9. Living in Expectation of Arrest 1st April 2023 Notes from Prison This is the ninth 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, his sixth his first moments in prison, and his seventh his emotions in the moments and days after his release on bail. In his eighth note Mojtaba recounted his year-long trial, and in this ninth note he explains what it is like to live in the constant expectation of re-arrest. In spite of all the challenges and persecution that our small Christian community had endured, our fellowship not only didn’t stop, but continued in an even more serious and profound way. One of the major strengths of our group was the deep intimacy and love between us, forged as a result of the hardships we had been through together. Differences of belief or preferences about particular things no longer mattered; what mattered was our bond as a divine family. Through Christ I had received a precious and saving faith, but this faith couldn’t last without the help and companionship of my fellow believers – especially during the ongoing wave of persecution and harassment that we experienced at the hands of the Islamic Republic. During the court process, because of the danger of gathering together in our homes, we met instead in very small groups in public places like parks, or even sometimes just in pairs on the street, or in a car. Most of the time we didn’t have our mobile phones with us, because we knew the security forces obtained some of their information that way. For this reason, we never used our phones to arrange any meetings or any other Christian activities, and this practice continued even after the trial. So my day-to-day life had completely changed. Not using technology made communicating and coordinating our meetings much more difficult. For example, to arrange a meeting with someone I had to go to their house, without arranging it first, and then, having got there, I would sometimes just have to go all the way home again because they weren’t home. Or sometimes if we had to cancel or rearrange a meeting, I would have to go to every individual’s home, never knowing if they were even going to be in. But due to the love of Christ in my heart, and my yearning to meet with other believers – my divine family – these efforts weren’t only challenging but also sweet to me. You would go to any length to see your family, and in the same way members of our church would do anything to remain in fellowship with one another, no matter how hard it was. The church grows It was also very interesting to see that, over time, through friends, relatives or acquaintances, many others joined our group who we hadn’t even made a special effort to invite. These were new believers who didn’t have anyone else to have Christian fellowship with, and they needed a lot of support. In around three years, our group of 20 became a group of 200 – a clear testimony to the way the persecution of the Church doesn’t weaken or destroy it but in fact opens the way for its growth and strengthening. For, through it all, it is God himself who is at work, and during persecution he gives a double portion of his grace to his servants. Who can stand against this invisible, omnipotent God? But while the growth of our church was wonderful and very encouraging, it also brought with it its own anxieties and fears. Eight months of imprisonment were still awaiting us, and we knew full well that the continuation of our group, and its growth, meant we would be going back to prison. This prompted me to speak with one of the other leaders who had also been sentenced to eight months in prison. He had two children, so I said to him: “The group is growing, as is the threat of our imprisonment. What will happen to your wife and children if we are rearrested? Don’t you intend to stop your activities?” But he answered my question with questions of his own: “Can you give up testifying to your faith in Jesus? Can you live without serving him? I was dead before I believed in Christ, so what is the fear of imprisonment compared to that? And I know that the One who healed me in this way is also able to protect my wife and children.” The story of this man’s life was that he had been addicted to drugs for 30 years, and it had seemed as though nothing could free him from this devastating addiction. Just to get to sleep he had to take very strong sleeping pills, and sometimes even these had no effect on him. His life was a dark hell that was also destroying the lives of his wife and children. But one day, when he became acquainted with Christ through a friend, with just one prayer and through giving his heart to Christ, he was immediately freed from the bondage of all those drugs, and he no longer wanted any of them, nor even cigarettes. His life was miraculously healed, and even his wife and children surrendered to Christ when they saw the beautiful change in his life, and the whole family served Christ with love. Bound together My friend’s incredible courage and testimony also strengthened me, and we together pledged to go on serving. On that day, we truly placed all our hope and confidence in the love and grace of the One who had freed us and our families from the darkness of sin and evil. So once again I witnessed the miracle of Christ’s love in my heart – how he had made us one family – and told my friend that if we were together in joy and praise, we should also be prepared to be together in misery and persecution. For how could I face the day when he would go to prison and I remain free? Throughout this period of persecution, our being together, our love for each other, and our oneness in Christ were among the most important contributors to the steadfastness of our testimony of faith. When I think about those days, I can only conclude that if my brothers and sisters hadn’t been with me, I wouldn’t have been able to bear the persecution. Like Paul, I can testify from the bottom of my heart: “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20) And truly, like David, I praise God for this precious gift: “I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.’ I say of the holy people who are in the land, ‘They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.’” (Psalm 16:2-3) So with this conscious decision, which was full of risk, we continued our activities with eager but trembling hearts. We had strict security measures, and cut off all communication with people who were connected to churches abroad. But as the number of people increased, things became more difficult to control, and three years later, one winter night in 2012, the moment arrived that we had been waiting for all that time. That night, a long and difficult journey began in my life, the effect of which remains with me to this day. But I wasn’t alone on this journey. We were together.