Monday, April 9, 2012

The Iranian Pastor Who Changed My Prayer Life

Dear Friends:

Thank you for your active involvement in supporting the persecuted church....  Pastor Youcef, a leader in the Full Gospel "Church of Iran" was arrested in 2009, after protesting a decision by the government requiring that his son study the Quran. He was later sentenced to death by the Iranian regime for apostasy. Pastor Youcef appealed the decision and was waiting for the Supreme Court to review his case and decide whether to uphold the death sentence. A judicial execution of a Christian convicted of apostasy has not occurred in Iran in two decades.... Please petition the Iranian leaders.... U.S. citizens may also wish to contact their U.S. Representatives.... Please pray that Pastor Youcef will be surrounded by God’s ministering angels in prison and that he will be filled with God’s perfect peace which surpasses understanding. Please remember his wife and children as well. They have also suffered greatly through this ordeal. Thank you for taking the time to get involved.

My Family's New Year's Eve Tradition
Ever since our children were small, my husband and I have lit four special candles to represent a New Year prayer request for each family member. We pray together for awhile and then each person blows out his or her candle before going to bed that night. My request the night of December 31, 2011? The "release of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani from prison in Iran and a decisive turning of the nation to Christ as a light to the Muslim world." Why? Because since first learning of Pastor Youcef and his family from the email above, they have stayed in my heart, mind, and prayers. Every night before going to bed for awhile now, I have been praying through the Book of Psalms, adapting them somewhat by petitioning God directly, addressing Him as if joined in spirit with the Nadarkhanis and others who are suffering in Christ's name. The Psalms say much that apply to their situation and all other kinds of suffering. I received a powerful answer to my prayer, but the work of prayer goes on.

Part of becoming a Christian is being simultaneously adopted into the family of God, so Christians naturally pray for their brothers and sisters in Christ. Since I was the first Christian in my family, this doctrine of adoption is perhaps sweetest to me and others in similar situations so I eagerly sign up for opportunities to pray for Christians in need. Prayer always leads to other kinds of action for the thrill of having a part in the answer, if that pleases God in His perfect wisdom. I feel pity for the leaders of Iran, knowing something of what it is like to grow up in an environment where Christianity is not even considered an option, so I decided to write them directly. I wrote several times to them and to Pastor Youcef in prison. It was easy writing to Pastor Youcef with a blessed Farsi translation tool, but what does one say to the Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, and Dr. Ahmadinejad, the President? Not one word without much thought and prayer.

Letter 1
I wrote by email and by post, depending on how the messages seemed to go through. This is the first letter: I ask you please, honored Sir, to spare the life of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. I ask this as a wife, a mother, and a Christian who has been praying God's best for you and your people for years. Surely it is not best for you or your people to put an Iranian Christian pastor to death simply for being and acting like a Christian! Think of the young man's wife and children. Think of the good this pastor has done for your people and wants to continue to do. Please, honored Sir, seek by God's empowering to use your influence to remove the unjust law of imposing the death sentence on male apostates. I agree that apostasy is a serious issue, but I didn't when growing up as an irreligious teenager. It was Christians who made a difference in my life by telling me about God and the Christian Gospel, thus leading me away from being ensnared with decadence. Please, honored Sir, consider that if I did not consider religious truth other than the irreligious perspective I grew up with, I never would have become a Christian and would probably be living a very bad life. Perhaps you can ask the imams to be willing to remove the apostasy law on the basis of this ancient wisdom: "Keep away from these men and leave them alone. If this plan or work is of men, it will come to nothing. But if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it--you might even be found opposing God." Thank you, honored Sir, for considering these words prayerfully.
Yours respectfully, Allacin Morimizu

Letter 2
Here is the second letter: Hello again, honored Sir: I write again on behalf of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani and any others like him but first, let me apologize if I am not using the best title to address you. I am willing to be corrected but for now must do the best I can, which is rely on this text from the New Testament: "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.... Pay to all what is owed to them...respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed." Now you understand the reason I address you as honored Sir. Since I believe you and your advisers want to promote good and punish evil in your country, to insure that you in fact are doing that with regard to the Christians in Iran, may I recommend to you the excellent book Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, a Cambridge professor? It is brief and very intelligently written yet easy to understand, originally presented to WWII radio listeners during a very scary time--before our time (I was born in 1959). It helped me tremendously and gently corrected many wrong ideas I had about Christianity (for example, Christianity does not teach--or logically demand--3 gods, and those persons are not Father, Son, and Mother; Christianity is emphatically monotheistic). I hope you and your most astute spiritual advisers read this book to be well informed, and that you will be motivated to restore the Christian pastors to their needy families.
Respectfully yours,
Mrs. (Allacin) Morimizu
"The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction" (Proverbs 1:7).

