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Thursday, January 31, 2019

Phoebe: A light in the darkness of Rome.


The debate over women leadership in the church is firmly settled by the teachings of the Apostle Paul. Traditionalists try to mold Paul into their theological mindset, but instead the mighty apostle emerges as a staunch supporter of women's ministry in the churches. Paul was anything but a misogynistic apostle! When read in context, He was one of the greatest supporters of women's rights in a Middle Eastern culture rampant with oppression and discrimination!




       



While there was darkness and oppression of women in the Roman culture, there was also a light that penetrated the darkness, revealing a woman who stood up against the adversity and shined brightly the truth of God’s word. That woman’s name was Phoebe. Phoebe was a bright and shining light in the early church, a dedicated servant that the Apostle Paul highly commended in the last chapter of his great epistle to the Roman Christians.

Romans 16:1-2
        “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.”

        Origen, an early church father, scholar and theologian (184-253) shared his insights on the Romans 16 passage written by Paul…

        This passage teaches two things at the same time; “women are to be considered ministers in the church, and ought to be received into ministry.”

        I want to make one thing extremely clear from the outset. The Apostle Paul was not a misogynist! Although many conservative scholars teach that he placed Biblical restrictions on what a woman could do or not do in a church ministry, Paul certainly did not fit their mold. Here in Romans 16, he praises several women, Phoebe, Acquila and Priscila, as well as recognizing Junia as an apostle! Through misguided and bias teachings, Paul’s reputation has been tarnished and many scholars have turned him into a rugged, disciplinarian who put heavy restrictions on women in the church. Later on, in section three, I will address the select Scriptures used by those who believe that the Bible has put limitations on the function of women in church ministry.

        Returning to Romans 16, there are several important points to consider on what Paul says about Phoebe. Paul refers to Phoebe as servant, using the Greek words, diakonos and doulos. The Greek word, diakonos, is where the term deacon is derived from. A deacon in the first century society referred to one who ministered, a slave considered to be a household servant. In the New Testament, diakonos is the word that Paul used to describe the ministry of Christ as well as his own ministry. In the same way, Phoebe was described by the Apostle Paul as a servant, a messenger like Christ, not making any distinctions because of her gender. Paul puts Phoebe on the same level as other church leaders such as Tychais, Epaphras, and Timothy. It is a well-known fact of history that Phoebe was a house church leader in a local church, the church of Cenchreae.

        Phoebe was also the person that Paul probably chose to deliver his letter to the Roman house churches. In Romans 16 he introduces Phoebe as the official letter carrier to the Roman congregation. She read the letter to the congregation and was also able to provide commentary on the doctrinal issues in the book of Romans. Phoebe had proven herself to be a trustworthy and respected church leader to the Apostle Paul, He entrusted Phoebe with the great message of salvation to the Roman world!

        “Phoebe carried under the folds of her robe, the whole future of Christian theology!”

        In verse 2 of Romans 16, Paul recognizes Phoebe as the “patron” or “benefactor” to many people, including me.”

        The Greek word for patron or benefactor is prostatis. The CEV (Contemporary English Version) renders the word, prostatis as “leader” and “defender of many.” According to this Greek word, Phoebe is much more than just a helper.
        In the ancient world, the word prostatis which is equivalent to the word, prostates, had a strong connotation toward leadership. Aristotle used the word prostates to describe a person designated to stand before others as a “democratic leader” or a “protector of the people.” These people were responsible for protecting citizens against the attacks of chief magistrates in power. They would defend the underprivileged in the courts.

        In Rome, prostates served as a technical term for the “leader” or the “president of the Jewish community.” Why wasn’t this same word translated that way and applied to Phoebe? Unfortunately, once again, the poison of bias has crept into the translator’s mind simply because theologians would not believe that the Apostle Paul would ever be in favor of a woman pastor. Yet here in Romans 16, The Apostle Paul commends and praises Phoebe as someone who is a trustworthy close associate that God mightily used in spreading the gospel in addition to also serving as a competent and bold house church leader in Cenchreae.

        God was grieved over the gender discrimination and oppression of women in both the Greek and Roman cultures and raised up Phoebe from the ashes to be a blazing light in the darkness, demonstrating to the world her incredible value and worth as an equal image bearer!




Jesus and the woman caught in adultery.



