When my father, Hossein Soodmand, was 7 years old, he threw a stone and broke a Christian woman’s water bucket because he had been told that Christians are unclean. As soon as he saw the bucket break, he turned to run, but he tripped over a large stone and crashed on the ground. Blood began to ooze out of his knee.
When he saw the Christian woman move toward him, fear gripped his heart. There was no escape. He had thrown the stones; he deserved the punishment. Now her shadow loomed over him, and he knew she would strike in anger.
But instead of delivering angry blows, her hand reached down and helped him to his feet. The “unclean” Christian woman cleaned his wound. Then she gave him some sweets. He had shown hate, but she responded with uncommon love. He never forgot her unusual display of mercy and grace.
Years later, during my father’s two-year military service, he got very sick and had to go to the hospital. An Armenian Christian friend came to see him and left him a cross as a parting gift. That night, he had a vivid dream in which Jesus gave him something to eat. The next morning, he woke up sweating. He realized Jesus had touched him and brought healing to his body. Full of gratitude, and wanting to know more about Jesus, he searched until he found a Christian church in Ahvaz.
“I kept on asking people where a church was, till I found [one where] I could worship God,” he wrote later.
It was in that church that my father became a Christian.
After he told his family he had begun to follow Jesus, he was asked to leave their home. Despite the rejection, he established a crucial principle that held for the remainder of his life: He loved his family, but he loved his Savior even more.
My father moved to Tehran and worked as a street vendor, staying with Christian friends he met in the army. His concern at this time was not money—it never would be. His first priority was God. He would make sure he got to every Bible study meeting, and he spent many hours being discipled by an older brother in the faith. Then he went to Isfahan and began work in the Christian Institute for the Blind, where he fell in love with a blind woman, Mahtab Noorvash. They were married by the Reverend Arastoo Sayyah, who later became the first Christian martyr after the Islamic Revolution.
In 1980 my parents moved to Mashhad, the city of my father’s birth, to evangelize and plant a church. Many responded to his message, and a fellowship was born that met in their basement. But the storm clouds of persecution that followed the Islamic Revolution gathered over the budding fellowship. The church was often forced to close, and my father and other believers were arrested multiple times by the religious police. They suffered psychological and physical torture. Though the physical church was often closed, my father would gather his flock privately to teach and encourage them.
When the religious police realized they could not silence him, they came to his house with an ultimatum: “Either deny your faith and stop what you are doing or we will kill you,” they said. “You have two weeks to think about it.”
He met with church leaders in Tehran, who offered to help our family escape Iran. His response was full of the sacrificial love demonstrated by his Savior. “I am a follower of the great Shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus Christ,” he told them, “and I am ready to sacrifice my soul for my sheep. For me to escape from this persecution would cause the hearts of my flock to become cold and weak. And I never want to be a bad example for them. So, I am ready to go to prison again and, if necessary, to give my life.”
Just as Jesus set His face to the cross, my father went home to confront their ultimatum with courage supplied from above. He stayed at his post, looking after his flock. And he was arrested again.
Two weeks after his arrest, a family friend went to the offices of the religious police and received chilling news: My father had been hanged in Mashad prison on Dec. 3, 1990. The authorities would not give us permission to bury the body. Instead, he was buried by strangers, in a part of the Mashad cemetery reserved for those the government call “the cursed.” Our family was not allowed to put up a headstone, a cross, or even a simple sign with his name. For those who don’t know, his resting place appears as a dusty, unmarked grave. For those who know, however, it has the fragrance of Jesus’ sacrificial love.
When my father was executed for his faith, I decided to follow in his footsteps. I remember writing a letter to God, promising to serve Him as my Father had done. I attended a Bible College in England in 1999. While there, I met my husband, Amir Bazmjou, who comes from a staunch Muslim background.
For 15 years, I have been involved in various kinds of ministries and have worked with Iranian churches, Operation Mobilization-U.K. and Elam Ministries. My main ministry has been to women, by producing satellite TV teaching programs and by teaching and preaching in conferences outside the country to Iranian and Farsi-speaking women in the diaspora. I am studying Christian counseling with the goal to help vulnerable and broken Iranian people.
Today, thousands and thousands of Iranians are coming to Christ. Believers in Iran tell us the underground/house church is expanding rapidly. We have heard estimates of as many as 30,000 underground house churches in Iran, but there is no way to know for sure.
The blood of Jesus Christ was shed so we could be saved, and since then much more blood has also been shed, so that the good news of salvation can reach many. Today I am very proud of my father’s burial place. I no longer see a plain, ordinary dusty place, but I look deeper into it and see what God has produced. ©2017 Rashin Soodmand