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Saturday, July 1, 2017

Donya Jam: Being a voice for the voiceless

Donya Jam is an Iranian-American human rights activist and also a dear friend of mine. She dedicates all of her passion and energy to writing and protesting against the current regime in Iran. I have had the pleasure of interviewing Donya on my radio program. Recently she attended the annual "Free Iran Rally" in Paris. The story you are about to read appears in my book, "The Cross in the Desert: Speaking hope and freedom to Iran."

 “Speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves.” (Proverbs 31:8)

 Donya is one of my newest Iranian friends. She is an Iranian American who uses her freedom in a very unique way. Persian names have very special meanings that relate to one’s lifestyle. The name, “Donya” in Persian literally means, “world.” The meaning of Donya’s name fits perfectly with who Donya is. Donya is a powerful voice of hope for the world and most importantly for her people, her friends, her family, that still live under the oppression and fear of the Iranian Regime. Donya and her family have not forgotten their people. Just recently at a demonstration in front of the White House, Donya joined a group of protesters from “Iran resistance” to denounce and speak out against the increase of executions since Rouhani became President of Iran. One of her favorite Scriptures is Proverbs 31:8, which commands us to, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.” Donya is a voice of hope for Iranians, who because of imprisonment, torture and death, have to remain silent for fear of their lives.
I recently asked Donya to share her story so that her voice would be heard all over the world through my books. This is Donya’s story in her own words:

 Since the barbaric regime of Iran came into power in 1979, there have been nonstop executions and torture against the Iranian people. Shortly after the Revolution, its war against Christians began. A Christian Pastor by the name of Arasto Sayaah was killed by the Iranian Regime. Bahram William Dehqani-Tafti was another Christian shot to death by the Iranian Regime. Anyone who simply spoke their mind and did not agree with the regime was quickly arrested, thrown into jail, and put in danger of execution. Over 120,000 supporters of the Iranian Resistance, who supported 73 freedom and democracy for Iran, have been executed by the regime. My family had to flee from Iran because of their brutality. It was a very difficult decision. Either you start a new life as a refugee and face the difficulty it brings or live under barbaric cruelty. Life as a refugee has been very tough because you still feel the regime is trying to silence you. Since my family came out of Iran, Iran and the Iranian people are still in our hearts. My family and I continually think about the plight of the people of Iran. We began working with our Muslim friends side by side in the Senate, Congress and churches, speaking out and educating people about what is really happening inside of Iran. It is our responsibility as a Iranians to be a voice of hope for our people.
 My mother is an Iranian-Christian pastor. My family is serving the Lord. I have been raised in the church and I remember asking my mom one day if I could be baptized. That was truly an amazing day! Now as a Christian and an Iranian, I do my very best to give Iranians a voice. The Bible says, “Speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves,” (Proverbs 31:8)

 In September of this year, 2014, my family and I joined other protesters in confronting President Rouhani during his trip to the United Nations. Just recently, we attended a demonstration in front of the White House to protest against executions in Iran. The Iranian Regime is a very dangerous terrorist entity in the Middle East, even aiding the blood-thirsty dictator, Bashar al-Assad in Syria. I believe that this regime cannot be reformed. They are playing political games with the world. It is very plain to see that since Rouhani became President of Iran, the executions have increased, averaging one execution every seven hours. There is only one solution for Iran and that is a democratic regime change by the Iranian people and its resistance movement led by Mrs. Maryam Rajavi. I pray and hope that very soon Iran will be freed from this evil regime and that one day a democratic government will be established

"The sun is gonna shine again: The rose is gonna live again."

The passion of my life is being a voice for my dear Iranian friends. Four years ago, I published a novel depicting the dangerous life of an Iranian freedom fighter named Bahareh. The name of the novel was "The rose of Nowruz: dreams of hope and freedom."
Bahareh was a concert violinist who became a powerful freedom fighter after witnessing a horrible scene on the streets of Tehran from her bedroom window.
The novel opens with that scene while Bahareh is practicing her violin.