This is a powerful scene from my book, "Broken yet beautiful: Rising up from their ashes." The pharisees bring to Jesus a woman caught in adultery to test his reaction. What Jesus does shocks them and challenges their cultural view about the status of women. The reaction of Jesus is the perfect model for the church today on how women should be treated with mercy instead of contempt and ridicule.




     The view of women in the culture of Jesus’s day was both sad and deplorable. Women were treated as second-class citizens by the religious establishment:

“The oral law of Jesus’s day,” “Let the words of the law be burned rather than committed to women!” “The woman,” says the Law, is in all things inferior to man. Let her accordingly be submissive.”
(Apion 2:210)
“Praised be to God that he has not created me a gentile: Praised be to God that he created me not a woman.”      (The thanksgiving prayer of a Jew)

               A Rabbi considered it beneath his dignity to speak in public to a woman.
          
        This was the mood of the Jewish religious culture and it was very hostile to the average woman. It was into this culture that Jesus came to restore the value, dignity and worth of a woman,

        In the Gospel of John, Chapter 8, verses 3-11, the Bible unveils a heated scenario between the Pharisees and scribes concerning a woman caught in the act of adultery. They immediately bring the woman to Jesus with motive of testing him. To the religious leaders the woman was merely property owned by her husband and her vile act had brought disgrace upon him. However, it is interesting and perhaps deliberate that the man caught in the offense was conveniently missing. Why hadn’t he been brought to be stoned along with the woman? It is also worth pointing out that the religious leaders were really not interested in upholding God’s moral law, they were instead intent on exposing Jesus as a false prophet and discrediting him. The adulterous woman had become their perfect propaganda tool to confront and discredit the Son of God. Filled with passionate rage they looked Jesus in the eyes and asked the question:

        “Will you have her stoned as the law required?
        The religious leaders were referencing Deuteronomy chapter 22 and verses 23-30.

        The religious leaders had devised an elaborate scheme to expose Jesus as a false prophet. If he agreed with the law in favor of the woman being stoned, then they would point out that he was betraying his reputation among the crowds as being a compassionate rabbi. If, however he spared the woman’s life, they would cry out that he was disobeying the law of Moses and was therefore a false prophet. The religious leaders were convinced they had cornered Jesus into an impossible trap to escape from.

        Jesus knowing the intent of their deceitful hearts, bent down and began writing with his finger in the sand. While theologians have debated for centuries what exactly Jesus was writing, it is possible that he was writing down their individual sins. However, there is a pertinent passage in the Book of Jeremiah that is more likely referring to what Jesus was writing, a passage that speaks of God’s judgment upon a rebellious religious establishment.

        “O Lord, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the Lord, the fountains of living waters.
                                           (Jeremiah 17:13)
        The text should literally read, “those who turn aside from my ways, will have their names written in the dust and blotted out.”

        In writing in the dust with his finger, Jesus was instead pointing the accusing finger of judgment upon the corrupt religious leaders. Jesus stood up and in a precise and confrontational tone pointed his finger of judgment at them exposing their hypocrisy.

        “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her!”

        With this confronting declaration, Jesus forever silenced the mouths of the religious elite. They were unprepared for this heart-piercing confrontation. Their hypocrisy had been exposed and one by one they let the stones fall from their hands and departed.

        In one of the most beautiful scenes in all of the Bible, the adulterous woman was left alone with Jesus. No doubt she was still shaking with fear and anxiety. Yet Jesus shows tenderness, respect and compassion for this woman. He treated her with great value instead of condemning her for her sin. The religious leaders had treated her as damaged goods with malicious contempt, but the Son of God reached out and showed her mercy instead. He showed respect first by acting contrary to the rabbinic code of that day, He spoke to the woman.

        “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

        “No one Lord,” The woman replied.

        “Neither do I condemn you, “Jesus reassured her, “Go and from now on sin no more.”     

                                                *********
 

        This is a beautiful illustration of the compassion and respect that Jesus demonstrated toward women. He confronted the abusive religious leaders, exposed their hypocritical hearts, and stood in defense of this adulterous woman. Jesus did not deny that she had sinned but instead of condemnation he extended grace and mercy toward her. When I read about the horrific stories on the internet of Muslim crowds stoning women to death in Middle-Eastern countries like Pakistan, engaging in honor killings, I immediately think of this beautiful account in John’s gospel. I can picture Jesus standing in defense of these helpless women and pointing the accusing finger back at them. Jesus is the “God of Justice” a defender of the honor of women. He refused to align himself with the false Rabbinic code of his day and instead lifted women out of the gutters of discrimination, restoring to them their dignity as equal image bearers of God.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

The future of Iran, 40 years later. What does the Bible say?



