One of the devastating circumstances for Christians living in regimes that are opposed to Christ is the risk of being betrayed by people who infiltrate the group and gain their trust. Another type of betrayal is that by people in power who defy the constitutional rights of a nation and simply promote their own agenda.
Last year 8 Iranian Christian converts were arrested in Bushehr. One was released because of her age, but the other believers (four men and three women) were convicted of spreading ‘propaganda against the state’, ‘collusion’ and ‘membership of a group hostile to the regime’.
it is believed that the raids were coordinated with the help of an informant, who had infiltrated the group and gained their trust.
On 21 June, 2020, the men were handed custodial sentences of up to one year in prison each. One of the men – Sam – and his brother Sasan received one year jail terms after which they will face work restrictions and be required to serve a further two years in internal exile. The three women were fined and Maryam (Sam’s wife), who is a nurse, was banned for life from working in the public sector (including hospitals).
To complicate matters, Sam and Maryam have an adopted 20 month old daughter, who has heart and gastrointestinal problems. It was deemed by the court that this girl should be returned to state care in a cruel ruling, because her adoptive parents were Christians and “not fit” to be parents.
The judiciary may have overstepped the mark, because two Grand Ayatollahs issued fatwahs (religious rulings) in an attempt to overturn the court’s decision. Despite the fatwahs and despite considerable support for the family, the appeal court upheld the ruling. This situation sets a horrible precedent for all Iranian Christians with adopted children, since the daughter is considered Muslim under Iranian law.
Another situation in Iran concerns Joseph Shahbazian (56, an ethnic Armenian) and Malihe Nazari (46, a Persian convert) were arrested in a Tehran house church on 30 June and imprisoned with bail that was exorbitant, unobtainable and unprecedented. Praise God that they have since been released on reduced bail, with their trials pending.
Iran is ranked ninth on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
A different kind of stress is present in the Ivory Coast ahead of the presidential election on October 31.
President Ouattara came to power by force in 2010, and eventually arrested his opponent Laurent Gbagbo, charging him with crimes against humanity. The International Criminal Court acquitted Gbagbo of the charges, but he has not been able to get back in the country from Brussels (location of the ICC).
The conflict is playing out along ethnic-religious lines today, as it did in 2010. Ouattara is backed by the Muslim north and Gbagbo is backed by the southern, mostly Christian people. The main issue is that Ouattara has announced he will run for another term as President, which is unconstitutional. It is obvious that he does not care about upholding the constitution.
The unrest in 2010 resulted in the deaths of more than 3000 people. It is likely that more deaths will result during the election. Thousands of northern Muslim former 'rebels' have been incorporated into the military and police. In the commercial capital, Abidjan, on 13 August police officers colluded with armed pro-Ouattara Muslim militants, letting them attack opposition supporters unhindered.
This is a dire situation and will result in immeasurable hardship for the Christians, who want to see truth and justice prevail.
Lift these situations up to the throne of grace, to God, for whom nothing is impossible
Let us pray for all Iranian Christians who are facing charges, or who are in prison and separated from loved ones because of their faith; pray also for courageous lawyers, and that indignation over the lack of freedom would continue to grow.
Let us pray for the peace that passes all understanding, as well as hope and confidence, to spring up in the hearts of Sam, Maryam and their daughter Lydia, as they wait for a resolution of their situation. May all persecuted and threatened Iranian Christians know the intimate closeness of their faithful, compassionate and sovereign Heavenly Father.
Pray that the Lord would intervene so that the state will relent of this shameful ruling so that Lydia might remain with Sam and Maryam, and so no other Christian family will have to fear or suffer such a cruelty.
Praise God for the release of Joseph and Malihe and uphold them as they await trial.
May God in His grace and mercy intervene to defuse the political crisis in Ivory Coast before it explodes into another round of ethnic-religious violence; may President Ouattara see sense and step aside, choosing peace over power for the sake of the nation.
May God grant divine wisdom to all Ivory Coast's Christian leaders - those in politics, law, journalism, community service and Church ministry - to know how to lead God's people and even a divided nation though the difficult days ahead and be peace-makers during these volatile times.
May God draw the Ivorian Church and the Body of Christ ever deeper into prayer for the nation of Ivory Coast, blessing mission to Muslims and growth in faith, hope and love in the church.
Aira Chilcott is a retired secondary school teacher with lots of science andtheology under her belt. Aira is an editor for PSI and indulges inreading, bushwalking and volunteering at a nature reserve. Aira’s husband Bill passed away in 2022 and she is left with three wonderful adult sons and one grandson.
Aira Chilcott's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/aira-chilcott.html