She paid a price for following Jesus in Iran

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“They said if I return to Islam, I could have it all… But how could I forget what Jesus had done for me? The price was huge, but we wanted to pay it; He was worth it.”

As Simin* remembers the day met Jesus, the miracles, the house church, the arrests, the detention, the pain of separation from her daughter and the urgent flight across the border during the COVID-19 pandemic … what stands out for her is that her sacrifices haven’t been in vain.

And, since Simin and her husband, Moshen* are Christians from Iran, the sacrifices have been significant—and ongoing.

So why does this couple still say following Jesus is worth the cost?

Changed by Jesus

It was Moshen who first gave Simin a Bible. The couple was just friends at that point, but Moshen encouraged her to read God’s Word for herself. Though her busy career as a nurse didn’t leave her much time to read, but Moshen’s gentle urging finally made her sit down and explore the unfamiliar book.

And she was stunned with what she found—particularly as a woman in her intensely Islamic culture!

“The Bible became very attractive to me because of its attitude toward marriage; it was very different than the world of Islam,” she explains. In the Bible, “women have so much value, and we are seen.” She continued to read the Bible and one day, she came across a movie about Jesus’ life. As she watched the scene of Him carrying His cross, she felt a unique presence. “I felt that I was walking with Jesus,” she says. “I could feel how difficult it was, and it is impossible for me to do it. There I kneeled and cried for hours, and I couldn’t understand what was happening inside me. Something broke in me—it changed me!” As she remembers these moments, a soft smile plays on Simin’s lips and her eyes light up with warmth and joy. Her life was forever changed.

But her new life was a dangerous one.

Finding fellowship and growth

As Simin grew in her faith, she began to attend church. But in Iran, that’s not a simple prospect. Though official and public churches exist, they are carefully watched by the Iranian government—authorities meticulously record the personal details of every members and make sure there is no evangelization.

The Islamic Republic’s strict limitations go so far that many traditional church buildings stand closed across cities. Only a few in major urban centres remain open—but access is a privilege reserved for those who are traditional and historical members and their families, and under guidelines that forbid worship in the national language of Farsi. This leaves anyone who converts from Islam on the outside, looking in.

The resilient community of new believers needs a place to go to grow in their faith. And so new Christians most often turn to the clandestine haven of house churches. Within the walls of private homes, new Christians can be open about their faith—and emotions of longing and perseverance intertwine with moments of worship, lectures and prayer. These intimate gatherings defy the imposed restrictions, offering a sanctuary where the spirit of God thrives amidst the challenges of government scrutiny.

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This was the type of community Simin found after her conversion. About six months after she found Jesus, she attended her first house church meeting. She didn’t know what to do during the service—but she was certain of one thing. “I didn’t understand the reason of their joy, but during worship I tasted the sweetness of God’s presence among us!” she remembers.

Simin’s journey of learning and growing in her faith had started. She and Moshen soon got engaged and then married, and through her pastor and other believers, Simin eventually came to the point of boldly sharing the gospel to people and even giving the Bible to people she knew she could trust. “Church strengthened my faith and lead me to serve,” she says, simply.

Her life outside church began to change as well. In one situation at her job, there was a 5-year-old boy who was very sick after heart surgery, and the doctors didn’t believe the boy would live. Simin and Moshen prayed for a miracle, believing in the healing power of Jesus.

To their joy, the boy woke up healthy the next day, which left everyone—including the doctors—in shock. This powerful event strengthened Simin’s faith. “I used to go to God only in the times of my needs, but later I wanted people to get healed,” she says. She transformed into a more compassionate and unwavering believer, with a renewed heart and character, all because of her faith in Christ. She began to pray for all her patients, no matter who they were.

Deepening discrimination

Even though Simin had grown in faith and witnessed Jesus’s power and healing, she still lived in a Muslim society as a woman. Because of her courage and faith, she took the bold step of sharing her faith with her family, but their reactions were not what she hoped. “It made me sad; my family mocked me when I shared about Jesus,” she says. “There was a prejudice in their hearts, because they were not religious Muslims, especially my father and my older brother. They said I lost my mind.”

Additionally, after she and Moshen were married, they moved to a smaller city where Moshen worked. The culture in that city was more conservative. People focused on her appearance and Simin had to wear her hijab properly. “I received a few warning letters about the way I dressed,” she says. “I had to accept their dress code to escape from their [attention].”

Simin’s hospital colleagues also began to notice that she was different. Her co-workers and and supervisors questioned her: “Why don’t you join for prayer time? Why don’t you fast during Ramadan?”

Simin knew the consequences if her conversion became known. “If they found out, they would fire me from my job,” she says. She was forced to sign commitment papers agreeing that she would participate in prayer times more. But when she went to the prayer room, it turned into to a shelter where Simin prayed to Jesus.

Jesus was the only hope and the source of strength for Simin as she endured these painful moments, crying silently not to raise any attention. “God gave me patience to endure,” she says.

Greater dangers

It wasn’t just discrimination, though. Simin soon became aware of other, more significant dangers that face Iranian believers. The pastor of her house church was arrested. Simin and the other members of the church knew they had to avoid meeting with or calling one another—doing so would put the entire community at risk.  Simin and Moshen assumed it would be the end of their Christian fellowship in their city, but God had other plans.