Since Khomeini seized power on February 1, 1979, The Iranian people have been prisoners in their own country. Iran has become "one big prison," with thousands of lives lost on the streets covered with blood without any hope of freedom. Yet the Bible promises a future of hope for the Iranian people in a powerful little prophecy hidden in the Book of Jeremiah. "Elam" will have a glorious future!
The following article is featured in our new book, "Dear God, please bring freedom to Iran," in both Kindle and paperback on Amazon.com.




            On February 1, 1979, millions of desperate Iranians filled the streets of Tehran welcoming their new king from exile. The Ayatollah Khomeini stepped down from a 747 jumbo jet that had just arrived at the airport from Paris and proclaimed himself as the new leader of The Islamic Revolution. Iranians were emotionally overwhelmed and very hopeful that the Ayatollah would bring them the true freedom that they had been longing for now since the Shah and his family had went into exile in Egypt.

            It has been 40 years since that historic moment in time and Iranians have gotten everything but true freedom.  The Islamic Republic of Iran has been one of the fiercest totalitarian governments in the Middle East. It has been forty, long and cruel years of oppression under a dictatorship that has replaced freedom with slavery to an ancient system of Sharia Law. There has been forty years of lies and deception, forty years of suppression of human rights, with no religious freedom, and no freedom of speech. Forty years of executions as the penalty for speaking out and disagreeing with the government. Forty years of women being covered and veiled and lashed for failure to adhere to the Islamic dress code. Forty years of the reign of Mullahs who rule your life from the cradle to the grave.

            During the winter uprising of 2017, when Iranian protesters took to the streets in 70 cities demanding that the government get out of Syria and start taking care of them, there was a haunting chant that could be heard summing up the angry mood of the people, “The people are paupers while the Mullahs live like gods!”
            The Iranian economy was in a death spiral due largely to the newly imposed sanctions by the Trump Administration. Instead of sharing the wealth with the people that was gained by the sanction’s relief from the Obama Administration, the Mullahs continued financing their terrorist connections and lived like kings while children slept in cardboard boxes out on the streets. Inflation, poverty, and homelessness saturated the landscape resulting in an increase of suicide from depression and despair. Iranians were desperate for freedom and longed for the glory days when the Persian empire flourished under kings who treated the people with tolerance and justice. One such King was King Cyrus who founded Persia by uniting the Iranian tribes of the Medes and Persians. Although Cyrus, who was known as a great conqueror, was most well known for his tolerance and magnanimous attitude toward those he defeated. When Cyrus conquered Babylon, he was greeted by the grateful cheers of the Jewish community, who welcomed him as a liberator. Cyrus is recognized from the pages of the Bible as being compassionate to the Jews and allowing them to return to their homeland to rebuild their temple. Respect and tolerance were the outstanding qualities of Cyrus who is credited for creating the first Charter of human rights known to mankind. Every October 29, thousands of Iranians pay respect at his grave celebrating King Cyrus Day.

            Iranians are desperately searching for a leader, a liberator, a king like Cyrus who will free them from the oppression and tyranny and return their land to the glory of the Persian Empire. Although not as famous as the ancient King Cyrus, President Donald Trump has reached out to the Iranian people recognizing their right to have a free homeland once again. The Trump Administration has been supportive to Iranians and confronting the regime with their serious human rights violations. Iranians have responded with hope that Trump will be the world leader who will create the right circumstances for an overthrow of the evil regime that has oppressed and enslaved them for the past 40 years. They are rising up with hope and beginning to believe again that there is a future for Iran, a future with the promise of freedom and democracy. The burning question that must be answered is, “Is there a bright future for the Iranian people or will it be 40 more years of death and destruction?”

            The key to answering this very important question is to first recognize that God is the sovereign Lord over history. Scripture provides the answer to this burning question.


“Praise the name of God forever, for he has all wisdom and power.
He controls the course of world events;  
He removes kings and sets up other kings..”


