Farshid was one of several evangelical pastors held in Building 350 of Evin. Two of them, Saeed Abedini and Youcef Nadarkhani, are internationally known—their stories can be found on the internet. Youcef was sentenced to death and Saeed to eight years in prison.
Farshid was—and always will be—one of the happiest people I’ve ever met. I don’t mean just in prison; I mean my whole life. He found joy in service to God, despite being sentenced to six years in prison and only narrowly escaping the death sentence. He was a sincere Christian.
Pastors endured imprisonment better than other prisoners. You see, they always knew that they would be arrested one day. But their yearning to fulfill their calling was stronger than their fear of losing their freedom. This is why they continued evangelizing despite the constant threat of arrest. What happened to them was only what they expected, what they knew deep down probably could not be avoided. It was part of their life’s journey, and they walked their path with their heads held high.
I once told Farshid, “I am glad that you’re here in this prison.” It sounds strange, I know. But Farshid understood what I meant—we got along very well. He helped me a lot, just as he helped many other prisoners. He cheered up many unhappy faces inside that sad place. He offered hope to others; to me he gave the only English edition of the Bible available in Building 350 of Evin. He never realized how important to me that was.
Farshid organized various activities for other prisoners. He ran a library, taught table tennis (he was part of Iranian junior national table tennis team a long time ago), led Bible studies, moderated social evenings on Fridays, and organized other social activities. He was a very intelligent and skillful man, one hundred percent dedicated to his Christian mission. I believe that I will meet him again one day, somewhere in a better place.
It was Farshid who told me the story of one particular Iranian pastor, well known in Christian circles inside the Islamic Republic of Iran. It’s a powerful story about faith, forgiveness, and unbreakable hatred. The following words describe the story as I remember it. Because I cannot recall the name of the pastor (I have a terrible memory for names), I will call him “Reza.” Here is the story as Farshid told it.
One of the first Christian pastors, who actively and openly operated in Iran after the Islamic revolution, was called Reza. Just as I have been, he was accused of spreading Christianity in Iran and imprisoned in Evin. They held him in harsh conditions, forced him to spend years in solitary confinement, tortured him cruelly—both physically and psychologically.
One year passed—two—three . . . Reza still hadn’t been to court. Nothing was happening in his case. He suffered and waited. It took eleven long years before he finally stood before a judge. He waited eleven years in custody before a decision was made in his case. He had no chance of bail.
And then it came. After reading all the reports from the security police, after a detailed study of his case and after speaking with Reza himself (who was not ashamed of his faith and who, throughout the whole eleven years, never wavered, refusing to convert to Islam, for which they promised him freedom) a highly placed Muslim judge pronounced the verdict: “Death by hanging.”
Eleven years of waiting, eleven years of struggling in terrible prison conditions. . . . One day, one judge, one verdict. Death by hanging. What do you think, Matej—how might have Reza felt back then?
I got goosebumps on my back. I could not respond to Farshid’s question. All I could think of was, “why on earth did Reza not convert to Islam?” He could at least pretend . . . why didn’t he save his life? He could have spared himself years of suffering, he could have left the country and practiced his true faith elsewhere!
I did not understand the strength of his faith. His decision to suffer for Christ was beyond my comprehension. I did not answer Farshid’s question, so he continued with the story.
You know, Matej, there is a procedure in the Iranian judiciary—whenever a judge passes a verdict, he offers the person being sentenced a sheet of paper, on which he can write the so-called “last defense.” The convicted can write anything. The judge will then read his last defense and, in exceptional circumstances, might even mitigate the verdict. It does not happen very often, however.
In Reza’s case, the Muslim judge followed the standard procedure. After sentencing him to death, he passed Reza a piece of paper, giving him a chance for a last defense.
Pastor Reza wrote the following words on his piece of paper, “Let God's love, mercy and blessings always be with you, and with your whole family.” He then passed the paper back to the judge.
The judge read Reza’s last defense. It shocked him. After all, he had just sentenced this Christian to death by hanging! He had sentenced him to death after eleven difficult years behind bars! He had sentenced him to death for spreading a message of the God they both believed in, although in slightly different ways. . . .
And how did he, the Christian, use his last chance to defend himself—to present sound proof of his innocence, or to give up his faith at the last minute and avoid hanging?
He didn’t use this chance for a defense, nor did he leave a message for his family either. He didn’t vent his anger or ask the judge for mercy. He wished God’s love, mercy, and blessings on him—a Muslim. To the person who just a minute ago sentenced him to death by hanging.
Reza’s words touched the judge so profoundly that he immediately annulled the verdict. And since Reza had already spent eleven years in prison, the judge freed him immediately.
And so Reza was freed. He escaped the death sentence. He did not give up his faith even in the most trying circumstances; he forgave the judge who sentenced him to death. What more, not only did Reza immediately forgive him, he was not at all angry with him—just the contrary. He had wished him the most beautiful thing a man of faith can wish to another. It is a beautiful tale of a life lived truly in the name of God.
One might expect Reza to leave Iran once he had his freedom; it would be easy to imagine him moving elsewhere. But he stayed; he wanted to continue his Christian mission where he had started it.
A few weeks later, Reza was found dead at home, his body mangled by twenty-one long Islamic knives. His death was a terrible one.
Next to his body lay a note with an address. When the faithful, who found his body, went to this address, they discovered another Christian pastor. He had been murdered in exactly the same way as Reza. Twenty-one long knives had pierced the warm human flesh. An Islamic murder.
Let this story forever testify to the strength of faith. The real strength of Christian faith, but also of Islamic faith. . . .
Source: http://universityofsolitude.com/, part of the book University of Solitude, Matej Valuch