‘We opened the door and 20 intelligence agents came in’

‘We opened the door and 20 intelligence agents came in’

Maryam Rooznahani Peyhani fled her home in Iran two years ago today, on the anniversary of the raid on her Tehran house-church.

The 35-year-old convert to Christianity had been interrogated during the March 2018 raid, and had been told to expect a call from the intelligence services at any time.

With this hanging over her, and having seen the pastor of the church detained for two months, on the anniversary of the raid, she fled.

Maryam, who only became a Christian in her late 20s, had been leading a house-church in Karaj, near Tehran, for the past three years. But she also attended the other church in Tehran, where she was learning from the more experienced pastor, and it was here the raid took place.

“We met together every week, and that day we were very unlucky because all the members came,” Maryam explained. “You know, sometimes when you have meetings some of them don’t come, but on that day all of them came.

“And we were always careful not to open the door when someone comes and knocks, but on that day, two of the members went out to buy food, and we were waiting for them. So when we heard the knock, we opened the door, and 20 people came in.”

Maryam says that although she always knew something like this could happen, the intrusion still came as a “shock” and struck fear into the members, with several brought to tears.

The pastor and owner of the building were detained, while Maryam and the other attendees were interrogated and told to expect follow-up calls from the Ministry of Intelligence.

For the next year, Maryam wrestled over whether to remain in Iran or relocate to Turkey to be with her fiancé, Aziz. Eventually, she chose to leave.

She said her final year in Iran was a “very tough time for me, because we didn’t have the regular fellowships that we had in the past”. 

Following the raid on the church, when Maryam was the second to be interrogated after her pastor, she said she had decided to stop the regular meetings in Karaj, and instead made infrequent home visits to members.

“I was down, spiritually,” she said. “Even though I could go to Karaj once a month, to encourage them, have some fellowship with them, but because it wasn’t regular and was full of fear and anxiety, so really we couldn’t have normal fellowship. That’s why I was very down, spiritually. I was very tired. When I decided to come out, I was really anxious about my family and about the big unknown in front of me that I didn’t know what will happen next.”

Maryam has now resettled in a city near Istanbul, where she has joined a thriving church full of fellow converts and got married in June 2019.

Maryam’s mother joined her for her first two weeks in Turkey, but then had to fly home and missed the wedding. However, she was able to return in August 2019 as the couple marked their union with a party.

And Maryam says she’s been grateful for the “many miracles” she’s already seen in her new life in Turkey, such as her desired city being designated her official new place of residence, “without any questions” – something she says was a 50-50 decision.

She’s also started serving at her new church, and says she now feels at peace with her decision.

“When I came to the church, during worship time, God took off all the burdens from me, and I felt the presence of God and I was just free,” Maryam said. “And from that moment on, I haven’t missed Iran. I don’t miss my former situation. I just feel peace, the shalom of God in my heart.”