“I love Israel,” an Iranian delegate told a conference in Manchester aimed at building bridges between Middle Eastern followers of Jesus.
“I may be from Iran, but I love Israel, and there are Christians praying for Israel inside Iran.”
The young man, whose name is being withheld for security reasons, was addressing the UK at the Crossroads event hosted by the Church’s Ministry among Jewish people (CMJ), a 200-year-old Anglican society.
A refugee forced to flee Iran because he had become a Christian, he spoke of the growing church in his adopted city led by a pastor who gives clear teaching about the special place of Israel in God’s purposes.
With the government and police on his case after converting to Christianity from Islam (which is against the law), he and his wife fled Iran three years ago, hidden in a wooden box on the back of a lorry for a tortuous 72-day journey to the UK. God watched over every detail, even in directing him to an Iranian church when he finally arrived in an English city.
Although financially secure back home with a house and car, he was empty inside and became disillusioned by the harshness of Islam. A troubling home life didn’t help and he became addicted to medicinal drugs until he learnt to play the sitar. For the first time in his life, he was given a hug, and began to share his problems with his tutor who eventually prayed for him with the laying on of hands in Jesus’ name. He was instantly healed, and subsequently became a believer. Now he wakes up every morning thanking Jesus for bringing him out of darkness.
Another ex-Muslim from Iran struggled to comprehend the harshness of the religion and was “switched on” to Christianity after watching a film about Jesus. She initially came to the UK to visit relatives and subsequently married an Englishman. Her faith, however, was put on the backburner until her five-week-old daughter was diagnosed with a tumour. It reminded her that she was a Christian who “knew someone who could sort it out” and her now five-year-old girl recovered so well that she is even swimming already.
A teenage boy, born in Tehran, told the conference how he turned his back on strict Muslim observance when his heart was touched by a church’s worship band.
Music was regarded as sinful among his radical group. But he was sickened by the brutal treatment of soldiers and shocked by the discovery of guns in a mosque. He realised he was being taught to kill and control people. He had been reaching out to God from an early age, but had found no answers until – in the UK – he heard people talking of Jesus. He reluctantly accepted an invitation to church, where his heart was melted by the music. “They told me this wasn’t about religion, but a relationship with God, which was exactly what I had been looking for all those years. I gave my heart to Jesus Christ, and what a difference it made. Now he’s my Lord, my God …my everything!”
An Iranian bishop, meanwhile, spoke of the suffering endured by Christians in a country where he also experienced discrimination as a member of the Jewish community, who were forced to live in designated areas.
Rt Rev Iraj Kalimi Mottahedh came to faith in Jesus through the influence of his uncle and became minister of a church visited by the Queen and the Shah of Iran. But when the revolution struck in 1979, the Anglican Church was the first to be targeted. A pastor was killed and an assassination attempt was made on the bishop at the time, who survived despite being shot through the head six times.
Iraj himself, who took charge when the bishop left, was imprisoned for eight months, unable to leave the country for twelve years and forbidden to accept Muslim converts into his church.