Release International has given its backing to a new campaign to support Iranian Christians being denied a place of worship.
#Place2Worship is an initiative being supported by several Christian agencies in the UK and which seeks to challenge the restrictions currently placed on Iranian Christians who speak Persian (or Farsi, as it is known in Iran).
Imagine, as a Christian, you are living in Iran. You want to go to church, to worship God in your everyday national language.
But this is not allowed.
So the only option you have is to worship God in your own home.
But this is not allowed, either.
In fact, if the authorities find out, you are liable to be accused of acting against national security and be thrown into jail.
So if you were in Iran today, what would you do?
It’s estimated 115 Christians were arrested in 2020 alone. Between them, they were sentenced to 147 years in prison.
That’s the reality facing Christians in modern-day Iran.
And that’s the reality facing believers Babak Hosseinzadeh and Behnam Akhlaghi. They were sentenced to five years for ‘acting against national security through promoting Christian Zionism’.
Iran sets up Christians as enemies of the state – simply for believing in Jesus.
During a period on furlough, they wrote a letter with another pastor, Saheb Fadaie – who is serving six years for Christian worship. In their letter they ask the authorities one highly pertinent question: ‘Where should I attend a church after my release?’
The only churches Iran will recognise are those for Christians of Assyrian or Armenian descent. And these must hold services in their historic languages. Iran forbids any Christian services in the Persian language – effectively locking most of its own citizens out of church.
And Iran then jails them for holding services in their own homes.
What would you do?
As he prepared to return to jail, Babak Hosseinzadeh recorded a video respectfully posing this question to the authorities:
‘After these five years, when I am released, will you put me back in prison again because I continue to believe in Christ? Will I be separated from my family again?’
For some, Church is not a luxury. It is their lifeblood.
‘I crave being at church in a gathering of believers,’ said Iranian Christian ‘Parmida’. ‘My heart’s desire is to experience the excitement of being in God’s presence with others, singing worship songs.’
Parmida is a viewer of Christian TV channel SAT-7, which broadcasts into Iran in the national language. She said: ‘My church fellowship is only through Christian channels like yours.’
SAT-7 is a partner of Release International.
Many converts to Christianity in Iran have been sentenced to between two and ten years in prison, on overblown charges of undermining national security.
Yet Iran is a signatory to Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – which guarantees all its citizens freedom of religion.
This includes the right to choose and change their faith and to worship individually or with others – in public or in private.
Even so, according to reports, the authorities have closed down almost every Protestant and Catholic Persian-speaking church. And they permit just four other churches to remain open, which they keep under close surveillance. All are small. And all are all barred to visitors and forbidden from adding new members.
So if you were a Christian in Iran today, what would you do?
You can read more about the campaign which has prompted a letter to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights at: #Place2Worship.
Watch Iranian Christian Behnham Akhlaghi call for a #Place2Worship below: