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Etched on prison walls 

In a small, 3×6 foot prison cell in Iran, Taher, a gray-haired father of two daughters, leaned against the cold block wall and began to 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 that night, he quietly slid a pen from the table into his pocket. 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. 

What brought Taher to an Iranian prison is a powerful story of both faith and resilience.  

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 that night, he quietly slid a pen from the table into his pocket. 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. 

What brought Taher to an Iranian prison is a powerful story of both faith and resilience.  

Finding Jesus in Iran 

Growing up as a strict Muslim in Iran, Taher always felt like there was something more—something he was missing in his life. It wasn’t until his youngest daughter, Farah, became deathly ill that things dramatically changed.  

Taher and his wife, Donya, took Farah to many Muslim leaders for prayer and healing, but nothing helped. Desperate to see their ten-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.  

But the Christians who prayed for Farah asked Jesus to touch his heart, and one night, Taher placed his faith in Jesus.  

“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. 

Risking it all 

In Iran, No. 8 on the 2021 World Watch List of most dangerous countries for Christians, underground churches are often raided—and Christians are seen as enemies of the State.   

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. 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, 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 and recalled the incident. “The man at the door told me he was a postal worker. When I opened the door, he put his foot down so I couldn’t close it,” she says. 

The secret police burst into the home, insulted Donya and gathered her daughters, Farah and Arezoo, into the living room. They turned over tables, went through drawers and ransacked their 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 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 interrogation 

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 him, they threw him back in the tiny cell. It was the same routine, day and night. But Taher refused to give the names of other Christians. 

At one point, they took Taher to a cell block with murderers, rapists and dangerous criminals. And 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 gives us the names, now!” 

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.  

He never gave up one name.  

Your gift today will help secret believers know they are not alone.

With your help they receive follow-up and pastoral care as well as discipleship and persecution preparedness training. 

Leaving Iran 

The secret service eventually released Taher on bail. Months later, 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.  

However, just like Peter’s release from prison in Acts, the warning to stop preaching didn’t deter his calling. When asked what he did next, Taher says, “I went back home and started ministering and evangelizing again.” 

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 become overwhelming. The Iranian authorities made it impossible for them to live freely. One night, they met as a family at the dinner table and made the prayerful decision to leave Iran. 

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.   

No looking back 

Life in Turkey is extremely difficult for this family of four today. Like thousands of Iranian refugees in Turkey, they are people with little-to-no rights as citizens. Work is hard to find, there’s a new language and they don’t know what’s next. But even in the midst of 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 asked if it was worth it—losing all their material possessions, their home, work, friends and family and leaving their country, Donya shares, “Jesus is worth everything and, in my opinion, we have not paid any price yet.” 

Secret believers

Taher and his family are not the only ones who came to Christ in a country hostile to their new faith. All over the Muslim World God reveals himself and new churches arise. They face harsh persecution when their faith is discovered by others ranging from imprisonment by the government to violence from the hands of their own family. 

*Names are altered for security reasons. 

PLEASE PRAY

  • Pray for Taher and his family that they may continue to follow Jesus
  • Pray for many more believers and families like Taher’s who face harsh persecution by the government and their own families because of their faith

 

Your gift today will help secret believers know they are not alone.

With your help they receive follow-up and pastoral care as well as discipleship and persecution preparedness training.