Iran: Christian family lost home, work, friends, family, and all earthly goods

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Growing up as a strict Muslim in Iran, Taher always felt like there was something more—

photo: Open Doors

something he was missing in his life. But it wasn’t until his youngest daughter, Farah, became deathly ill with stomach issues that things dramatically changed.

Taher and Donya took Farah to many Muslim leaders for prayer and healing, but nothing helped. Desperate to see their 10-year-old daughter survive, Donya asked some Christian friends she knew to pray for Farah. They met together, and these believers put their hands on her daughter as they prayed. Shortly after this special gathering, God miraculously healed Farah. After this moment, Donya left Islam to follow Jesus, but Taher still wasn’t convinced. “I was looking for mistakes to prove to my wife that the path she took was wrong,” Taher shares.

As time went on, Taher let other Christians into their home. “After a while, I decided to participate in one of their services in order to find mistakes in their beliefs. I wanted to find flaws in their character and point them out to my wife and forbid her to go to these gatherings,” Taher says.

But during one of these unique worship times in his home, something surprising happened. Taher said a small prayer before he confronted the believers in the room. “I said to myself: ‘Jesus, if you are real, you should touch me today.’”

A few moments later, one of the Christians asked Taher if they could pray for him. He agreed and they gathered around him.

That moment forever changed his life.

During the prayer time, Taher heard and felt the power of the gospel. “It was like that burden came off my shoulders,” Taher shares. “The burden I thought I would have to give an account for my sins when I died came off. It felt like I was flying. It was the most beautiful moment of my life.”

From that day forward, he was a follower of Jesus—and he committed to surrender everything. But for a Muslim in Iran, a country where it’s illegal to convert from Islam, this was no small decision. And soon, this commitment would be put to the test.

A Savior for the handcuffed

Taher heard about the raids on Christian homes by the Iranian secret police, but he was willing to take the risk to continue to meet with other believers and share his faith, secretly, with his friends and co-workers. “I was just so passionate,” he says. He even ordered CDs with Christian literature and discipleship materials to share with other seekers.

One morning, while Taher was at his job at a textile factory, a job he held for 20 years, he received an urgent call. There was a deep, strange voice on the other end: “Taher, you need to come home, now!” It was the secret police. They were in his home.

Donya was at home that morning. “The man at the door told me he was a postal worker,” she remembers. “When I opened the door, he put his foot down so I couldn’t close it.” The secret police burst into the home, insulted Donya and ushered Farah and Arezoo into the living room. The police turned over tables, went through drawers and ransacked the home, looking for any evidence of their Christian faith.

“[In our house church] we used to sing ‘I Surrender All,’” Donya says, “and we always asked each other, ‘Are you ready and willing to surrender everything to Jesus?’”

As the secret police tore through her house, Donya told the Lord: “I’m ready to surrender everything.”

When Taher walked into the house, the authorities rushed to put him in handcuffs and wrapped a blindfold around his head. They led Taher through the door, put him in a car and drove away. “Right then and there, I felt Jesus beside me,” Taher says.

The real cost of discipleship

For the next week, the secret police interrogated Taher from midnight until 4 a.m. every night—and at different times throughout the day.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU MEET WITH OTHER CHRISTIANS?

WHAT SONGS DO YOU SING?

WHAT ORGANIZATION ARE YOU WORKING FOR?

ARE YOU RECEIVING MONEY FROM ISRAEL?

WHAT ARE THE NAMES OF ALL THE OTHER CHRISTIANS?

WRITE DOWN THEIR NAMES!

When they weren’t interrogating Taher, they threw him back in the tiny cell. It was the same horrific routine, day and night.

In his small, 3×6-foot prison cell in Iran, Taher would lean against the cold block wall and quietly sing. The song was the hymn his family often sang when their secret house church gathered. The sound bounced off the walls; each word he sang empowered Taher with peace and boldness:

ALL TO JESUS I SURRENDER, ALL TO HIM I FREELY GIVE; I WILL EVER LOVE AND TRUST HIM, IN HIS PRESENCE DAILY LIVE. I SURRENDER ALL. I SURRENDER ALL

When the guards came to get him, to drag him to the interrogation room for yet another round of abuse, he felt ready. Before Taher left the interrogation room one night, he quietly slid a pen from the table into his pocket. Sharing this part of his story brings a smile to Taher’s face. When they returned him to his cell, he began to scribble in the cracks of the wall. “Ask, seek, knock, and it will be given to you,” he wrote on the wall near the floor, with the reference to Matthew 7:7.

He desperately hoped these words and the other verses he etched into the prison block walls would encourage Christians just like him—believers from Iran who would be arrested and find themselves in this same cell. Perhaps these faint messages would give others courage to stay strong in the face of their interrogators.