"Bahareh continued to play her violin with passion and precision. The beautiful notes soared through the air of her tiny, quiet bedroom and out through the open window into Englehab street. In her mind’s eye, Bahareh could see the faces of her friends. They were laughing, smiling, rejoicing and having fun. Women were free to walk the streets without wearing their hijabs. There was an incredible celebration in the streets of Iran. There was no more violence or protests or arrests! The streets were filled with Iranians celebrating life once again.

“Take your hands off of me! Leave me alone. Help!”

The sounds of desperate screams coming from the streets rudely interrupted the joyous sounds of Bahareh’s violin. She immediately stopped playing and set her violin down on the bed and ran toward the window. She lifted up the blinds and gazed down below on Englehab Street. A security officer dressed in a blue uniform was struggling with a young girl. The young girl was fighting for her life and trying to resist being arrested. Finally, another officer joined in the struggle and they both began dragging her toward a green and white van parked along the curb. It was the Gasht Ershad, once again out on the streets of Tehran. The Gasht Ershad was the “morality police” of Iran that daily patrolled the streets enforcing the Islamic dress code. A group of six Iranian police officers drove a green and white van daily to inspect men and women, making sure they were wearing proper clothing in compliance with the dress code. Most women, when they spotted the van on the street, would immediately take off running to avoid the frightening confrontation. Women were instructed to wear a hijab whenever going out publicly. They had to make sure that the hijab was properly put on so it would fully cover their hair. In some cases women would a chador that fully covered their whole body and arms. In the summer heat, this was very uncomfortable; so many women refused to wear it and instead would do their best to avoid the Gasht Ershad. Women had to make sure that their skin was fully covered by their clothing or else they would risk a nasty confrontation with the “morality police!” Displaying too much skin because of inadequate clothing could result in a fine or even an arrest. Women were forbidden to wear nail polish or too much make up publicly as this was not appropriate under strict Islamic law.
The law stated that a woman could not reveal her hair or ankles or wear loose-fitting trousers that would expose skin. Violators of the Islamic dress code resulted in both minor and serious consequences. A woman could receive a verbal warning by a female interrogator in the streets and be forced to sign a written agreement to dress more appropriately and explicitly follow the dress code. The more severe consequences resulted in women being lashed, imprisoned for up to three months and forced to attend special classes on respecting the rules. Bahareh watched in horror as the two security officers physically dragged the screaming and distraught young girl and finally forced her into the green and white parked van. Two young men who had been watching the violent scene, began pushing the officers demanding them to let her go. “Leave her alone you medieval bastards!!” one of the young men shouted in protest. One of the officers pulled out a large baton from his belt and began savagely beating the young man. Another officer joined in and soon the young man was sprawled out on the sidewalk with blood streaming down his face, no longer resisting. Bahareh could no longer watch the horror from her window. She covered her face with her hands and sat down on the bed next to her violin. The once beautiful song of hope that she had been playing had been silenced by the violent tactics of the Gasht Ershad. The rose had been silenced and crushed just like the lyrics to the chorus of her song. A Free Iran seemed so far away. Despair and depression like a dark cloud filled Bahareh’s mind. She sat on the edge of her bed and wept and began to doubt. Bahareh lifted her face out of her hands. The screaming and yelling had finally stopped. The crowd below her window had dispersed. The Gasht Ershad had arrested another woman and severely beat a young Iranian protestor. They were moving on now to another section of Tehran looking for more violators.

 Bahareh wiped the tears from her eyes and stared down at her violin. She reached over and touched the strings with the tips of her fingers, whispering in a tearful voice,  “The sun is gonna shine again. The rose is gonna live again.”

"A prison of fear: Mehrnoosh's story."

