By Martin Roth
Stephen Timms, a British Labour Party Member of Parliament has written of his experiences in Turkey, investigating the persecution of Christians in Iran. He reports that Turkey has many churches for Iranian exiles, and he writes about some Iranian Christians:
* Natan became a Christian because he read a New Testament given to him by a young woman who lived next door.
I asked if he had discussed it with her. He pointed out he couldn’t – as a bachelor, it would have been improper for him to have long conversations with her. One day in 2011, Farhad [Natan’s brother] and Natan went by motorbike to give out New Testaments in a village. A police car gave chase, the officers drawing a gun at one point. Trying to escape on their motorbike, they crashed and were injured. They were taken into police custody, and had no medical treatment at all for a week. They were in prison for six weeks, part in solitary confinement, then released on bail. Natan decided to flee the country.
* Matthew was arrested for his faith, along with his wife, and imprisoned for three months, including a month in solitary confinement.
He was in a cell with ten others, including a journalist, an academic and other professionals, who shared a shower and toilet between them. On release, he fled to Turkey. His mother in law, who put up her house deeds as bail for him, was going to have to return to the police station shortly and was expected to have to forfeit her home.
* In Istanbul, Timms heard from an Iranian Christian of a small village where all the residents had become Christians – probably through watching a satellite TV broadcast.
[This Iranian Christian] met a nomadic family of seven people there who told him that, not long previously, as they did every year, they arrived at the village to rent a field and farm their animals for a season. They soon noticed something had changed. For a start, they were charged much less rent than usual, and for the first time they were given access to the landowner’s well. They found out these changes were because the landowner had become a Christian. The upshot was this family came to faith too. Only one of the seven, a young girl, can read. So, every night, when they strike camp, she reads the Bible to them and the family prays together.
Timms adds that the number of Christians in Iran appears to be growing fast:
We met many who had suffered for their faith in Iran – in some cases suffered terribly – but they hadn’t given up. Instead, they appeared to be even more determined to tell their fellow countrymen what they believed. [His emphasis.]
It is stories such as these, from a possibly unexpected source – Stephen Timms is also Chair of the Christian Socialist Movement – that should spur all Christians in the West too, to do all we can to retell these moving and heroic testimonies.