Notes from Prison

7. Taste of Freedom

7. Taste of Freedom

This is the seventh in a series of articles by Mojtaba Hosseini, an Iranian convert to Christianity who spent more than three years in prison in the southern city of Shiraz because of his membership of a house-church. Mojtaba’s first note from prison explained his journey to faith and the first of his two subsequent arrests; his second detailed his long interrogation; his third explained the desperation and loneliness of solitary confinement and his fourth described some of the dreams and visions he had in solitary. His fifth note described his court hearing, and in his sixth he told us about his first moments in prison. In this seventh note, Mojtaba tells us his emotions in the moments and days after his release on bail.

After 21 days in that suffocating solitary cell and two days in the public prison in Shiraz, Adel Abad, I was still waiting to see if my family would be able to post bail for me when, at 7pm, my name was suddenly called, just as I had lost hope that there was any chance I would be released that day.

I quickly ran to the door of my cell, where the prison guard told me: “Gather your belongings. You’re free to go.”

The prospect of freedom seemed like a sweet dream coming true, but it also felt strange to say goodbye to my cellmates. Even though we hadn’t been together long, tears welled in my eyes as I considered their own miserable situation, which I could now very well appreciate.

I especially felt bad for them, considering how they were mostly young men who had at one point or another committed a crime as a result of a bad decision – whether under the bad influence of a friend, or difficult family circumstances. 

God deeply moved my heart and showed me how much they needed the true freedom that can only be found in what Christ did for them on the Cross, when he took the blame for all the bad things any of us will ever do. I knew that Christ wanted to be just as close to them as to people outside prison, and perhaps even more so.

No looking back

With every step I took towards the prison exit, it became easier to believe that I truly was about to be free. 

I didn’t once look back. And as the door was opened, there in front of me was the face that I knew better than anyone else’s – that of my father, who was waiting for me with tears and a smile.

I quickly ran to him, and hugged him, and in that moment his warm, loving embrace gave me a deep sense of peace that felt like paradise and relieved me of all the pain and troubles of the past few weeks.

In the days that followed, for the first time in my life I realised how grateful I ought to be for my freedom. Until then, freedom had been like oxygen – something that felt so natural that I rarely considered I should be grateful for it. And in fact freedom should be as natural as oxygen, because it is freedom that allows us to live with dignity.

Returning home and being back with my family was an indescribable pleasure. And as with the joy of freedom, I now felt truly grateful for these gifts of family and home. It was as though I now saw everything differently, and that the true value of everything had become clearer to me.

But this feeling of freedom didn’t last long. I had nightmares, and because of the threats made during my interrogations – such as that my phone calls would be monitored – I found it difficult to do anything without fear or anxiety.

Meeting with friends felt especially fraught. I felt as though I was constantly being followed by security agents, and this fear and my concerns about using my phone induced a lot of stress in me.

A bigger prison

It felt like I was now just in a bigger prison. And I knew that this was their goal – to create a prison for me, mentally and psychologically, through their threats, so that I would be completely under their control and act in the way they wanted.

But the power and impact of the One who had freed me from greater fears than these was much bigger than my nightmares, or any threats, and in the midst of my stress the true value of what I had found in Christ became even more apparent.

I was proud that I had remained true to my faith, and that even at my young age He had enabled me to be strong and brave, in spite of the hardships I had endured and in the face of such harsh security agents.

What was better: life with Christ, with all its challenges, or life without Him? That monotonous life that I had once known, with all its superficial and fleeting things, or this new life in which I had found true freedom and hope for the future?

In spite of the persecution I was enduring, my friendship with and passion for Christ not only didn’t deteriorate; it reached new depths. And part of the reason was the encouragement of my Christian brothers and sisters, with whom I could talk and pray about my fears, challenges and spiritual experiences, and together find comfort in our trustworthy and faithful God. Though the enemy wanted to separate us, God brought us even closer, like family. 

I think this is one of the miracles of the Bible, as it is written in 1 Peter 1:6-7: “Though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials, these have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

As gold shines more when it goes through fire, so too does the true value and power of our faith. Meanwhile, the value of the freedom, hope, love and new personality that God had given to me and my other friends since we had become Christians was more and more apparent, and his worship and praise was increasingly in our hearts and on our lips.