            Daniel 2:20 declares that God is sovereign and that he is the one who sets up kings and kingdoms and removes them for his providential purposes. Satan is not in control of this planet, but rather, as Scripture plainly teaches, God has the final say to the course of world events.
            There is one powerful and insightful passage of Scripture in the Old Testament written more than 2,500 years ago that has tremendous insight into the future of the Iran. I believe that this scripture may very well hold the prophetic key for the future of all Iranians. Prophecy expert, Bill Salus, author of the exciting prophetic book, Nuclear showdown in Iran, comments extensively on this passage of Scripture. Mr. Salus has studied this prophecy in depth and offers what I believe is an exciting and thought-provoking revelation of Iran’s future!


                                  
           “Ancient 2600-Year Old Prophecy Predicts Iran’s Future”
“Iran Has Double Trouble Ahead, Ezekiel 38 and Jeremiah 49”
Jeremiah issued his prophecies concerning Elam about 596 B.C. Jeremiah wrote about Elam about a decade before his contemporary Ezekiel prophesied about Persia in Ezekiel 38:5. Ezekiel’s ministry spanned between 595–573 b.c. Modern-day Iran is comprised of ancient Elam and Persia.

           Ezekiel was familiar with Elam, according to Ezekiel 32: 24-25, but he did not include Elam in the lineup of invaders in Ezekiel 38. Elam was probably intentionally omitted, because it is the subject of its own distinctly different prophecy, outlined by Jeremiah.

           Jeremiah 49:35, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Behold, I will break the bow of Elam, The foremost of their might.”
“Iran Continuing Ballistic Missile Program (ICBMs), Says UN Report”
— Israel National News, 5/16/14
“Israeli PM threatens to strike Iran: Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel may have to act against Tehran unilaterally to curb it from achieving its nuclear goal.”
— Al Jazeera, 7/17/13

         The Elamites were warlike people and expert archers, according to Genesis 14:1-9 and Isaiah 22:6. Jeremiah predicts that Iran will suffer the fate of a broken bow, which might imply that the IRGC (Iran Revolutionary Guard Corp) will be unable to launch scores of Missiles at its enemies. Additionally, he declares that Iran will be struck at the foremost place of its might, which today could infer an attack upon its nuclear program. One of Iran’s most strategic and vulnerable nuclear targets is the Bushehr nuclear reactor, located in the heart of ancient Elam.

        Presently, Israel has dual concerns about Iran’s military intentions. They are concerned about Iran’s quest to obtain nuclear weapons, and the rogue regime’s obsession with developing ICBM’s.
The Jerusalem Post quoted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on February 25, 2014, as saying to German Chancellor Merkle.
The goal is to prevent Iran from having the capability to manufacture and deliver nuclear weapons. I believe that means zero enrichment, zero centrifuges, zero plutonium, and of course an end to ICBM development. Because none of these elements —none of them—is necessary for developing civilian nuclear energy, which is what Iran has claimed that it wants.
Jeremiah 49:36, “Against Elam I will bring the four winds from the four quarters of heaven, and scatter them toward all those winds; There shall be no nations where the outcasts of Elam will not go.
“The Next Chernobyl?”
         Bushehr, however, could turn out to be the most dangerous piece of Iran’s nuclear puzzle for another reason: haphazard planning and ongoing technical problems mean it could be the next Chernobyl, igniting a humanitarian disaster and explosive economic damage across the oil-rich region.
— New York Times, 1/2/13

         Jeremiah informs us that the attack upon the ancient territory of Elam will produce numerous refugees, perhaps even turning into a humanitarian crisis. Exiles will be dispersed worldwide, as if being blown about by overpowering winds. Several studies conducted of the safety of the Bushehr nuclear site have concluded that an accident at the facility could result in such a disaster. Jeremiah 49:37 says
        “For I will cause Elam to be dismayed before their enemies and before those who seek their life. I will bring disaster upon them, my fierce anger, says the LORD; And I will send the sword after them Until I have consumed them.”
“Iran: ‘Thousands of Missiles’ to Rain on Israel”
— World Net Daily, 8/28/13
“Saudi Arabia Displays Ballistic Missiles in Likely Display to Iran”
— National Journal 4/30/14
“Iranian Commander; We have Targets Within America”
— The Daily Caller, 2/1/14
Provoking the Lord’s Wrath
        In addition to the Lord, Iran has other enemies in this prophecy. The headlines above depict a few of them. Each enemy, for varying reasons, seeks to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear nation.
Additionally, Jeremiah says that Elam has stirred up the Lord’s anger, and that provokes the Lord to cause a severe disaster inside of Iran.
Perhaps this alludes to a nuclear disaster caused from a strike upon Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactor. Nuclear Showdown in Iran explains how the present Iranian regime has fiercely angered the Lord.
Jeremiah 49: 38-39, “I will set My throne in Elam, and will destroy from there the king and the princes,” says the LORD. “But it shall come to pass in the latter days: I will bring back the captives of Elam,” says the LORD.
“Open Doors: Growth of Christianity in Iran ‘Explosive’”
— Christian Post, 3/23/12
“Greatest Christian Revival in the World in Iran”
— World Net Daily, 7/25/12




