His Exile Extended 11 Months, Christian in Iran Finds Warm Welcome

Ebrahim Firoozi’s term of forcible relocation now nearly three years.

Ebrahim Firoozi in interview with Hovsepian Ministries. (Morning Star News screenshot)

Ebrahim Firoozi in interview with Hovsepian Ministries. (Morning Star News screenshot)

(Morning Star News) – When a convert from Islam in Iran was sentenced to two years in exile in Sarbaz last year, the judge warned him that religious extremists in the remote desert town would treat him harshly.

When Ebrahim Firoozi arrived in November to southwest Iran near the border with Pakistan, though, he discovered the fear the judge had tried to instill in him was unfounded – local Muslims were helpful, open and hospitable, the Christian said in a recent online interview.

This discovery was all the more welcome as in March his term of exile was extended by another 11 months.

Upon his arrival in Sarbaz, one person invited Firoozi to stay at his home the first night; others quickly found him a place to live. Local people’s kindness only increased, he said, when they learned he was exiled for his Christian faith rather than for a crime.

“I found these people to be very noble,” Firoozi, 34, told Joseph Hovsepian of Hovsepian Ministries in an interview posted on YouTube in which he opened up about his conversion and his years in prison before exile.

Firoozi and advocates believe this kindness was an answer to the prayers of worried friends, family and others.

“The reason people were nice to me wasn’t because of my own character or my goodness. It was all because of God,” Firoozi told Hovsepian.

Released from Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj on Oct. 26, Firoozi was ordered to report to Sarbaz following a brief period to order personal matters. Shortly after arriving, though, he sought permission to leave the area to settle family affairs in Hamedan and, receiving no response, in December he departed.

As a result, he received an additional eight months of exile for violating terms of the sentence and three more for failing to show for a daily check-in, according to advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC).

Besides punishment, the purpose of exile is to keep people from continuing to be an influence in their areas, a researcher at MEC told Morning Star News. He added, however, that Firoozi has been an inspiration to Christians in his desire to stay in Iran, rather than fleeing in the face of persecution, and in his attitude throughout the process.

“His faithfulness in the midst of persecution is an inspiration to others,” he said.

Firoozi’s lifestyle in exile is simple, the researcher at MEC added, and he spends much of his time reading Christian literature.

It is unknown whether Firoozi has found work in the area, but Hovsepian told Morning Star News, “He is not alone, and he will be taken care of.”

Prison

Before exile, Firoozi had spent almost seven years in prison, starting in 2011, when agents searched his house, arrested him and presented tracts and other materials as evidence against him, he said in his online interview.

The judge initially sentenced Firoozi to 10 months in prison. When Firoozi was released, he continued to share his faith, and in 2013 he was given a one-year sentence and two years in exile.

Five years were added to the one-year sentence. As he was preparing to turn himself in to serve the initial one-year sentence, Firoozi said, he met with people to say goodbye, during which agents entered and interrogated them and accused him of conducting a Bible study group, and five years were added to his initial one-year sentence.

He was sentenced to five years under charges of “crimes against national security,” “participating in illegal gatherings” and “colluding with foreign entities.” Criminal charges are given to Christian converts for involvement and fellowship with Christian groups and activities. The sentences, Firoozi said, are rarely put in writing to avoid evidence of unjust convictions.

In court he was pressured to ask for forgiveness and renounce his faith in exchange for a lighter sentence, he told Hovsepian.

“But that was absolutely not an option for me,” he said. “I could never turn my back on my faith and submit to this, and by God’s grace I encountered a few years in prison in exchange for an eternity with him.”

Faith

At the beginning of his faith journey, Firoozi said he knew that he would face this type of persecution.

His journey began at age 20, when his family moved from Hamadan to Tehran. Through Christian media, he was introduced to a Christ much different than the one he had heard of while growing up.

When the friends he had been staying with blocked the Christian programs, he listenedto short-wave radio broadcasts with headphones on the roof of the house, Bible in hand, until he could find his own place. Through subsequent contacts with Christians, he said, “I came to accept him as my Lord and Savior.”

After his conversion, he openly shared his faith and gave people Bibles, and even declared himself as Christian on official forms.

