"I am ready to return to prison if necessary, in order to fight for the rights of Christians."
(Mary Mohammadi-Interview Article 18, December 2019)
I can vividly remember the last message that I received from my Iranian friend Mary on her Telegram account just two days before her arrest. I had just finished dressing and was late to work, but stopped for just a moment to read her message. It was a petition she wanted me to post on my Facebook protesting against the film on Netflix that portrayed Jesus as a homosexual. I smiled and nodded my head, “That is my friend, Mary,” I mumbled to myself, “She is so outspoken and dedicated!”
Right below the petition was a question, “Randy, how do you feel and react about the death of Soleimani as a Christian?”
I was pleasantly surprised by Mary’s thoughtful question. It had been just a few days since President Trump had given the order for a drone missile strike on the jeep carrying Iran’s top military General which had instantly killed him. I carefully pondered Mary’s question and then began texting her back:
“I am happy for you and for all Iranians, that this terrorist can no longer kill people. However, I’m also saddened because even God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked. He desires that unbelievers repent, because if not, He knows they will spend eternity in Hell apart from Christ.”
That was the last message I had sent Mary……
One week later, On January 16, while browsing the internet, I came across a story from Article 18 that sent shock waves through my whole body. The article explained that Mary Mohammadi had been arrested in Azadi Square in Tehran on January 12, during the time when thousands of Iranians were protesting the downing of the Ukrainian jet airliner. It was unknown at the time where she had been taken.
I dropped my cellphone in my lap and bowed my head in prayer. A few minutes later, after composing myself, I quickly began sharing Mary’s story on my Facebook pages requesting urgent prayer.
I had become good friends with Mary over a year ago through my Iranian friend Mehnoush. She shared her incredible story and I knew right away that it would be featured in our new book, “Dear God, please bring freedom to Iran.”
In 2017, at the age of 17, Mary converted from Islam to Christianity. In Iran, that is a very dangerous thing to do! Converts face arrest, imprisonment, and sometimes even the death penalty. That is exactly what happened to Mary. She was arrested, interrogated, and put in Evin Prison for six months. During that time, her interrogators, psychologically abused her and tried to force her to recant her faith and return to Islam. Mary stood firm in her convictions and refused!
After her release in May of 2018, Mary refused to keep quiet about her faith. She began a ministry on her Instagram account entitled, “Campaign KHMA.” The campaign was dedicated to religious freedom in Iran and featured videos and articles from Christians and human rights activists all over the world. For the next several months, Mary would send me articles for the campaign that had been translated from Persian into English and asked me to proof check the spelling. I happily agreed, knowing that her campaign was sending a powerful message to the world supporting Christians in Iran. I remember that during Easter I recorded a worship song at my church for her campaign. Mary wanted to feature Christian worship videos to her audience showing the joy of true worship in churches that were free from arrest and imprisonment. Mary’s campaign on Instagram truly challenged my Christian faith and my commitment to Christ. Her courage deeply touched my heart and reminded me to not take for granted my freedom to worship as a Christian.
In December 2019, for the second time in a year, Mary was expelled from University in Tehran. A few days later she gave an interview to Article 18. Article 18 is a non-profit organization in London, dedicated to the protection and promotion of religious freedom in Iran and advocating on the behalf of persecuted Christians. Mary was asked whether she believed her Tweets supporting Christians may have led to her expulsion from university.
“Of course, Mary declared, all the activities, statements, and any action taken by members of minority groups, and activists, especially those living in Iran, is constantly monitored by the Islamic Republic. Any such activism could lead to being denied a right, and my recent tweets may have made the authorities even more determined.”
On the day of her arrest, Mary had been very busy on Twitter, tweeting support for Christians in prison in Iran, and criticizing the government for misleading the people about their involvement in shooting down the Ukrainian Jet airliner. Shortly after tweeting, Mary disappeared! The security forces converged on the crowd of protesters In Azadi Square and promptly arrested my dear friend.
According the HRANA ( Human rights activist news agency) in a story published on February 12, 2020, at the time of her arrest, Mary was severely beaten by male and female agents and then transferred to Vozara Detention center, where she continued to be abused and physically assaulted. The beatings were so severe that the bruises on her body were visible for more than three weeks. Before her interrogation at Vozara, Mary was forced to sit outside in the bitter cold in front of the toilets. Officers demanded that she answer thirty questions but Mary refused until a lawyer was present.
At the time of this writing, HRANA, (Human rights activists’ new agency) published a report on the internet that Mary Mohammadi has been detained in Qarchak Prison, in the south of Tehran. Qarchak Prison has a reputation of being, “hell on earth.” It is one of the most dangerous and filthy women’s prisons in Iran, housing more than 2,000 women with very limited access to showers, toilets, and decent food. It is a dangerous environment for rape, murder, and torture. Her bail has been set at 30 million Tomans (equivalent to 2,250 in U.S. money) and her family has managed to raise the money.
