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

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Be encouraged as you read this praise report!

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 the Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

Urgent Prayer Request: Please pray for Anita who gave her life to our Lord and converted to Christianity in Iran. She has been charged for having a role in the underground house church movement. Her final court/trial date is scheduled tomorrow, April 15 in Iran, which would be this evening for those of us in the USA. In recent weeks, we’ve heard of the many being released from Iranian prisons due to the coronavirus. However, it appears the authorities may be set on giving her a heavy conviction and they’re moving forward with her trial. Pray for the heart of the judge hearing her case to be soften. Please continue to pray for all Christians in Iran as well.

Demonstration of Christian Iraqi refugees: we do not want to go back to our Country

Iraqi Christians protests (Fox News)

Iraqi Christians protests (Fox News)

VOP Note: According to reports. Lebanon has the highest per-capita concentration of refugees in the world. 1 out of every four people is a refugee.

Despite the numbers, Lebanon has a “no camp” policy which means refugees are not allowed to settle in large scale camps. Instead, they are forced to live in temporary shelters, often on waste land. Refugees are not entitled to work and have difficulty accessing schools and healthcare in Lebanon.

(Agenzia Fides) – On February 13, a small procession of about two hundred Christian Iraqi refugees staged a symbolic demonstration outside the local UN headquarters in downtown Beirut to demand their requests to travel to other countries, filed some time ago in the competent offices of several foreign diplomatic representations operating in the Lebanese capital. The posters displayed by the protesters, and the statements made by some of them to the local press, confirm the impression that most of the exiled Christian refugees from Iraq have no intention of returning to their Country, and do not even intend to take root in Lebanon but are hoping to emigrate as soon as possible towards some Western nation.

According to data provided by the local Chaldean community, difficult to verify, about 8 thousand Iraqi Christians emigrated to Lebanon, especially after the conquest of Mosul and Nineveh Plain by the jihadist Islamic State (Daesh).

US President Donald Trump, who began a tug of war with some US judges to impose provisions designed to limit or suspend immigration from certain countries with a Muslim majority, has instead recognized as a “priority” the granting of refugee legal status to the category of “persecuted Christians”. The idea of preparing a “fast track” open for Christian refugees entering the United States, while doors are closed to non-Christian citizens from Countries with an Islamic majority, “has been defined by Chaldean Patriarch Raphael Louis Sako I a “Trap” for Christians in the Middle East (see Fides 30/01/2017). “Every host country policy that discriminates against the persecuted and those who suffer on religious grounds”, explains Patriarch Louis Raphael, Primate of the Eastern Catholic Church, to which the vast majority of Iraqi Christians belong”, ultimately harms the Christians of the East, because among other things provi des arguments to all propaganda and prejudice that attack the native community of the Middle East as ‘foreign bodies’, groups supported and defended by Western powers”.

Please pray for our brothers and sisters seeking refuge from persecution.

Reminder: It was the Church that aided 1st century persecuted Christian refugees.

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