Monday, April 8, 2013

Captive in Iran: Where Light is Most Fruitful

In 2009, two young single Christian Iranian women were caught evangelizing Muslims and imprisoned in Tehran's notorious Evin prison. Their "crime" could easily have gotten them executed, but instead, God gave them an incredible ministry to Muslim women inside the jail, and such international publicity that the Iranian government eventually released them to save face.

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):

Farshid Fathi
Behnam Irani
Alireza Seyyedian
Saeed Abedini 

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.


  1. I want to make a few observations of your review of "Captive in Iran."
    First of I agree that Maryam and Marziyeh are excellent role models for today with their sold out devotion to the Lord.
    Second of all, I agree, that their book has transformed my life, too. I'm glad to hear that you too have heart for the Iranian people. Their book took my love for Iranians to a whole new level. I already have an online ministry to Iran and spend much time chatting and praying with my Iranian friends.
    Having said all of that, I want to comment on your criticisms....
    I don't believe its appropriate to mention that their book doesn't rank or compare to the books of other Christians who endured greater sufferings than them. Why was this necessary to mention?
    Both Maryam and Marziyeh endured great mental and physical sufferings. They were both very sick most of their incarceration and did not have adequate medical care. Regardless of the fact that their suffering was not as "great" as other prominent Christians, does not devalue the impact of their book. I don't believe as Christians that we should engage in this kind of
    comparing. It fosters pride and egotism and is very disrespectful.
    You were disappointed that their book did not, to you, define the gospel clearly enough and then you brought up the example of their friend Shirin, stating, "They seemed to hope that their friend, "Shirin" made it to heaven."
    I was offended by tone of your criticism and the implication that you made by it.
    Maryam and Marziyeh loved their friend, Shirin. They were devastated by her death.
    They spent much of their time in prison, loving, accepting, caring and sharing Christ with her. Just because she did not publicly acknowledge Christ in the way, you would have liked, does not mean that there was no true repentance in her heart. Only God knew her heart, Not you! not me!
    Being an author myself, I realize that our publications are subject to opinion and criticism. I believe in being critical and evaluating another person's work. I just believe you could have been a little more courteous and respectful to my friends.
    I do appreciate the good observations that you made about them. Maryam and Marziyeh are true ambassadors for Christ. God has rewarded their suffering with a worldwide platform to be a voice for the voiceless.
    Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts and opinions.

  2. Daniel, I read with interest your blog on "Captive in Iran" as I read the book within a few days of receiving it. I was glad that you followed them & celebrated their release from prison. However,
    there are some serious issues I have with your review.

    I also read Randy Noble’s comment, & have to agree with him that your criticism was inappropriate. You made many comparisons of their book with the writings of others such as Richard Wurmbrand & Corrie Ten Boom. Since when do compare our "depth of suffering" with anyone else's? That is not biblical. Maryam & Marziyeh's suffering was great. Just because they weren't beaten as many have been doesn't mean their suffering should be minimized. To follow that logic would mean that you & I would be "less than" in the kingdom since we haven't experienced what Maryam & Marziyeh have. I’ve never been through what they’ve been through, & apparently you haven’t either. You said you were disappointed that they didn’t talk about their upbringing. That wasn’t the point of the book. No three dimensional characters? I felt like I knew well those who they described which was in amazing detail. No struggle to forgive? God gave them the power to forgive. They didn’t have to work at it as most do because of their faith that God would make all things right. I know what that’s like as God has given me the ability to forgive, & has prevented me from having bitterness in situations that could be explained only by the presence of God. Maryam & Marziyeh did have struggles about which they were very open.

    You were also “worried” that the gospel was not altogether clear. This was not a book on evangelism. I believe that God hears the prayers of anyone who is actively seeking Him. This book was written to let others know the truth about how Christians are treated in Iran and other countries and motivate them to pray & get involved any way we can to advocate for their release & humane treatment.

    You said some positive things that I appreciate such as this book is helpful in getting the word out about praying & supporting Christians who are being persecuted. Also, what you said about not seeing the fruit in our lifetime was very good. You also called them “role models” which I completely agree with. They are sold out for Jesus, which is what we all should aspire to.

    I would caution you about comparing the “sufferings” of Christians. God calls us to different experiences. Those of us who were born in the US have different experiences than those born in countries that are hostile to Christianity & to third world countries that experience extreme poverty & starvation. None of us have any control of the family we were born into or where we were born. We have to find how God wants to use us wherever He puts us. “Captive in Iran” is Maryam & Marziyeh’s story, & it’s a beautiful story of God’s love & grace. No, it’s not like anyone else’s book. It’s not supposed to be. I have read at least dozens of books about Christian persecution & all are different. I am very thankful to Maryam & Marziyeh for their stand, & I have great admiration for them. They make it very clear that it’s not about them, but about Jesus. My biggest concern is that those who aren’t believers look at the way Christians treat each other & are turned off from Christianity because of it. We are known for kicking our wounded. Paul cautioned the Christians to show love to their brothers & sisters. We do this by supporting & encouraging, not by comparing their “sufferings” with each other. Read John 17:21-23. In the same way, I doubt that neither you nor I would want to compare the number of people we’ve led to the Lord with Billy Graham. Critiquing the book is fine, but I just hope you will consider not comparing works or sufferings of Christians.

    I do wish all God’s best for you, and pray that He will richly bless you.