In November 2009, Open Doors USA launched an intensive advocacy campaign, consisting of prayer and emails, on behalf of Iranian Christian prisoners Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh.
Open Doors USA was one of several Christian and non-Christian agencies which urged the government to release the two women. Among the official charges against them were anti-government activities, blasphemy and apostasy. The apostasy charge, turning from Islam to Christianity, was the most serious. If convicted, it could result in death by hanging. For three years they had covertly put thousands of New Testaments in the hands of people they met and shared their Christian beliefs. As a result, they were also charged with propagating Christianity.
Maryam and Marziyeh spent most of their incarceration in Evin Prison, considered the worst prison in Iran. They refused to recant their faith in Jesus despite a variety of illnesses from the horrid conditions in prison, intense interrogations and pressure from government officials. Yet, while in prison, they ministered to fellow suffering prisoners and brought many of them to faith in Christ.
Finally, in November of 2009, they were freed after 259 days in prison and later cleared of all charges. They eventually fled to Turkey and then moved to the United States.
Their amazing, sudden release from prison was an answer to millions of prayers from Christians all over the world.
The riveting story of Maryam and Marziyeh is told in their own words in the recently released book Captive in Iran (Tyndale). I read the book in three days ... it is not only an account of their harsh imprisonment and eventual release, but a testimony to me how the Lord hears the prayers of His people. And how they stood strong in their faith despite such inhumane treatment. What would I do in that situation? What would you do?
The story of Maryam and Marziyeh holds true for millions of persecuted Christians around the globe. And it is a call for action for all of us. No. 1 to pray! The women eventually learned that thousands of Christians were praying for them ... that sparked such joy in their hearts. Also, Maryam and Marziyeh received thousands of letters of support, but were not allowed to open them while in prison.
Also, new prisoners relayed to them that organizations were publicizing their unjust imprisonment on radio and television. That was a key factor in the Iranian government dropping all charges.
While the story of Maryam and Marizyeh had a happy ending, there are still thousands of Christians who are in prison for their faith. U.S. pastor Saeed Abedini was arrested while visiting his parents and friends in Tehran last July and charged with spreading Christianity. In January he was sentenced to eight years in prison. Yes, the same notoriously brutal Evin Prison where Maryam and Marizyeh spent nine months behind bars.
Saeed has also refused to recant his belief in Christ. As a result, he reportedly has been abused and threatened in prison. Please pray for Saeed and his family. To write letters to Saeed, go to www.SaveSaeed.org.
Other Christians are also incarcerated in Iranian prisons and need our prayers. In addition, please pray for our brothers and sisters in North Korea who are being held in political prison camps – an estimated 60,000 to 80,000 believers – as threats of war come out of Pyongyang almost daily. We must remember that there is a “war” against Christians that is constant and increasing.
Marziyeh said in an interview after her release: “During this time it wasn’t just Maryam and Marziyeh who were imprisoned, but all these prayer warriors. This was such a great encouragement for us. We felt their presence alongside us. So please keep praying for those who are in prison for their faith, believers in Afghanistan and Pakistan and other places. Don’t think that your prayers are unimportant.”
In another powerful and timely book, called PERSECUTED: The Global Assault on Christians (Thomas Nelson), authors Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert and Nina Shea refer to Maryam and Marziyeh in a section about persecution of believers in Iran. The book gives a detailed look at ongoing persecution of Christians around the globe.
For more information on praying for persecuted Christians, go to www.onewiththem.com.
Jerry Dykstra is media relations director for Open Doors USA (www.OpenDoorsUSA.org, based in Santa Ana, California), the American arm of Open Doors International, a worldwide ministry supporting persecuted Christians since 1955.
Publication date: April 22, 2013