      Jeremiah’s last two verses present the exiles of Jeremiah 49 with great news. Iranians who accept Christ in advance of his second coming will be returned from global exile into the restored fortunes of their historic homeland in Elam. Moreover, Jerusalem (Jeremiah 3:17) and Elam (Jeremiah 49:38) are the only two earthly locations identified in Scripture for the future establishment of the Lord’s throne.
Presently, several million Iranians have already become born-again believers in Christ. In fact, Iran has the fastest growing evangelical population in the world.  Multitudes of Iranians are accepting Jesus as their Savior through watching Christian satellite tv and experiencing miracles, dreams, visions and healings. This Christian back story is truly the big story of Jeremiah’s prophecy

            Bill Salus has unraveled what I believe is a very key prophecy referring to the latter times. The Jeremiah prophecy refers to the latter times and has not yet been fulfilled. If Jeremiah 49 is really referring to the nation of Iran, there is hope for the Iranian people that have been scattered as refugees all over the world. God states that He will one day set his throne in the center of Elam. He will permanently establish his kingdom there in the midst of Iran.
            Our book began with a fervent prayer to God to “please bring freedom to Iran.”  One day he will do just that. He has promised it and God cannot lie!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Atena Daemi, "I will not be silent."



Atena can not keep silent about the human rights atrocities committed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Her story will be featured in my new book, "Dear God, Please bring freedom to Iran."





Atena Daemi is a powerful human rights defender and lives by the motto, “I will not be silent!

            She loves humanity with all of her heart and is outraged by the horrific treatment of innocent people by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Atena especially loves children. She has spoken out against the unjust treatment of children in Kobane and Gaza, advocating for their human rights. Outraged over the frenzy of political executions that happen almost every day in Iran, Atena has been a strong vocal critic of the death penalty. She has met and consoled the families that lost their loved ones in the mass executions of political prisoners in 1988, drawing attention to one of the darkest moments of Iranian history when Khomeini was still the Supreme Leader.

            Atena is a strong voice for humanity, but has always conducted her demonstrations peacefully. Handing out leaflets in 2014, Atena joined thousands of other Iranians in a peaceful protest against the execution of Reyhaneh Jabbari. She has utilized social media to criticize the government on Facebook and as a result of this was arrested in September 2016 for “assembly and collusion against national security” and “insulting the Supreme Leader.”

            A few years earlier in October 2014, Atena was arrested by the Revolutionary Guard and sentenced to 14 years imprisonment for propaganda against the regime by holding demonstrations in support of the children of Kobane in Syria and also by listening to Iranian rapper Shahin Najafi’s protest songs.

            Atena’s imprisonment conditions have been horrific in a jail which is overcrowded and unhygienic. After becoming ill from the unsanitary conditions, she was denied access to medical treatment. She was also sexually assaulted by prison guards on numerous occasions. Refusing to surrender to the horrific prison conditions, Atena composed several letters behind bars drawing attention to the inhumane treatment she and other political prisoners endured at both Evin and Shahre-e-Ray prisons. Suffering alongside her best friend Golrokh Iraee, wife of Arash Sadeghi, they both embarked on a long hunger strike in February 2018 to protest against the pathetic prison conditions that had taken the lives of their fellow inmates through “silent executions.” Thousands of supporters became their voices through posts on Facebook and Twitter joining them in the cause to condemn the inhumane treatment by the Iranian regime.

            Suffering in prison in both body and soul, did not stop Atena from being a loud voice of protest against the barbaric tactics of the government. In one of her most powerful prison letters, Atena confronts the Iranian regime with their horrific history of human rights abuses. The most profound way to get inside of the soul of Atena is to read her prison letters of rebuke against the Islamic Republic of Iran.


