The Seeds of Faith

The day of Christian martyrs is not over. Just weeks ago more than 2,000 people gathered in the country of Iran to mourn the death of a great Christian leader, Bishop Haik Hovsepian-Mehr. The bishop was apparently murdered by Iranian authorities. But if the Muslim government in Iran thinks this is the way to wipe Christianity out of their country, they're making a serious mistake. The cross of Christ, which we celebrate on this Good Friday, teaches us that when the church is persecuted, it only grows stronger. When the seeds of the Gospel are buried, they blossom ever more brightly. From the day Bishop Haik entered the ministry, he endured frequent persecution. His Assembly of God church was attacked several times by radical Islamic groups, who threw rocks through the windows and tried to burn the building down. Bishop Haik himself was arrested repeatedly, threatened, and harassed. Yet his ministry thrived. The number of churches under his authority grew from 7 to 12. After the Iranian revolution in 1979, evangelical churches suffered even harsher persecution. Foreign missionaries were expelled from the country. Bible courses by correspondence were cut off. All publication of Bibles and Christian literature was stopped. The Islamic government even made it a capital crime to convert from Islam to any other religion. In other words, becoming a Christian could mean the death penalty. And still the Christian church in Iran thrived. The number of Muslim converts grew from only 300 in 1977 to more than 7,500 today—with many more Iranian Christians dispersed across the globe. Bishop Haik's path to martyrdom began last year when he appealed to the United Nations regarding human rights abuses against Iran's evangelical Christians—imprisonment, torture, and even execution. When the UN investigated, the Iranian authorities tried to polish up their image by pressuring all non-Muslim churches to sign a document affirming that they do enjoy religious freedom. The government also pressured churches to pledge not to evangelize their Muslim neighbors. The document was nothing but a farce and a threat, and Bishop Haik refused to sign it. But the bishop became a real thorn in the government's side when he protested the persecution of another Assembly of God pastor. The pastor's only crime was that he had become a Christian. Yet he had been imprisoned for 10 years and was about to be executed. This time international outrage was so vehement that Iranian authorities set the pastor free. But just days later, Bishop Haik disappeared. When his family came to identify the body, they saw that he had been stabbed 10 times. No one has claimed responsibility, but Middle East human-rights groups are convinced that the Iranian government did away with the troublesome pastor. Iranian Christians are in deep mourning over the loss of their bishop. Yet the message of Good Friday is that the cross is always followed by resurrection. The seed that is buried will blossom a hundredfold. As Western Christians, let us join today with believers around the world who are suffering for their faith. Let us pray all of us may grasp what this day means: that our Lord's death on the cross was the prelude to a glorious resurrection.


Chuck Colson


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