Notes from Prison

11. Unexpected Friendship

11. Unexpected Friendship

This is the penultimate article in a series 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; his ninth explained living in the constant expectation of re-arrest; and his tenth saw that long-anticipated day arrive. In this eleventh note, Mojtaba recalls the moment he was unexpectedly joined in his solitary cell by another prisoner of conscience.

After 18 days’ solitary confinement and intense interrogations, at the very moment I needed new hope, the cell door opened and a man wearing a blindfold and prison clothes was pushed inside.

Once he had removed his blindfold, this man appeared shocked to find himself sharing this small solitary-confinement cell with another prisoner: me.

I learnt that this man, a father of a two-year-old boy and husband of a wife who was now pregnant again, had been arrested only because he was a Baha’i. As two prisoners of conscience, whose detention was based on very similar grounds, we soon formed a friendship.

I remember talking with him non-stop for almost three hours that first night. It was as though I had been thirsty for someone to talk to, and our similar experiences created immediate empathy between us. Though we were only together a short time, I really enjoyed the time we shared and remain grateful to God for sending this man to me.

During the day, he worshipped according to his own rituals, and I according to mine. One day, while he was singing one of his songs, I enjoyed the melody and its meaning and, wanting to express my sympathy and respect for him, asked him to teach me the song.

At first he seemed surprised, but he was also very glad to comply, and it was a truly precious experience for both of us as we sang together in that cell, overlooking our different beliefs.

It felt like a symbol of God’s love, which is so opposed to the hatred with which we had been treated by our oppressors, who acted with such violence and enmity, while God sings over us a thousand songs of His love and kindness.

After that, this man also began to sing with me one of the Christian songs that I had been singing, which he also really liked. In these precious moments, we looked at each other and both said how we longed for the same sense of unity – in spite of our differences – in Iranian society; that instead of prejudice, we might live with mutual respect and an understanding of each other’s intrinsic value as human beings. What a beautiful dream, but sadly so opposed to the values of the Islamic Republic.

Although we were together only for a short time, our friendship didn’t end in that cell, and to this day we remain in touch, and always refer back to those days and how thankful we are to God for bringing us together. At the moment I most needed it, this man’s presence gave me renewed strength to endure my captivity.

A few days later, two more people were added to our cell. One was a student, who had been arrested because of his anti-regime activities and speeches, and the other was an old man whose son had left a gun in his home before fleeing the scene.

So now there were four of us in this small cell, which measured around 6×2 metres, with a toilet in the corner. The air became suffocating, and we couldn’t even really walk around anymore.

The public prison

This was the way things were for the next two weeks, until, on the thirty-third day of my imprisonment, the door suddenly opened and my name was called.

As usual, they first blindfolded me, and then took me to another place. And there I suddenly heard the voices of the friends I had been arrested with, and discovered that they were transferring us to the public prison.

It was a strange feeling; I didn’t know whether I should be happy to be rescued from this dark place, or concerned at the prospect of being sent to the terrible prison of Adel Abad.

All of us except for one of the ladies arrested with us were put into one car, and as soon as we left the detention centre they took off our blindfolds and we could see each other’s faces again, 33 days on from the night of our arrest.

Tears of joy welled up in our eyes, and small smiles formed on our lips. I felt a combination of joy and encouragement at seeing my brothers in Christ again, as well as fear and anxiety for what lay ahead. But the power of us being together again was by far the stronger emotion, and gave me renewed courage.

My time in solitary confinement felt much longer to me than it really was – as though several months passed – but it was only the beginning of a much longer journey, which would have its own special twists, turns and difficulties.

It should be noted that, according to Iranian law, every day of solitary confinement should be considered the same as three days’ imprisonment in a public ward, but this rule was never applied in my case.

God had a plan to show me His glory and how He wanted to use me, but given the hardship of the path ahead, if I were to ask, “Lord, where are you taking me, and how do you want to use me?” I probably wouldn’t have chosen the same path. Yet many souls were longing for God’s salvation, hopeless souls trapped in darkness, who needed light to shine on them to bring them a fresh and glorious new beginning.

We can’t always ask God to make the future clear to us, but no matter how dark the road ahead, we can trust in Him and, our hand in His loving hands, step by step move towards a glorious future. And along this road, though the way ahead remained unclear, I witnessed many scenes of God’s amazing work, which would have seemed impossible for me to even imagine but kept on happening as I witnessed to others about my thankfulness to God, our Heavenly Father.