But things got worse. At one point, the guards took Taher to a cell block with murderers, rapists and dangerous criminals. There, they asked him: “Is this where you want your kids to go? In here with them? This is where they’ll end up. You need to cooperate and give us the names, now!”

As Taher shares this memory, a flood of emotion overwhelms him. He pulls his hands up over his eyes and begins to cry and shake. In these moments of silence, I feel the weight of his time in prison. The full weight of persecution. We break from our interview and sit in silence for a few minutes. My teammate and I place our hands on Taher and begin to pray. It’s all we know how to do.

After about 10 minutes, we ask him what he’d like to do. We want to be careful not to add to Taher’s trauma by making him relive these nightmares. But he says: “Please, let me continue. I want to share my story.”

Taher knew he couldn’t control what happened to his family. As a father, all he wanted to do was protect them. It was the greatest test of his faith, but Taher still didn’t break. He knew his wife and kids had sung the same song: “I surrender all,” and he knew they wanted him to stand strong for Jesus. “I never gave up one name,” Taher says.

‘I’m with you to the end’

The secret service eventually released Taher on bail. After his release, Taher reunited with his family, but the persecution didn’t stop. When he tried to go back to work, he was let go. “My employer told me I was defiled and dirty for being a Christian,” he says.

Donya adds: “Our phones were tapped, and there was always a car in front of our home. They had us under heavy surveillance. We knew that the secret service was watching us.”

Months later, Taher was summoned to the courtroom to stand before a judge. The judge told Taher he had rebelled against the government by promoting evangelical Christianity, and, because he was a Muslim who became a Christian, his sentence should be execution. But before the judge could give his sentence, Taher asked for a short recess. During this recess, he met with his wife in the stairwell of the courthouse.

“Are you willing to continue on the path we took, even if it gets harder? Will you stay with me,” he asked, “even if I never denounce Jesus?”

“I’m with you to the end,” Donya said. Then they prayed together, committing their decision to the Lord. If the judge asked him to deny Jesus, he would refuse.

Miraculously, during his sentencing, the judge decided to have mercy on Taher and released him under one condition—Taher was ordered to stop evangelizing. If the authorities arrested him again, the judge would have no leniency, and the conviction would be execution.

When I ask Taher what he did after his release, he smiles slyly and says, “I went back home and started ministering and evangelizing again.” However, during this time, Taher had to be incredibly careful. He discipled people secretly in his car and in public places like parks, always aware the secret police could be watching.

Eventually, the situation in Iran became too dangerous for Taher and his family. The secret service followed them everywhere. He couldn’t find a job, and the regular harassment became overwhelming. The Iranian authorities made it impossible for them to live freely.

One night, Taher called a family meeting at the dinner table and they prayerfully made the decision to leave Iran. It would be a costly decision. They would leave their family, friends and material possessions all behind.

Today, Taher, Donya, Farah and Arezoo are refugees in Turkey, but they still love their country and hope to return someday if God opens up a door for them.

‘All to Him I freely give’

Life in Turkey is extremely difficult and challenging. Their decision to follow Jesus didn’t just spark persecution in Iran—the trickle-down effects of their faith have made their future unknown. Like thousands of Iranian refugees in Turkey, they are people with few to no rights as citizens. But even during these struggles, the joy they have in Christ overflows.

Taher has forgiven his interrogators and isn’t bitter about his time in prison or how the secret service treated him. “The time that I had with Jesus in prison was the real freedom for me,” he says.

Taher also hopes the small messages he wrote on his cell walls are still there to encourage other prisoners to seek Jesus and surrender all.

When I ask if it was worth it—losing all their material possessions, their home, work, friends and family, and leaving their country—Donya tells me: “Jesus is worth everything and, in my opinion, we have not paid any price yet.”

“I would give even more. It’s still worth it,” Taher adds.

On the last day of our visit, we pack up our gear and pray together in a circle. We prolong our visit with one last cup of tea. There are tears before we leave. “We wish you could stay longer,” Donya says. “Letting us share our stories has reminded us of all that God has done in our lives.”

As we wave our goodbyes, I’m reminded about just how special it is to be with our persecuted brothers and sisters—as One Church and One Family. To sit, to share tea, to have a meal. To be the recipient of the family’s taroof, knowing they joyfully serve even as they have very little.

I wish everyone could have the chance to spend time with Taher and his family—to experience their passion for the Lord and the joy they have in the midst of suffering and persecution. When we experience these connections with our persecuted family—whether it’s through sharing stories, dedicated prayer time or even sending encouraging letters—something powerful happens to strengthen the Body of Christ. Something beyond this world. Something eternal. Beautiful. As I walk away, the hymn “I Surrender All” echoes in my ears with new meaning. – Open Doors

Please continue to lift up Taher and his family in earnest prayer. Their future is uncertain, but their faith is strong. And please continue to pray for secret believers across the Muslim world who follow Jesus at great risk today. To send a letter of encouragement to Taher and his family, go here