The Holy Spirit encouraged Simin and her husband to continue sharing the good news with friends and relatives; God worked in their hearts, and they accepted Jesus. God turned Simin’s house into a church where she began to teach new believers. But they knew how careful they needed to be. “We gathered with caution, concerned about neighbors,” Simin says. “We tried to create a peaceful space for prayer and worship. We gathered in the living room, made sure all doors and windows were closed, and we
[controlled the volume of] our voices.”

Unfortunately, their caution wasn’t enough.

“What will happen to my family? God protect us!”

SIMIN

In the early morning of a hot summer day in 2019, Simin woke up to the harsh and angry voice of 12 police officers as they barged into her house. Her first thought was: “What will happen to my family? God protect us!”

A family whose son had become a Christian through Moshen’s witness had reported Simin’s and Moshe’s Christian activities. She tried to hide her phone so they wouldn’t be able to get the contact information for other believers, but it was too late. The whole house was searched; boxes of Bibles and Christian CDs were found—plenty of evidence for the police.

‘What will happen to your child?’

Simin and her husband were arrested. Their 2-year-old daughter was taken in with Simin—she was sick with a digestive disease, and Simin begged the officers to let her daughter stay with someone else. They refused, and the family was taken off to jail.

Mohsen was separated from Simin and their daughter; neither of them knew what was waiting for them. Simin’s daughter was in pain, and the authorities wouldn’t let Simin bring the toddler’s medicine.

Simin was interrogated. “First, they wanted to find other believers through me, then [they] wanted to [suggest] that I’m connected to other countries’ politics and my aim is to mislead others against Islam and the government,” Simin says. “But I just wanted to lead people to Jesus’ love.”

When the interrogator didn’t get the answers he wanted, the threats began: “if you don’t come back to Islam, you’ll spend years in prison—what will happen to your child? Even if you go free, you won’t get a job anywhere.”

Days felt like years. Simin was only able to see her husband twice, and spent hours every day in the interrogation room. The prison she was in was known for its abuse, and when Simin would raise concerns about her treatment, the officers would tell her to be thankful they hadn’t done more to her. Beyond the daily emotional toll, she also began to have physical issues. “I asked for a doctor; I wasn’t feeling fine at all,” she says. “They sent a person but he was not familiar with the medical terminology… I’m not sure if he really was a doctor.”

Simin didn’t know what might happen to her family and their future. There was nothing to do but trust in Jesus. She was afraid but could feel His presence. “It was just me, my little daughter’s socks, and Jesus in the cell,” she remembers. It gave her hope to endure.

Toward an uncertain future

After 18 days of imprisonment, emotional torture and interrogation, Simin and Mohsen were released on bail until their court date. Soon, they were told the judge had given his verdict. Both were guilty of “propaganda against the regime” and accepting “Zionist Christianity.” The term “Zionist Christianity” is a lable used by the Iran’s security agencies and judiciary to politicize the Christian faith—and to hand down heavier jail sentences.

Mohsen was sentenced to a year of penal servitude and was banned from the city where they lived—that way other converts wouldn’t be able to talk to him. Simin was fined—and what she always knew could happen finally did. “Just in a few hours [after the sentencing], I received a call from the hospital; I was fired,” she says.

There was nothing that Simin or Moshen could do. They didn’t’ know how to survive, and they were devastated at the loss of Christian fellowship. They wanted to worship Jesus and serve Him! They decided the only way to do this was to leave everything and everyone behind and flee Iran. “It was terrifying, but we had to sacrifice!” Simin says.

And so, they began the journey out of Iran. They hid for seven months in a small, dirty room in a smuggler’s house during the COVID-19 pandemic—that complicated crossing any borders. They had limited money and knew they could be arrested at any time.

Finally, they were able to escape to a nearby country, where they now live as refugees. And somehow, during this uncertain path, Simin never thought of denying Jesus and going back to her old life—and God showed His mercy to her and her family. “God was with us, in every step we took,” she says. “It was impossible for a family to hide for so long. It took 18 hours to pass the border; we were in a cold, dark truck with other people, but my sick daughter was healed on the way and she slept peacefully!”

God at work!

After enduring unthinkable persecution,  Simin and her family faced new challenges as they had to make a life in a new culture and language. They connected with an Open Doors worker and Simin participated in a Open Doors-provided training about discipleship that helps women overcome the pain of persecution. The training also prepares the participants to serve others. Simin followed the whole course over the span of a year, with both online meetings and face-to-face conferences and meetings. Through this training, the couple began an online ministry.

“I learned a lot and I could find trust again,” Simin says. “Eventually I began to get better mentally and spiritually. It was a great help when I had no one!”

“I experienced persecution a lot … But I always witnessed God at work!”

SIMIN

God has continued to be with Simin and Moshen in their new home. Simin shares that she was recently diagnosed with breast cancer—but that Jesus healed her through prayer. God has also encouraged Simin to help and support other women who experience persecution. “I’m not completely in a safe zone yet, but I understand the pain of those women. I want to comfort and serve them!” she shares with joy. Through their online ministry, Simin teaches the Bible to women in Iran and prepare them to lead house churches.

“Islam and the regime in Iran destroyed the identity of women and almost all women are broken,” she explains. But God is using Simin to give revival to persecuted women. And now, this convert who risked everything to follow Jesus, is a living testament to the power and hope of Jesus.

“In the journey of my life, I experienced persecution a lot,” she says. “But I always witnessed God at work!” — Open Doors USA

*Representative images used throughout. Name has been changed to protect security