I was devastated when I read where my dear friend Mary is being imprisoned at! Mary’s whole life has inspired and challenged my Christian faith. Her heart’s desire is for herself and all Christians in Iran to have the freedom to worship without fear of arrest and imprisonment. Reflecting on her courage and refusal to keep silent in one of the most dangerous places on earth to be a Christian, causes me to ask all of us a very important question!
Where is your church? Is it safely inside four walls and padded pews? Or is your church “outside of the box” among the broken and helpless, where it is dangerous, risky, and inconvenient? The church in the west is far too insulated from the real world. We are safe, protected, and, in some cases spoon fed pep-talk sermons that are guaranteed to get us out on time for the start of a major sporting event on Sunday.
In contrast, Mary’s church is located on the cold, dark broken concrete floors of a disease infested prison filled with drug dealers and prostitutes. A prison that has a reputation of beating and torturing, and even raping its prisoners. For the last several weeks I have been fervently praying that God would protect and strengthen my dear friend and give her boldness to be a light in the darkness of Qarchak Prison. Later this week, I was overwhelmed with joy when I watched in a video, President Donald Trump mention Mary’s captivity during the 68th Annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC. President Trump said,
“Weeks ago, a 21-year-old woman, who goes by the name of Mary, was seized and imprisoned in Iran because she converted to Christianity and shared the gospel with others.”
Mary’s incredible story has reached the White House, and President Trump, who is a strong voice and supporter of the Iranian people. If it was possible to talk face to face with my dear Iranian friend, this is exactly what I would say to her:
“Mary, I am so inspired and proud of your incredible courage! This government is very afraid of you! They arrested you because they are afraid of you, Mary. They are afraid of who you are and what you represent. You represent Christ and this government fears Christianity. Islam is dying inside of Iran, while Christianity is growing by leaps and bounds!
They’re afraid of you Mary because you are a woman and a woman is leading the masses of Iranians to find their hope in Jesus instead of Mohammed. Don’t give up the fight, Mary! They will never stop or destroy you! Jesus will never leave or forsake you. He has promised that the gates of hell cannot prevail against the church and your mission is guaranteed to succeed. Your prayer for Iranians to have the freedom to worship will most certainly one day come true!”
Soon after being elected President of Iran in 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad publicly pledged to Iranians, “I will stop Christianity in this country!”
Since that public speech, millions of Iranians have converted to Christianity and are secretly meeting in house churches, unafraid and unashamed to be called by the name of Christ. The fastest growing church in the world is the underground church in Iran. In her last interview before her arrest, Mary said, “I hope one day all Christians in Iran will be able to have a place to praise God without security guards.”
Mary, I promise to support you, speak for you, and pray for you, to see your vision of a free Iran come true!
On February 27, 2020, I was overjoyed to read the news that Mary had been released on temporary bail from Qarchak Prison. With the recent outbreak of the coronavirus sweeping across Iran claiming the lives of hundreds of people, the government stepped in and began releasing prisoners whose sentences were less than five years and those that tested negative for the virus. Mary was one of them! I will never forget a few days later that we connected on Telegram. I texted Mary anxious to know how she was doing and asked her how she was feeling. Mary quickly texted back with a very positive reply.
“I am fine, dear. Jesus and Christians are behind me!
I was not surprised by her answer. Mary has always maintained a very positive and hopeful attitude through all of her struggles. She explained to me that Qarchak Prison was a horrible experience, very dangerous, and that the food was awful!
However, there was one more hurdle to overcome. Mary had to return to court a few days later and face the judge. She told me that she believed she would be sentenced and that it “was her duty to go to prison and stand up for Christians in Iran.”
Mary’s attitude toward a possible future sentence really surprised me at first, but after a few moments, I understood why she felt that way. Being a voice of hope for Christians in Iran is her passion. She feels that its her duty to represent them even if it means that she will have endure more suffering. I told Mary I would pray for her and we ended our conversation.
Monday, March 2 at 2 am my time, I received a text from Mary on Telegram. She explained to me that her court date had been postponed because the Judge was suffering from the coronavirus! I literally screamed for joy, hopefully not waking up my wife Becky, asleep in the other room! I texted Mary back with tears of joy in my eyes, telling her how happy I was that God had answered all of our prayers.
Mary must return to court on Tuesday, April 14, probably after the coronavirus has subsided. At the time of this writing, thousands of Iranians have been infected with the virus, and many have died due to the incompetence of the government. Mary is resting comfortable at home uncertain of her future but determined to continue being a voice for Christians in Iran. Mary challenges and inspires my Christian faith. She is in the hands of a sovereign, loving God who promises his people a “hope and a future.”
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”
No matter the outcome, I am trusting in the Lord that he will use Mary for his glory, whether in captivity or in freedom. Mary is not afraid. She is also trusting in God for the future of her life. She has submitted herself into his sovereign care and awaits her return to court. One thing is for certain. Mary refuses to keep silent in Iran. She will never stop, “shouting freedom!”