               Forty-one years ago, protestors took to the streets to struggle against poverty, addiction, class difference, corruption of officials, etc. They held secret meetings, secretly distributed audio tapes and pamphlets in the dark of nights, wrote on the walls, held gatherings and went on strike, shattered windows and set fire to public properties, buses and banks, obtained guns and hand-made bombs, and killed high ranking officials which ultimately led to the (1979) Revolution. I studied all of these again during the 107 days I was in exile in Gharchak (Prison). These were the memoirs of people who had spoken proudly of what they had done, and now, many of them are high-ranking officials of this regime.

       But none of the problems that were supposed to be uprooted by those honorific actions have been eliminated; they have rather become worse than in the past and further supplemented by massacres and mass graves.

        Over the past 40 years, the criticisms and protests of our angry and tired people have been suppressed in the cruelest possible manner; they have been imprisoned, executed, sent to exile and (forcibly) disappeared. As done by ISIS, they were run over by cars. Even their religious convictions were seriously undermined by this Islamic regime. Gharchak Prison and its inhabitants are but a small part of the achievements of the revolution.

       Yes, you must know that the more you resort to violence and repression, there are many who would rather die than to surrender to oppression, like the girls in Koubani who jumped from the top of Koubani Mountains and died to protect them from being outraged by ISIS. Now, instead of torturing, recording forced confessions, and issuing death sentences, you should think why people are turned into critics, protesters, opponents and finally your sworn enemies. To find out why, you must examine your own behavior and actions.

     I personally reject all forms of violence. I condemn issuing death penalties under any pretext for anyone with any belief or creed.

   And Gharchak! This was a great, albeit bitter, experience for me. It was actually a great university! This forced exile opened my eyes even more on a great part of my society which has been forgotten or concealed behind false propaganda.

   I believe the intolerable conditions in Gharchak Prison should be strongly denounced. It is a concentration camp, a rehabilitation camp, and is called the Shahr-e Ray Repentance Center. There is a lot to say about this Repentance Center where one can find everything but repentance. I will soon speak out about the truth.

   I am grateful to those who were kind to us in any way they could despite their own agony and pains in that dark dungeon. I repeat that I am humble before each and every one of those prisoners, even if they were forced to swear at us or beat us!

   I am also grateful to everyone who remembered us while we were absent. In the end, I would like to express my gratitude to my dear family who has not left me alone even for a moment throughout these years, despite being beaten by electric shockers and baton.

        Atena is a tough survivor and a brilliant outspoken young lady. The Iranian Regime cannot silence her. Her voice is being heard loud and clear all across the internet, on Facebook, Twitter, and wherever there is a platform, you will hear Atena speaking out for humanity.

     


       From young children, to the victims of juvenile executions, to the brave ladies who remove their hijabs on Revolution street, Atena has become their voice. She is not concerned with her own freedom or physical well-being, but rather she is concerned with the injustices committed on a daily basis to the people of Iran that she loves with all of heart.  Atena refuses to be silent!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Nasrin Sotoudeh: Defender of human rights



Nasrin Sotudeh is a compassionate Iranian lawyer who is a voice for the voiceless. She is currently suffering in prison for defending human rights in Iran. Her story will be featured in my new book, Dear God: Please bring freedom to Iran."





            Proverbs 31:8-9  
      “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute,
                 Speak up and judge fairly: defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
                                                                                                                                               (NIV)




                The Bible exhorts us to be a voice for the voiceless, to stand up and defend the helpless and the oppressed. Whenever I am meditating on this scripture, I immediately think of Nasrin Sotoudeh, an Iranian lawyer who is a champion of human rights. She represents the women who remove their veils and cry out for choice, she represents the families of juveniles who are put to death, and she represents the millions of desperate activists who are imprisoned for standing up to a dictatorship government for freedom of speech and religion.

            On June 13, 2018, Nasrin and her husband Reza were arrested together at their home and transferred to Evin Prison. Nasrin is no stranger to prison bars. It is hard to believe that a practicing attorney is put in jail for defending human rights, but in Iran human rights is an oxymoron. The Iranian regime has no respect for individual freedom or human rights. Under Sharia Law, it is either obey or be disciplined!

