I Have Decided to Follow JESUS!
These words and this beautiful song are what Mrs. Janet Parshall has often used to introduce stories of the persecuted Church. I will borrow from her.
She uses these words to introduce their stories because it is usually easy for us in America to say I Have Decided to Follow Jesus, and it is much harder for a person in a place like Iran to say these words. It requires the very indwelling Presence of Christ that He promised to give His followers.
The moment I began reading Captive in Iran I was drawn into the true story of Marziyeh and Maryam, two young Iranian women imprisoned for claiming the name of Christ.
Their story is told so well you can feel as much of it as is possible to feel through the printed page.
Listen to how there story begins. "Marziyeh and I had shared this simple apartment north of central Tehran for the past year. I was a quiet flat on a hill, with a fireplace in the living room, white walls, dark red curtains, and modern furniture covered with bold, dark orange fabric and big, poofy pillows. The windows in the two bedrooms looked out onto the beautiful Darkeh Mountains, a popular destination for mountain climbers. From the balcony off the kitchen, we could see the street below and the severe, high walls of the nearby Evin Prison."
It was in the shadow of Evin's walls that Maryam and Marziyeh passed out more than twenty thousand New Testaments, never leaving home without ten or fifteen New Testaments in a backpack. They answered every question about Christ that they were asked. They told the glorious truth of the Gospel to all comers, and this truth fed hungry hearts and made dry souls into well watered gardens.
They broke the law of Iran every time they evangelized or promoted Christ as Savior.
Prison and Death were a looming reality, as solid and real as Evin's walls.
However, nothing would silence these young women as they proclaimed the name of their LORD.
Fellow Christians asked these young women Aren't you afraid of being sent to prison? Of being raped? Of being tortured? And Marziyeh answered, "If God let these things happen to us, it would be to fulfill His will in a way I could not understand. It is a mystery, but I will always trust the LORD."
On March Fifth 2009, two young men from Iran's Revolutionary Guard and one woman came to the door of Maryam and Marziyeh's apartment and searched the place with no warrant, discovering the Bibles and Christian CDs.
These women were taken away into Vozara Detention Center, and eventually to Evin Prison, where every day is a death sentence.
Life as a prisoner in Evin is hard and horrible. Only God can sustain you through time in Evin. The homosexuality, the rampant lesbian attacks on prisoners, the rape, the beatings, the sickness with no cure given. The games played with your mind to try to convince you to give in to them.
Truly, the darkness is deep in Evin. Thousands of women are in Evin on false charges, or bearing the sentence for a corrupt son or father or husband. For women who are released, there is often nothing to go home to.
And yet this book is an awesome story of the mercy of God, and the way He worked through the lives of Maryam and Marziyeh inside Evin prison.
The Gospel of Salvation was explained right within Evin, to prisoners and to guards. Maryam and Marziyeh were writing God is Love and Christ is the Savior onto the walls in the prison, hoping that women who came after them would find these messages. More than that, they were writing the Gospel on the hearts of fellow prisoners, and the Love of Christ was being spread through Evin. They showed love to meth addicts and women accused of murder. They showed love to prostitues and to the little children who were born in the prison. God was with Maryam and Marziyeh, for His own Glory. There were miracles, of God working in the hearts of people who came to Christ.
Listen to Maryam and Marziyeh speak of seeing the sky from the prison.
"To look at the sky from behind the high walls of a prison is like a stone weight on the heart. Sometimes, feeling the wind on our faces, we imagined we were the birds we saw flying so gracefully above, floating and free. We looked through the only window in the hallway at the one hill we could see in the distance and wondered what it would feel to run barefoot along the ridge. Shirin asked, 'Do you think God is looking at us? Do you think He can see us at all?'
'Yes,' Maryam said, 'I think He can see us.'.... It is the universal lament of prisoners everywhere: seeing only a little square of sky reminds them of their isolation from the world and makes them long for more."
Now is the time to read Captive in Iran, because as this is being typed, there are many Christians within Evin's walls, undergoing beatings, torture, and non-existent medical care. One of those is Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen and a Christian Pastor. He has been sentenced to eight years in Evin, and every day there is a death sentence.
As a Christian man, his treatment will be brutal. Maryam and Marziyeh tell the story of Shirin, a political prisoner who was beaten on the head so many times during interrogations that she could not see anymore, and she would begin to bleed from her nose from the trauma to her head. We must life this man up in daily prayer. Please sign the petition to save him at SaveSaeed.org
I am very grateful to Tyndale for sending me a copy of this book, and to Maryam and Marziyeh for writing their story and exposing the darkness of Christian persecution and for reminding us that the Light of Christ shines brighter in deep darkness.