     “A Prison of Fear.”                                      Mehrnoosh’s story      

“I was suffocating! I couldn’t breathe! My house was like a prison to me!”
 Unlike most marriages, Mehrnoosh’s marriage was as she describes, a prison of fear.
 Growing up in Iran, at the age of 20, Mehrnoosh met Abbas. He seemed like the perfect man, handsome, wealthy, educated, and yet as the old cliché goes, “looks can be deceiving!”
 Abbas went to work every day, like the normal husband but would call Mehrnoosh repeatedly from work to check up on her. Soon, he turned into a monster, becoming jealous, possessive and controlling. Mehrnoosh became a prisoner in her own home, having to obtain permission to leave.  Things quickly became worse! Abbas began to physically abuse her. Desperate to escape, Mehrnoosh called the police, crying out for help. But instead of responding to her cries, they ignored them and Mehrnoosh continued to be a helpless victim!  In Iran, women are treated like second-class citizens. They must wear a hijab (veil) publicly and adhere to a strict dress code, which includes not showing too much skin or too much make-up. The morality police patrol the streets of Iran daily and if a woman is not properly wearing her hijab and is in violation of the dress code, she can be fined, arrested and publicly lashed.  After several reports to the police, Mehrnoosh was finally allowed to see a Judge and report the physical abuse. However, instead of getting justice, she instead got a lecture from the judge.
 “Why are you here?”  The judge demanded, “ You should not be complaining to the court about your husband!”
 Mehrnoosh was devastated. She felt helpless.
 “Women are not treated like human beings in Iran,”  Mehrnoosh remembers thinking, “ We are treated like animals, like possessions!”
 The judge continued to lecture Mehrnoosh.
 “Your husband is your owner, ” he declared, ignoring the obvious marks of physical abuse on her face.
    Even though Mehrnoosh felt helpless and despaired; she understood why she was being treated in such a manner. This was consistent with the teachings of the Quran and the Islamic culture she was living in.

“I hated Islam!”

Mehrnoosh hated Islam because of the way Muslim men treated their wives. She remembered reading Surah 4 in the Quran:

“As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill conduct, Admonish them (first) (Next) refuse to share their beds (And last) beat them.”                                       (Surah 4:34)

“What kind of God would instruct a husband to beat his wife?” Mehrnoosh asked herself with anger and frustration.

The abuse continued. Mehrnoosh struggled to survive. “Every day of every moment,” Mehrnoosh cried out, I was sad and crying. I prayed all of the time but felt trapped with no p ossible way out!”
 For Mehrnoosh, life had become a living hell, filled with darkness and despair. A year later, she gave birth to her first son and named him Mehrsam ( nicknamed Sami). However, her life didn’t change. There was still turmoil and abuse. Desperate for her life and the safety of her son, Sami, Mehrnoosh met some people. They promised to help her. What can only be described as a miraculous answer to her prayers, she paid them a large sum of money and they smuggled both her and her son out of Iran to Sweden where the rest of her family was living. Sweden was a haven for Iranian refugees and Mehrnoosh believed she would finally be safe and rid of her abusive husband once and for all! However, to her astonishment, Abbas followed her to Sweden, where he confronted her and once again, the physical abuse began!
  This time, however, The Swedish Police immediately responded and Abbas was arrested, tried and imprisoned for two months before finally being deported back to Iran!

Mehrnoosh felt now that she was finally safe, but because of the many years of trauma and abuse, she felt like she was still in prison. Even though she had left the oppression of living in Iran, Mehrnoosh still felt trapped. Life in Sweden still felt like the prison of Iran.

“I was afraid to walk down the street. I was afraid that Abbas would suddenly jump out at me. I was living in a prison of fear, even in Sweden!”

Then one day, Mehrnoosh’s life took a drastic change for the better! She walked into a church and heard Christians singing and praising God. Mehrnoosh was astonished! She had never experienced or heard of Christians singing to their God. She had been taught in Islam that music was “haram” or forbidden and yet when she heard the music, she immediately felt a deep sense of peace and belonging. When the Pastor began to teach, she was impressed by what he said. The Pastor quoted the teachings of Jesus from the Bible about loving and forgiving your enemies. Mehrnoosh was drawn to the words of Christ, especially the command to, “love your enemies.” “What a contrast! What a difference !”  Mehrnoosh thought to herself, “ Christianity teaches to forgive and it’s so much different than what Islam teaches.”
 Mehrnoosh recalls that she never directly asked Jesus for help. But very soon, “He sent me my angel!”
 The fear of men had tormented Mehrnoosh and she could not talk to any male attorneys. A woman named Alina, was finally appointed to her case. She was like an angel, a true friend and she went out of her way to review her case, secure her documents from Iran and begin the process of residency for her. Mehrnoosh was still a refugee and she understood that the road to residency was a difficult one! Very soon, the Bible became a precious book for Mehrnoosh. She fell in love with Jesus. She was impressed by the compassion and love that he showed women.