            Recently Nasrin had publicly criticized the government’s new rule of restricting the rights of activists and dissidents from hiring an independent lawyer. The rule stated that only a government appointed lawyer would be accepted and Nasrin dared to challenge the system. Prior to her arrest, Nasrin had been busy defending “The Girls of Revolution Street” for publicly removing their veils during the December 2017 uprising. The government lashed out on the women charging them with “encouraging immorality and prostitution,” charges that carried 10-year prison sentences! Nasrin objected to the charges, stating that the women had a right to protest, which brought down the wrath of the regime upon her.

            Prior to her current incarceration, Nasrin was arrested in 2011, for defending the protesters of the Green Movement which criticized the government in what they believed was a stuffed ballot box in the fraudulent re-election of Ahmadinejad in 2009. It was during this imprisonment that Nasrin went on a 49-day hunger strike protesting the unjust travel restrictions put on her two children. After a long and difficult battle which nearly took her life, the government relinquished their restrictions and Nasrin emerged, weak and exhausted, but victorious! A year later when Hassan Rouhani became president, he pardoned Nasrin in 2013 and she was finally free to rejoin her family. However, the regime removed her license to practice law and even though she was free from prison bars, Nasrin wasn’t free to resume the passion of her life in defending the voiceless.

            “I was released,” Nasrin proclaimed, “but I was not freed. For me this sort of freedom is meaningless when my friends are still in prison!”

            For Nasrin, freedom is only true freedom when those she has represented can finally go free from the hell they are living in.
            The U.S. State Department, in response to her recent arrest along with her husband Reza, spoke out against her unjust imprisonment.
            We applaud Ms. Sotoudeh’s bravery and her fight for long-suffering victims of the regime. We call on Iranian authorities to release her immediately, along with the hundreds of others who are imprisoned simply for expressing their views and desires for a better life.”

            Proverbs 31 commands us to be a voice for the voiceless. Nasrin has spent her life standing up for the downtrodden and oppressed and now it’s our turn to speak up for her.
            While suffering in prison, Nasrin wrote an intimate and personal letter to her husband Reza, once again demonstrating her love and compassion for the hurting Iranians.

            My dear Reza; Everyone ponders about their freedom while in prison. Although my freedom is also important to me, it is not more important than the justice that has been ignored and denied.”
            Nasrin is a glowing example of compassion for the voiceless. She is more committed to their freedom than her own! She truly is a symbol of hope and healing for the Iranian people.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Mania Masoudi: "Safe in the arms of God."


Living in the oppressed culture of Iran, Mania had no hope and no future as a woman. Then one day, God brought a special person into her life that would take her on an incredible journey to a living hope in Christ. Mania's incredible story will be featured in my book, "Dear God, please bring freedom to Iran."




               Growing up in Tehran, Mania’s childhood memories were not filled with the laughter and innocence of a normal girl as typical of so many, but rather they were filled with the painful memories of a culture that was oppressive to women. Her family was not religious, but Muslim in name only, and from the very beginning Mania had no interest in reading the Quran or practicing Islam. She was offended by the way her culture treated women. Men and women were not equal but segregated. The husband treated his wife as a possession and she had no other alternative but to obey. He had the freedom to marry up to four wives, but she must remain submissive and obedient to his every sexual desire. The wife could not travel alone and had to have the husband’s permission for everything she did. She was forced to wear a hijab when going out publicly and was constantly under the scrutiny and control of her husband.

                When Mania observed on a daily basis how dominating and controlling Islam was, especially to women, she decided that if this is who God really is, then she didn’t want to have anything to do with him. She was saddened by the way women were treated like birds in a cage, with no choice and no freedom. For Mania, Islam was a religion of fear that gave men total control over a woman. She felt trapped in a culture of oppression and discrimination with no way out and no future for her as a woman.

            Hearing the tragic news of her brother suffering a stroke while serving in the Iranian army brought more misery and sadness into Mania’s already troubled world. Now she had the difficult task of helping her mother be a caretaker for Milad who was partially paralyzed. Each day she had to help him shower and dress. Overwhelmed by feelings of worthlessness, Milad tried twice to commit suicide, but fortunately was unsuccessful. Watching her brother emotionally deteriorate everyday caused Mania to sink deeper into her own darkness of depression.

