Monday, April 8, 2013
Captive in Iran: Where Light is Most Fruitful
Captive in Iran is their story.
Maryam and Marziyeh's boldness touched me when I first read of them in VOM's 2009 newsletters. My mother had special seasons of prayer for them. I shared about them in my 2009 IDOP message, and then was delighted to tell my church a few weeks later of their release. So it was a great joy to finally read the all the details of their 259 days of incarceration.
It turned out to be a different book than I expected.
At first I thought it might be like Dan Baumann's Imprisoned in Iran. He, too, spent time in Evin for evangelism. But he experienced far worse physical and emotional abuse than these women did (they had regular access to a telephone and were not beaten or kept in solitary confinement like he was) and consequently his emotions dipped much lower than theirs, to the point where he attempted suicide. Maryam and Marziyeh, on the other hand, remained relatively strong even in their darkest hours.
It isn't like Corrie Ten Boom's The Hiding Place either. No warm, lengthy story of their upbringing; no truly three dimensional characters whom you feel like you know afterwards; no struggle to forgive; no contrast of personalities (Corrie and Betsie were clearly different; Maryam and Marziyeh seem like spiritual twins). I doubt you'll see a movie made of this book.
Nor does it match Richard Wurmbrand's Tortured for Christ for brilliant passion or In God's Underground for depth of suffering. Their suffering (although terrible) was just a fraction of Wurmbrand's, and their writing is not as spiritually profound as his.
Although they distributed 20,000 New Testaments in Tehran before their arrest, there is a surprising scarcity of reference to specific Scriptures in the book. I wanted more mention of particular passages that encouraged them during their suffering, or that were helpful to share with the needy Muslim women around them in prison.
Perhaps most worrisome, the gospel is not altogether clear in the book. In some of their conversations with Muslim women, Maryam and Marziyeh encouraged them to pray to Jesus about their family or legal problems. Did they think people can "test drive" Jesus to see how "effective" He is, before turning from their sin and trusting Him alone? The only prayer God hears from a non-Christian is a prayer of repentance and surrender to Jesus. They seem to hope that their Muslim friend Shirin (who was tortured and executed) made it to heaven. ("Now, by the grace of God, at least she was at peace." "[S]he loved Jesus in her heart, though she would never say so".)
So with all these lacks, why did I still find this book well worth reading?
First, in a world sorely lacking in positive role models for singles, these women model well what it means to have "undistracted devotion to the Lord" (1 Corinthians 7:34-35). Their passionate love for Jesus oozes out in everything they do and say. They led an exemplary lifestyle of simplicity and devotion to evangelizing Iranian women. Their book contains many stories of sexual perversion, but they are careful to avoid sensual details.
Secondly, sufferers do not always see the fruit of their suffering immediately, or even in this life. God's trees ripen at different speeds. But in the case of Maryam and Marziyeh, He seems to have chosen to vindicate His name more promptly. In many cases their enemies became their friends, their convictions became widely respected, and their prayers were frequently sought. God gave them courage to publicly and clearly confess their allegiance to Jesus, despite repeated threats of death and opportunities to compromise. They had more freedom to evangelize in the prison than they did before their arrest or after their release. It is rightly encouraging to read a modern story of God moving for His children in such dramatic and obvious ways, something like Daniel in the lion's den.
The book also is very helpful in showing how to support and pray for the Christians who are in Iranian prisons now. We must not forget them. There are at least four (three of them in Evin):
Most importantly, the book shows how hungry the people of Iran are for the gospel. The law (even the flawed Sharia law of the Quran) awakens the sinfulness of the human heart. By strictly enforcing Sharia law, the Iranian government has created a generation of people enslaved to sin, desperately wanting a Savior. It has made its people sick of Islam. Praise God!
This book stirred my heart with compassion for the people of Iran. In some ways, it seems that was the goal of Maryam and Marziyeh in writing the book; they focus more on the stories of the women they ministered to in prison than they do on their own feelings and sufferings.
These two women made Jesus look good. They represented His character nobly both among the dregs of society (predatory lesbians, drug addicts, murderers) and the elite of society (judges and other government officials). Perhaps Maryam and Marziyeh could have shared the gospel more accurately. But even so, their evangelism has borne remarkable fruit, a reminder that even weak lights make a great difference where the night is very dark. May the Lord use Captive in Iran to bring many more evangelists to the streets of Tehran.
I received this book for free from Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for writing a review. My review was not required to be positive.