“I was once dead and now I’m alive!”

  On April 27, 2014, Mehrnoosh became a member of the local church and was baptized. Everyone noticed the immediate change in her. She had a joy and peace that she never had before. Unlike most Iranians who declare they are Christians and are baptized just to escape Iran and gain residency, Mehrnoosh never needed to do that. Her case was progressing thanks to Alina, her dear Angel lawyer. Mehrnoosh described to me her inward feelings, she said, “I was once dead and now I’m alive!”
 Her favorite Bible verse is Psalm 46: verse 1:

“God is our refuge. God is our strength. A very present help in trouble.”

I have had the privilege of knowing Mehrnoosh for about six months. She is very hopeful that one day soon  she will be granted residency in Sweden. Every day, I share with her a Bible verse on Viber. She now has a bright and jubilant smile instead of a frown of despair. Jesus has indeed brought her out of death and given her a new life. She no longer is in a prison of fear!

*A few months after this story was published, God answered my prayers for Mehrnoosh. She became an official citizen of Sweden!
Today Mehrnoosh is now happily married to Rickard and lives with her son Sami in Sunvall.

Payamenh's painful childhood in Iran

 Paymaneh's painful childhood

Peymaneh was just a young eight year-old child discovering the world when suddenly her life was violently interrupted by the Iranian Revolution in 1979. I asked Peymaneh to describe for me her early childhood in Iran. The following story is in her own words……

My childhood was full of pain, sorrows and sufferings. I did not experience a real childhood at all. I learned to know war and strife while the other children around the world were playing with their balls and dolls. I learned to say, “ Down with Iran! Down with this nation , while other children around the world were sharing love.” In my childhood, my favorite young men who used to offer me bike rides, who played soccer near our house, suddenly one day disappeared. Their memories became photos, photos of martyrs, photos of gravestones, the gravestones of political prisoners. The melody of my childhood was the music of war, the sound of bullets killing the political prisoners in prison near our house at dawn. My childhood was full of war, bombs, bloodshed and nightmares. During this time, one of the most frightening words that haunted me wherever I went was the word, “rape.” How I wish I could enclose this word in a steel box and drop it in the deepest part of the ocean. I wish I could bury this word in the middle of the earth so that no other child, no other woman, would ever have to experience it! According to the rules of Islam, if a virgin should die, she would immediately go to paradise. Many women opposed the rule of Khomeini and therefore became political prisoners. They were considered “ enemies of God!” not deserving of paradise but rather Hell!  In order to ensure their fate in hell, the women were raped in prison and then immediately executed!  Now they could not go to paradise, because they were no longer virgins! This was the evil punishment inflicted on them under the rule of Khomeini.
 45 The word “ raping” is still in my dreams and in my nightmares. It seems to follow me wherever I go! My other nightmares as I grew up was running in fear from the Revolutionary Guard, who wanted to arrest me because my hijab did not cover all of my hair and I was showing too much skin and did not dress according to the Islamic dress code. My childhood meant, don’t listen to music. It meant help your father bury his favorite books, cassette tapes and photos of his dear friends, hiding it from the Revolutionary Guard.  My childhood meant, hide your Bible where no one can find it. It also meant to expect the Revolutionary Guard to break into your house for any reason! My childhood was full of fears, full of worries, full of sorrows and full of sadness. In my early childhood, I learned that, “ happiness is banned, joy is forbidden and satisfaction is boycotted…..”