By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent
TEHRAN, IRAN (Worthy News)– An evangelical pastor who faces execution in Iran for refusing to abandon his Christian faith has urged fellow believers to remain faithful to Jesus Christ and the “Word of God” despite persecution, according to a letter obtained by Worthy News.
Youcef Nadarkhani, 33, whose first name is also spelled as Yousef, was told last month by Iran’s Supreme Court that he can be executed if he does not recant his Christian faith and returns to Islam.
But in a letter written behind bars earlier this year, Nadarkhani makes clear the Bible tells Christians to expect persecution and that he remains hopeful whatever the outcome of his trial in this strict Islamic nation.
The “Word of God tells us to expect to suffer hardship and dishonor for the sake of His Name. Our Christian confession is not acceptable if we ignore this statement, if we do not manifest the patience of the Lord in our sufferings,” he wrote.
“Anybody ignoring it will be ashamed in that day [when facing God]. Let us remember that sometimes the leap of faith leads us towards some impasses. Just as the Word led the sons of Israel leaving Egypt toward the impasse of the Red sea. These impasses are midway between promises of God and their fulfillment and they challenge our faith,” the pastor added.
Pastor Nadarkhani of the Church of Iran, a major house church network, was detained in Rasht in October 2009, while trying to register his home church. He was sentenced to death by hanging for being an apostate to Islam in November 2010.
His appeal against the sentence was however rejected on June 27, 2011, and send back to the same lower court that already sentenced him to death, according to several trial observers.
Iranian Christians also say the pastor has been tortured.
Yet, in his written remarks, resembling letters written by jailed Apostle Paul from the Bible, Nadarkhani calls upon Iranian believers and other Christians to accept persecution “as a part of their spiritual course.”
The pastor referred to the Biblical account of Jesus’ suffering at the cross at Calvary before His resurrection from death on the third day so everyone who believes in Him has eternal life . “The Son [of God] was challenged at Calvary in the hardest way, as it is written in the Scriptures,” he explained.
Nadarkhani cited Hebrews 5:7-8. “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.”
His letter was written in January, after a lower court already sentenced him to death, Worthy News learned..
The cry [from the crucified Jesus’] “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” is enough to express the sufferings of our Lord at Calvary. Behind this cry of distress, we can identify the great faith that led Him to accept the will of the Father, “ Nadarkhani said, indirectly referring to his own prosecution and expected execution.
“Yea, He knew that God will “not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” and he was to rise up within three days. Beyond the power of death, the Lord perceived the victorious power of the resurrection,” the pastor recalled.
Iranian Christians have linked his arrest to his questioning of the Muslim monopoly on the religious instruction of children in Iran.
The 33-year old pastor was initially charged with protesting, but charges against him were later changed to "apostasy", or abandoning Islam, and evangelizing Muslims.
Nadarkhani believes however that true Christians have a duty to spread “the Word of God.”
“When someone internalizes the revelation of the Truth, he will be willing to share it with others and future generations. We are indebted to the people who, in the past, fought for the Truth, allowing us to have access to this glorious revelation of Jesus Christ,” he stressed in his letter. “These believers understood the richness and the beauty of the revelation and they were ready to fight in order to pass down the fruit of the revelation.”
He isn’t the only family member facing persecution for converting to Christianity. Last year his wife Fatemeh Pasandideh was jailed for several months. They were also told that their two young children would be given to Muslims to raise them, Iranian Christians said.
The pastor has no regrets. Only a church based “on the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ will remain, for beyond the protection of the Word of God the destroyer destroys,” he wrote. And, he said, “Let believers, who are heirs of the glory, be examples for others in order to be a witness of the power of Christ for the world and the future.”
His case has been closely followed by the international community. The United States State Department recently expressed concerns about the pastor's fate. The last known Christian to be officially hanged for his faith was Assemblies of God Pastor Hossein Soodmand, in 1990.
Iran’s government has not directly commented, but officials have in the past defended harsh sentences as a way to protect the Muslim values of the Islamic nation.
The trial has been linked to concerns with the administration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about the spread of Christianity, viewed as a threat to their power base.
In 1979, there were less than 500 known Christians from a Muslim background in Iran, but there may be at least 100,000 Christian converts in the nation now, according to Elam Ministries, a well-informed group of Iranian church leaders.
Church officials believe "millions" can be added amid what they call "spiritual hunger that exists and the disillusionment with the Islamic regime."
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