Sign of the Times: Persecuted Friends

Each Saturday I host an online Bible study made up of men from all over the world. Some are pastors, some missionaries, but most are just regular guys working forty to fifty hours a week.  What we share in common is a desire to follow Jesus better, every day.

This past Saturday, I asked two brothers to join us from Eastern Europe. Telli is originally from Iran, Marti is from Afghanistan (for security purposes, not their real names).  Both of these men became Christians in their home countries and were forced to leave, or face certain death. They each have some very specific prayer needs, and I wanted our Saturday guys to meet them, and pray.

I met Telli and Marti at a church in Eastern Europe, where I spoke in November 2022. Their pastor is my good friend, Luci, who is also part of our Saturday fellowship.

Brother Telli is the older of the two. He has a delightful smile, happy eyes, an a gregarious personality. He is Persian and from Iran.

“I was born a Muslim,” he told me, when we first met, “But I was not a believer in anything.  I am an engineer and religion made no sense to me.”

Though Bibles are illegal to distribute in Iran, Telli came across a one, which he curiously perused.  “It was a red letter Bible. The words of Jesus were all in red and it was very easy to understand.”

Telli was amazed.  He thought Christianity was a religion created man and, like the religion he had been surrounded by his entire life,  assumed it was void of love. “I was not reading anything that could have been written by a human.  Jesus, in the red letters, said, ‘Love your enemy.’  I was told Christians were full of hate and evil. This is not what I was reading.”

Telli made a decision to follow Jesus and was filled with a joy he had never before experienced. His engaging personality naturally led him to tell others about his faith, but his outspokenness soon created a target and he became wanted by Iranian religious police.

“I WAS NOT GOING TO BE SILENT”

“You cannot tell others about Jesus in my country, and I was not going to be silent. If I stayed I would have to publicly renounce Jesus or be imprisoned and then killed.”

Sensing imminent danger, Telli quickly gathered his identification documents and cash.  There would be no suitcase, only the clothes on his back and a small backpack.  His sister, who was pregnant, and his brother in law decided to leave Iran with him.

“The sun sets in the west, and that is where Europe is. We could be free there. We followed the sun.” It was a journey of some 2,000 miles, much of which was carried out on foot. “We were often very cold. I was beaten by robbers and my papers and money were  stolen. My nose was smashed and my skull was broken. I felt responsible for my sister. This was not going well.”

In his moment of need, Telli cried out to the Lord. “I accept you, I go with your words. Are you real or not?  Help me. I am in a bad situation. Please help me and I will serve you.”

Marti is a handsome man in his early thirties. He is a bit more reserved than his friend Telli, but his countenance radiates Jesus.

Marti first became curious about Jesus through viewing the animated Christian cartoon series, Veggie Tales, which he came across on the Internet.  The episodes he discovered were in a soundtrack he understood, Arabic.

“I was told Christians were of the devil. But these characters in the cartoon were very nice and full of love,” he explained to me.  “Then I thought of the Christian people who come to Afghanistan to deliver food and clothing. They were always very nice and seemed like they had love in their hearts. They were not evil like I had been taught.”

Marti made a decision that Jesus was indeed Lord.

“YOU MUST LEAVE IMMEDIATELY”

His family soon learned of his interest in Christianity and Jesus. Fearing the ruling authorities they decided to take matters into their own hands, placing Marti under house arrest. For two years they tried to physically beat Jesus out of him. “I was not going to stop believing. It was the Lord who kept me alive,” he said.

Finally, the family’s patience with Marti had grown thin.

“My grandmother talked to me in secret. She said, ‘They are going to kill you. You must leave immediately.’”

Honor killings are quite common in certain sectors of the Middle East and allowed by law, and Marti was on the family’s hit list. He rapidly collected his identification and money, and escaped. Like Telli, he told me, “I followed the sun setting in the west.”

His long journey to a refugee camp along the Turkish border with Europe took over two months, during which time he was beaten by and robbed by thieves. He would later learn that his grandmother had been brutally murdered by the family as a religious traitor.

“HE ANSWERED ALL MY PRAYERS”

During the Bible study, yesterday, we asked these two saints, “Did persecution sharpen your faith in Jesus?”

Both of them resolutely stated, “No.”

Telli elaborated, “The reality of Jesus makes me stronger. I accept whatever he has for me. We do not fear men.”

Marti agreed, adding, “He answered all my prayers.”

All of them,” Telli underscored.

Now that you know a bit about Telli and Marti, here is what they asked we pray about.

Marti has another court date to get approval to permanently remain in Eastern Europe. Because all of his papers were stolen, he has no proof of identity. Though he is not considered a threat, and currently has a job as an engineer, he has not been able to produce the documents required to become a legal permanent resident. The court has the power to send him back to Afghanistan where the laws of darkness await.

Telli’s identity was proven to the courts, so he is a permanent resident; his prayer request was first and foremost for Marti.  Additionally, he asked us to pray that someday he will be reunited with his wife and daughter.

“BE ON YOUR GUARD,” A WARNING FROM JESUS

2000 years ago, when describing societal conditions in the End Times (prior to His return as Messiah and judge of the earth), Jesus seems to have been speaking of Telli and Marti’s plight,

“But be on your guard; for they will hand you over to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them.  And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations.  And when they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you at that time; for you are not the ones speaking, but it is the Holy Spirit. And brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by everyone because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved,” (Mark 13:9-13).

Telli and Marti are examples of the world in which we live. Millions and millions of Christians are being violently persecuted today, in China, the Middle East, and Africa.

As a member of our Saturday group told me yesterday after meeting Telli and Marti, “There story is the real world of Christianity.”

Please pray for Telli and Marti.

Brian Sussman

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