“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. … Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me …”Psalm 23:1-2, 4 (ESV)
Editor’s Note: In Iran, anyone who follows Jesus must do so in secrecy. House churches are always in danger of being raided, and Christians who lead and participate in a house church live at risk of arrest and imprisonment. The country makes it difficult for any Christians to work, go to school or have a normal life. Zahra and her family were forced to flee Iran after she and her husband were imprisoned for their faith.
I grew up in a Muslim family. So when my husband, Ali, became a Christian, I was hesitant.
But I began to see a change in him.
Throughout our marriage, Ali had been a drug addict. Time went by, and he wasn’t taking drugs anymore. He was kind to me and to our children. That’s when I knew Jesus is real. Since then, we have been living with Christ at the center of our lives.
But I will tell you that decision comes at a high price. Becoming a Christian in Iran is seen as a betrayal to your parents, your country and your religion. My family quit talking to me. Our friends refused to be around us. I knew the path I chose. And I also knew it was just a matter of time before the Islamic Revolutionary Guards would be at our door.
The day my husband and I were arrested, I was taken to a tiny room with no lights or windows. There was nothing in the room — my hand became my pillow.
Every morning at 2 or 3 a.m., they would take me upstairs for interrogation. They wanted me to tell them names of Christians in our ministry. When I refused to answer their questions, they held me in solitary confinement for a week. It was horrifying. When you are inside a place like that, you know you are no longer in control. They can do to you whatever they want.
The only thing that strengthened us was prayer — nothing else. Only God can go to those dark places and dungeons and be strength for His children. Because without God’s power, no one can tolerate such darkness.
After we were finally released, we stayed in Iran for two years. Every day, they harassed us. Each time Ali got a job, they would tell his employer to let him go. Our sons could not attend school. Every day, I worried when Ali went out that he would not come back.
We had two choices: to stay and suffer or to leave our country. We left everything behind — our family, our home, all that we owned.
Looking back, I can see how God was with us through everything. The day we left Iran for Turkey, they checked our passports on the train, but the man didn’t stamp mine. I realized we were caught again. Being arrested would mean five more years in prison. But God was with us. Right then, some passengers began quarreling, and the man had to leave. Another train attendant came and stamped my passport.
Through all our sufferings, Christ never leaves us. His promise is true. It was true for the people Jesus talked to when He was on earth, and it’s true for us today. Even when no one is beside you, know that God is. He will never forsake you. That’s why Psalm 23 means so much to me.
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures … Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me …” (Psalm 23:1-2, 4).
And because His promise is true, I can forgive my persecutors through His strength. I can honestly say that I love them with all my heart. As Jesus said of those who put Him on the cross, “they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34a, ESV). I want to tell even my persecutors that Christ Jesus is Truth and that they can have Him, too. As a family, we always pray for them.
For us, Jesus is life itself. In prison, my interrogator asked me if all our suffering was worth it. He said, “Imagine I am not your interrogator and you are not a convict. Knowing all this would happen to you, would you pick Jesus again?”
Without hesitation, I told him, “Yes, absolutely.”
Lord, thank You for promising never to leave me. Would You help me to remember Your words and to cling to them when I’m stressed, afraid and confused? Please surround Zahra and her family with Your peace to tolerate the hard days, and open up new ways for them in Turkey. Be with my global Church family members who risk their lives to follow You no matter what. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.