As the world celebrates Jesus’ birth, Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani
faces the threat of execution.
Those of us in the West who are blessed with religious freedom think of
Christmas as a cheery occasion. But how would you like to spend the holiday in
a dark prison cell in Iran—where inmates without any legal protection are
sometimes rounded up at night and hanged in secret mass executions?
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has been in the Lakan
prison, near the city of Rasht, Iran, since October 2009. He was arrested after
he complained to authorities that the local school was forcibly teaching Islam
to his two sons, Daniel, 9 and Yoel, 7. (The Iranian constitution supposedly
guarantees religious freedom.) The charges against the pastor, who leads a
400-member congregation in Rasht, were later changed: He was accused of
apostasy and evangelism.
“There are no assurances that [Pastor Youcef] will
not be executed. It could happen at any time. This is the way the Iranian
government operates with executions. They do not give advance notice and it is
done in secret.”
This will be the third Christmas Youcef has spent in a prison cell.
The Nadarkhanis’ story resembles a nightmare. After Youcef’s arrest,
his wife, Fatemah, was arrested, charged with apostasy and sentenced to life in
prison. Officials threatened to place their two sons in a Muslim family, but
Fatemah was released four months later. Meanwhile, Youcef was often placed in
solitary confinement, and prison guards gave him pills to persuade him to
renounce his Christian faith.
In September 2010 he was given a verbal death sentence, and that
sentence was put in writing two months later. He was told he would be hanged
unless he recanted his faith. With help from international Christian
organizations, Youcef appealed to the Iranian Supreme Court. In June of this
year the court upheld his death sentence.
Present Truth Ministries, a Minnesota-based organization focused on
bringing the gospel to Muslims, reported a conversation that took place in
September in a courtroom in Raust, when Iranian officials demanded that Youcef
renounce his faith in Jesus.
Youcef: “You ask me to recant. Recant means to
return. What do you wish me to return to? The blasphemy that I was in before
Judge: “To the religion of your ancestors, Islam.”
Youcef: “I cannot.”
A Muslim attorney told Present
Truth that the brave pastor has discovered spiritual strength to endure his struggle.
“Physically he looks weak,” the lawyer said, “but emotionally his belief in
Christ is keeping his spirits high.”
President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
and leaders of other governments have demanded that Iran release Pastor Youcef,
and mission organizations serving the persecuted church have encouraged
Christians around the world to send letters of protest to Iranian authorities.
(Please see the link at the bottom of this page.)
I’m asking you to do one more thing: Please pray for
Pastor Youcef and his family on Christmas Day. While you are celebrating the
freedom Christ brought us, please bear your brother’s burden and ask for God’s
presence, strength, comfort and favor—not only for Youcef but for the many
other Iranian believers who are suffering in silence at this time of year.
The clock is ticking, and this man’s life is on the
line. Says Jason DeMars of Present Truth: “There are no assurances that
[Youcef] will not be executed. It could happen at any time. This is the way the
Iranian government operates with executions. They do not give advance notice
and it is done in secret.”
We tend to think of Christmas as festive and
delectable, full of hot cider, sweet treats and warm memories of family
togetherness. Yet the first Christmas was neither warm nor friendly. It was
fraught with danger, especially after King Herod launched his campaign to kill
the baby Jesus.
The same spirit that controlled Herod (and drove his
son Herod Antipas to behead John the Baptist) is operating in the world today
to falsely accuse, imprison and kill Christians. It is the reason more than 450
Christians are martyred every day around the world. The Bible commands us:
“Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are
ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body” (Heb. 13:3). Let’s
stand in solidarity with our brother.
To write a letter on behalf of
Pastor Youcef, go to presenttruthmn.com/persecuted-christians/
and follow the instructions.