Staying in Iran

While emphasizing that his experience in prison was not necessarily like that of all Christian inmates, Firoozi said he was not mistreated. He was eventually allowed to have a Bible, to build a small library, and when all Christians were transferred to Rajai Shahr Prison in 2013, he was able to be with fellow believers.

He told Hovsepian that in prison he realized the value of freedom, love and grace toward others as well as the endurance and submission required of biblical heroes like Job.

While serving his sentence, his mother died. Hovsepian said the fact that Firoozi’s heart is not filled with bitterness is a testament to his character.

“In a way I would say maybe he is an icon of the young generation of persecuted believers in Iran,” said Hovsepian, 46.

While there is hope that in future generations Christians will not be imprisoned for their faith, Hovsepian noted that persecution often strengthens the church.

“I have seen that wherever there is persecution, the church grows fast,” he said. “The church purifies. The church unites, and the opposite also happens wherever there is no persecution.”

While some might use their conversion as a means to request asylum abroad, Firoozi told Hovsepian that he has no intention of doing so. Instead, he wants to stay, bring change and spread hope and the gospel to Iranian people.

He asked for prayers that Iranians would be granted human rights, that those in prison would feel supported and that the leaders of the country would have a change of heart.

“I don’t want people to be discouraged by stories of people like myself being imprisoned or other believers being persecuted in Iran or other countries,” Firoozi said, “but instead I want them to emphasize the fact that God is with the church in Iran and gives the church grace and strength to endure in difficult times.”

Iran was ranked ninth on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

If you would like to help persecuted Christians, visit https://morningstarnews.org/resources/aid-agencies/ for a list of organizations that can orient you on how to get involved.  

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Comments

  1. Bro. Nick Nicholas says

    — WHO EVEN CARES ? — For in another article about the Persecution of MY Iranian Christian brother Ebrahim Firouzi
    — Iranian Christian’s Exile Extended by 11 Months — Christian News Network – on March 14, 2020
    – There have been ONLY THREE (3) comments and 2 ‘Thumbs UP’ in ONE (1) Month
    .
    — I CARE — For I am a Biblically “saved” and “born again” “believeth” follower of “the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” – a ‘Biblical CHRISTian’ –
    – AND it is My brothers and sisters “in Christ Jesus our Lord” in IRAN who are enduring more and ever-more Persecution by their “antichrist” spirited Government
    — AND the Persecution of MY Christian “brethren” – men – and women – and boys – and girls – AND BABIES — It is also occurring in 140+ ‘OTHER COUNTRIES’ — RIGHT NOW —
    .
    Mission Network News certainly wrote the factual words of condemnation in their article
    – Persecution creates threats to the Gospel – By Bethann Flynn – November 13, 2019
    — Challenges in the West —
    ‘One of the challenges groups like FEBC face is actually the North American and Western Churches.
    Christians in these two regions are relatively unaware or unengaged with (the) realities of persecution facing parts of the global Church. … ‘
    .
    Unfortunately – the vast majority of the ‘Religious Christian People’ here in this self-proclaimed ‘Greatest Country in the World’ of ‘Amerika’ DO NOT know – or even care about what the late Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand (Mar 1909 – Feb 2001) WARNED
    – And he spent 14 years imprisoned and tortured by the Romanian Communist government for his publick proclamations of his unwavering ‘Biblical CHRISTian’ faith in “the Lord Jesus Christ” –
    ‘I tremble because of the sufferings of those persecuted in different lands.
    I tremble thinking about the eternal destiny of their torturers.
    I tremble for Western Christians who don’t help their persecuted brethren.’
    .
    – For part of ‘Putting on the Whole Armour of God’ (Ephesians 6:10-20 ~AV~KJV) that is written unto ALL of us who truly are ‘Biblical CHRISTians’ are “the words of truth” written in Verse 18 :
    “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit,
    and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for ALL SAINTS ;”
    .
    – ALSO – In 1 Thessalonians 5:23-25 [AV] “it is written” unto ALL of us who truly are ‘Biblical CHRISTians’ :
    And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly;
    and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.
    BRETHREN, PRAY FOR US.
    .
    – AND – “it is written” unto ALL of us who truly are ‘Biblical CHRISTians’ in Hebrews 13:3 [AV] :
    “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them ;
    and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.”
    .

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