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"A Cry From Iran" is the most sacred film I have ever seen. This well-documented story of the martyrs from the church in Iran from 1990 to 2007 revolves around Rev. Haik Hovsepian’s life and his sacrificial act of love to save his friend and fellow Iranian pastor Mehdi Dibaj from imminent execution in 1994. This story moved me, silenced me, and caused me to worship. I spent portions of the film with my hands lifted In humility and praise.

                                      ***

In June, 1993 I moved to Paris, France with my very pregnant wife to work among Muslim and international students. In December of that year, we began to hear inside reports of a death sentence pronounced by a judge against Iranian pastor Mehdi Dibaj for apostasy for conversion from Islam to Christianity (read his written defense here). 

The source of these reports was Rev. Haik Hovsepian, who was head of the Protestant Pastor's Council for all of Iran. The reports indicated Dibaj was to be executed in the middle of January. We were among the many around the world who prayed for God’s intervention. We were relieved and delighted when Dibaj was suddenly released on January 16 after 10 years in prison (including two years of solitary confinement). This was just days before his scheduled execution.

 

Our rejoicing was cut short when Rev. Hovsepian disappeared from the streets of Tehran on January 19. For eleven days, along with Haik’s wife, four children, church leaders, and international human rights groups, we waited for news of Haik’s disappearance. On January 30, his eldest son was summoned to the morgue to look at photographs of unidentified corpses. He was relieved, after paging through a series of photographs of bodies, that he did not see his father. “Oh, we have one more photograph for you,” he was told. Though the face was bloodied, he could not mistake the gentle eyes of his father. 

 

Within the next six months, two other pastors would disappear and their battered bodies mysteriously appear in a Tehran park. One of those was Mehdi Dibaj. Through our ministry organization Shirin and I helped two families, whose lives were threatened by the Iranian regime during that wave of persecution, find housing and settle in to our neighborhood as religious refugees in France.

***

When I heard there would be a memorial celebration in Los Angeles for the 20th anniversary of Haik’s martyrdom, Shirin and I knew we must attend. Last night, we were surrounded by 1200 saints in the sanctuary of Glendale Presbyterian Church. This was a Who’s Who of the Church among the Iranian diaspora.  

 

For two hours, we worshiped, heard stories, and saw videos of Haik’s life, ministry, and martyrdom. The memorial was organized by Haik's now-adult children.  From my exposure 20 years earlier, I knew the outline of Haik’s story. Last night, I felt like I met the man. A man who knew he stood firm in the face of a lion that could eventually devour him. His brother recounted an anecdote from the evening of Haik’s daughter’s engagement party. Once the guests had all departed, Haik turned to his brother and said softly, “I am now fully prepared for my martyrdom.”  He would vanish 10 days later.

 

Last night was sacred. The Hovsepian family honored the many who have died or suffered for the cause of Christ in Iran. Some of the things that apprehended me most were…

 

  • The joy and steadfastness of Haik in the face of one of the darker regimes of the 20th century

 

  • The testimony of the family that misses a husband and father, but joyfully follows Jesus in his footsteps.

 

  • The expectation that suffering and possibly death are a norm for a Jesus-follower in modern Iran.

 

  • The church in Iran has exploded in part because of the blood of the martyrs.

 

Today, we watched the 70-minute film, A Cry From Iran. You may purchase it through  www.acryfromiran.com. The film was made by Haik's sons and Open Doors International. If you are unable to afford it, I will send you a free copy (email me at clyde@visualstory.org) if you are in the U.S. Learn more about about the ministry founded by the Hovsepian children at www.hovsepian.com.

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