“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” -John 16:33
Three years ago in the country of Iran a pastor by the name of Youcef Nardarkhani was jailed and sentenced to death for “apostasy”. For those who don’t know, apostasy, as defined as “a total desertion of or departure from one’s religion, principles, party, cause, etc…”
Saturday, September 8th, 2012 after more than three years in prison, he was freed. After appearing before the Iranian supreme court, he was acquitted of apostasy but found guilty of a lesser crime of “evangelizing to Muslims” which carries with it a 3 year prison sentence. The court granted him time served and he was reunited with his family.
This is an incredible turn of events. We should celebrate that our brother in Christ has been reunited with is family and able to continue the work that God has called him to. I am thankful that this has happened. I am personally almost to the point of tears that this happened, because at many turns, Pastor Youcef’s sentence could have been carried out. God is good!
What I have learned about this story is several things. First, the power of prayer has not been diminished. The number of people that have prayed for Youcef have been countless, and God is still in the business of listening to His people. This is nothing short of a miracle, and all praise to God for that.
What I have also learned is that there is persecution in the world. Pastor Youcef’s story is not an isolated incident. There are people right now who are claiming Jesus as their savior in the face of incredible oppression not some of the cosmetic persecution that we like to make a big deal about. Our prayers for them needs to be just as strong and fervent as our prayers for Youcef. Our prayer should be that they remain faithful despite whatever cost. Our prayer should be that they rest in Paul’s assertion that for us to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Here is also what I learned. We live in an amazing country. I am a professional minister, in that my job is to minister to people…and can tell you about my job without fear of being thrown in prison. The church I serve at is an incredible group of people and I am thankful God has called me to this place. There is nothing stopping me from worshipping, speaking about, or glorifying Jesus. I understand that this freedom is an amazing thing. I understand that some believe that it is something that is in some level of jeopardy. Although I don’t agree with some of their premise that it is in jeopardy, I have a mentality that my worshipping of Jesus is not contingent on whatever freedom that we may or may not have. Ask Pastor Youcef if he thinks the absence or presence of the First Amendment was in his decision making process when he decided to follow Jesus. After being imprisoned for more than 3 years and staring death in the face the entire time, I think you can guess his response.
This is a special day, and I celebrate Youcef’s release. But his call is no different than ours. To follow Jesus with all our mind, body, soul, and strength without regard for the thoughts, concerns, affect on popularity, possibility of oppression, arrest, or death. Pastor Youcef is free! And so are we!