to this threat that Pastor Behrouz wakes each morning. And yet, the threat of that final sleep is the hope of the end of all nightmares, all pain, and all suffering. And it is that hope that allowed the apostle Paul to say, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)
And it is that hope that should drive us to our knees, praying for Pastor Behrouz, for his wife and his daughter, for his fellow suffering Christians, and for the believers living under the constant threat of a similar fate – and the constant hope of a perfect eternity with our omnipotent God.
Gabriel J. Waddell has had the privilege of meeting and ministering to persecuted Christians throughout Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. He sits on the Board of Directors of Remember (www.RememberThose.org), an international non-profit dedicated to meeting the needs of widows and orphans of Christian martyrs. Gabriel is an attorney specializing in bankruptcy and debt relief issues, and lives with his wife in Fresno, California.
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