            Learning to play the piano became a serious passion for Mania as she tried to cope with the sadness and depression that dominated her life. Her parents hired a personal piano teacher to give her daily lessons. When Mania was introduced to Rambod, she was immediately impressed by his kind and gentle spirit. Unlike Mania, Rambod was a religious man, and he loved to talk about his faith. He was a Christian that belonged to the Armenian Church, a church that had been shut down by the government. Rambod eagerly shared his faith in Christ with Mania. Even though Mania had completely given up on God and religion, she found herself being drawn to what Rambod said and was curious in learning more.

            Rambod invited Mania to church and she was shocked to discover that instead of meeting in a huge cathedral building, that instead his group met in a small house. Rambod was part of the house church movement in Iran which was constantly under the surveillance of the government. Christianity was not a welcome religion in Iran. It was against the law for Muslims to convert to Christ and if caught they would be arrested, imprisoned, and in some cases put to death.

            While attending one of the house church meetings, Mania confided in Rambod about her brother’s paralysis and together they prayed for him to be healed. Two days later, Mania’s world was transformed forever! Milad had been miraculously healed and could now dress himself and take showers. He was no longer paralyzed! Mania was astonished by what appeared to be a miraculous answer to prayer and this amazing event compelled her to become a Christian.

            Mania’s life had radically changed! She had discovered a God who gave her hope and a future. He was not a God of fear or violence, but rather a God she could talk directly to and feel his love. Most importantly she discovered that the God of Christianity treated women with respect and compassion. However, the good times did not last very long. One evening, government agents burst through the doors and began arresting the Christians during their worship service. Panic-stricken, Mania quickly escaped through a back door and fled down the street toward her home. It would be the last time that she ever saw her dear friend Rambod.
            The very next day at
 her photography studio, Mania received a frantic phone call from her mother. The Police had been at their home looking for her. Her mother instructed her to immediately leave Tehran and go to a friend’s house where she would be safe until the heat died down. After staying at her friend’s home in the countryside, once again her mother called. This time the news was even worse! Her father had been arrested. It was no longer safe for her to remain in Iran. Arrangements had been made by her mother for her to meet a man who would take her to the airport and smuggle her out of Iran.

            Frantic with the fear of being arrested and put in prison, Mania followed her mother’s instructions, and rode with the strange man to the airport. Within a few hours they were airborne and enroute to London. Mania was amazed of how smoothly everything was going. She had not been stopped by the police for questioning, but instead had made a miraculous exit from a country that was looking for her because she was now a Christian!
            After landing at Heathrow Airport in London, the man that had accompanied her mysteriously vanished! She was now all alone, in a strange country, exhausted, and shaking with fear. Unsure of what do next, Mania introduced herself to the airport staff and explained that she had escaped from Iran because the government was going to arrest her. Mania was now a refugee, an illegal alien knocking at the back door of the UK pleading for asylum.

            The Airport staff transported her to at Detention Center Zone temporarily until she could be properly processed. The detention zone was a frightening place filled with strange men and Mania quickly discovered that she was the only woman there! The overnight stay was one of the most frightening experiences of her life. She couldn’t sleep, shaking with fear, that at any second, she would be raped by one of the strange men. It felt almost like being back in Iran!



            Three days later, after being ill from the horrible food and the fear of being raped, Mania was finally transferred to Stockport City in Manchester. Stockport City quickly became like heaven on earth to her. It was a huge hotel with much better sleeping conditions and much better food. During her hotel stay, an extensive background check was done on Mania and she successfully passed. Now she qualified for the next step in the process. She was transferred to Liverpool and applied for a formal application as an asylum seeker.

            Since 2015, Mania has been living in Glasgow, Scotland in a government furnished flat with two rooms and a lovely roommate from Nigeria. In January 2017, she was officially baptized and became a member of the Easter House Baptist Church. Reflecting back on the incredible events that have transformed her life in the past three years, Mania summarizes everything with one word, “Grateful."


            Mania is grateful to God for her new life, because now she has hope. When she lived in Iran, she was bitter, depressed, and without hope. She had no future, but Christ has given her hope and a future. Her heart is filled with gratitude that her life was miraculously spared. Instead of being tortured in a dirty prison in Iran, she is instead studying for the future at a university in the Scotland. Mania was attracted to Christianity by its love. The God of Christianity filled her heart with love instead of fear and gave her hope and forgiveness instead of depression and despair. Mania describes her present situation as, “safe in the arms of God.”