In the early morning hours of Christmas 2010, Iranian government forces arrested scores of Christian home-church leaders in surprise raids around the country. Among those arrested was a newly married couple, Yousef and Rozhin.*
Incarcerated in separate locations, Yousef and Rozhin were repeatedly told by their captors that the other had denounced their faith. In fact, both remained steadfast in their beliefs despite the harsh conditions. On day 23, Rozhin was taken once again to an interrogation room for questioning. This time, when officials removed her blindfold, she saw Yousef seated across from her. In the short time allowed together, the couple cried tears of joy and shared how God had been caring for them while in prison.
“They planned to break us,” says Rozhin of the guards’ strategy for arranging the brief meeting with Yousef. “But God used that time to bless us instead. Because of those few minutes together, we continued stronger than before.”
Rozhin remained in solitary confinement for 30 days, but Yousef was imprisoned for more than three months because of his beliefs. In that time, he scribbled down 40 pages of Bible stories from memory onto scraps of paper that he then shared with fellow cellmates and his overseer. After the pair was released to await sentencing, the regime held their passports. When each received multiple-year jail terms, they knew they had to act quickly.
“We decided to come out of Iran,” says Rozhin. “We didn’t have passports, so we decided to come through a smuggler over the mountains on horses like in the action movies.” The couple escaped Iran and the certainty of prison, finding shelter in a neighboring country.
They planned to break us, but God used that time to bless us instead
Rozhin describes their time living there: “We saw how other transplanted Iranians were interested and open for the word of God and the gospel. We started serving God in a small church of about 40 members — pastoring, discipling, and evangelizing. God did an amazing thing; in just one year, that church grew to 400 members.”
Yousef and Rozhin now live in the United States and work with Elam Ministries to train and equip Iranian church leaders for ministry in the Iran region. Their work is timely and crucial, as Iran is experiencing one of the “fastest growing underground church movements” in the world, according to Heart4Iran Ministries. Christian leadership development is one of the greatest needs of the Iranian church today. Yousef and Rozhin’s own experience with persecution has not diminished their willingness to help meet that need.
“To see their faith and boldness gives us encouragement to continue,” says Rozhin of the many church leaders they have discipled who remain in the homeland, often at great risk. “We know that persecution is part of faith, so we ask for prayers for God to protect their faith during times of persecution. For me and Yousef, we pray for God to give us the wisdom to continue working for his glory.”
Protecting those persecuted around the world simply for their faith and beliefs has been a hallmark of the International Religious Freedom Act, signed into law two decades ago. To commemorate the anniversary of this landmark legislation, 21Wilberforce recently released The 20th Anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act: A Retrospective. Download a free copy here to learn more about the history of a movement and to add your voice in support of people like Yousef and Rozhin.
*Names have been changed for protectionTake Action