‘The 1979 revolution culminated in the murder of my brother’

‘The 1979 revolution culminated in the murder of my brother’

This extract is taken from the latest episode of BBC Radio 4’s Sunday Worship, presented by Bishop Guli Francis-Dehqani on 25 September.

A young Guli, with her grandfather, whom she described as “a godly and wonderful Muslim man of deep faith”.

Although I’m a bishop in the Church of England, I started life in Iran, where I was born and grew up. 

It was in the tiny Anglican community there that the seeds of my early faith were planted. 

My father was a Muslim convert [to Christianity] from a small village in the centre of the country. And by the time I was born, he was already Bishop of the fledgling Diocese of Iran. And my mother, the daughter and granddaughter of British missionaries, was herself born and raised in Iran.

I lived an unusual life between and betwixt the worlds of Islam and Christianity, Persian and English, eastern and western influences. 

This unusual childhood was what I considered normal. And for the most part, my two worlds of school and wider society on one hand, and home and church life on the other, coexisted reasonably peaceably with some occasional overlap. 

All of that changed as the events which led to the revolution of 1979 began to unfold. At school, I began to be ostracised both by friends and by teachers, and at home the Church was coming under increasing pressure. 

Over a period of 18 months, [Christian-run] institutions such as hospitals and schools were forcibly taken over or closed. 

The church offices of the bishop’s house were ransacked, raided and confiscated, and the Church’s financial assets were frozen. 

One of the clergy was found murdered in his study, and my father was briefly imprisoned before an attack on his life in which he survived, but my mother was injured. 

For us as a family events culminated in the murder of my brother, who was 24 at the time. His car was ambushed on his way back from work, and he was shot in the head. 

My father was out of the country for meetings at the time, and although no-one was ever brought to justice, we’ve always understood that my brother was targeted because of his association with the Church, and because he was his father’s son. 

After the funeral, the rest of the family and I joined my father in England, assuming that we’d be back home within a few weeks or months. 

That was not to be and, having arrived as a refugee aged 14, here I still am, over 40 years later, now a British citizen. 

My father continued working as Bishop of Iran in exile until his retirement, and he dedicated his life to supporting and encouraging Christians still in Iran, working with Persians – both Muslim and Christian – in this country, and writing and translating Christian literature in Persian. 

… In a mysterious way, suffering can take us closer to Christ. This is how my father described it at the height of the revolution in Iran: “The Way of the Cross,” he said, “has suddenly become so meaningful that we have willingly walked in it with our Lord near us. Our numbers have become smaller, our earthly supports have gone, but we are learning the meaning of faith in new and deeper ways.”