Letter 3
From a simple response email I learned to address the President as Dr. Ahmadinejad. His doctorate is in Civil Engineering and since my husband is an engineer, I sometimes found it appropriate to write a few more sentences to the President than to the Ayatollah, although the key content to both men is the same: Greetings again, I decided to write you both at the same time because I know that the matter much on my heart is something you will need to discuss together, and you have a proven history of working well together. Next month is the holy month of Ramadan, and I want you to know I will be praying and fasting with you, especially that God will reveal to you what He wants you to do about Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani and others like him. God's will is more important than anyone or anything, and I believe you both have the courage to carry it out when He makes it clear to you. I will not plan on writing you during Ramadan because I know you need to conserve your energy and thought during this holy time, but I will suggest that reading C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity during that time would be an excellent act of charity toward the people in your land of minority religions. Your track records show that you care for them, and I am thankful for that. It would be a truly great act of charity to free the Christian pastors from their jail cells, but if you do not yet believe you can do that, may I ask you to see that these men are protected during Ramadan? Would you consider visiting them yourselves? Prison guards are not known for being nice people in any country, and they are prone to be especially cruel when hungry and thirsty. I am concerned for the pastors' welfare and will continue praying for them daily, which is how often I pray for you two. With respect and best wishes for a blessed Ramadan.
Letter 4, Printed on Sky-Blue Paper
Here is the longest letter, written last October. It presents the Gospel using Mere Christianity in a way that I believe addresses the major concerns any Muslim would have: Dear Dr. Ahmadinejad: Greetings from the north of Boston, an area that is particularly lovely this time of year (because of our 45-degree angle location with respect to the equator and North Pole, a fact I thought you, a civil-engineering scholar, would enjoy knowing). When last I corresponded with you regarding Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, it was in a letter I mailed to you July 27 of this year, just before Ramadan. As I promised you and the Ayatollah Khamenei (in an email I sent him the same day), I have not ceased from praying for you both daily and fervently for wisdom and revelation from God on what He wants you to do about Pastor Youcef and others like him. What matters most is God's will, not the will of other men or nations.

     I join many Christians around the world in offering heartfelt thanks for the release of Pastor Vahik Abrahamian from Evin prison August 29 and his restoration to his loving family. The crucial issue you are facing, however, is whether God wants you arresting Christian pastors in Iran simply for being Christian pastors, who are shepherds of God's flock. To quote from C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity, they "are those particular people…who have been specially trained and set aside to look after what concerns us as creatures who are going to live forever." To further quote Lewis, pastors do the invaluable service of explaining this central truth: "God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and a peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing. 

     "That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended--civilisations are built up--excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin. In fact, the machine conks. It seems to start up all right and runs a few yards, and then it breaks down. They are trying to run it on the wrong juice. That is what Satan has done to us humans.

     "And what did God do? First of all He left us conscience, the sense of right and wrong: and all through history there have been people trying (some of them very hard) to obey it. None of them every quite succeeded. Secondly, He sent the human race what I call good dreams: I mean those queer stories scattered all through the heathen religions about a god who dies and comes to life again and, by his death, has somehow given new life to men. Thirdly, He selected one particular people and spent several centuries hammering into their heads the sort of God He was--that there was only one of Him and that He cared about right conduct. Those people were the Jews, and the Old Testament gives an account of the hammering process.

     "Then comes the real shock. Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He has always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time. Now let us get this clear. Among Pantheists, like the Indians, anyone might say he was a part of God, or one with God: there would be nothing very odd about it. But this man, since He was a Jew, could not mean that kind of God. God, in their language, meant the Being outside the world, who had made it and was infinitely different from anything else. And when you have grasped that, you will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.
       "One part of the claim tends to slip past us unnoticed because we have heard it so often that we no longer see what it amounts to. I mean the claim to forgive sins:  any sins. Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offenses against himself. You tread on my toes and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men's toes and stealing other men's money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offences. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history. 

     "Yet (and this is the strange, significant thing) even His enemies, when they read the Gospels, do not usually get the impression of silliness and conceit. Still less do unprejudiced readers. Christ says that He is 'humble and meek' and we believe Him; not noticing that, if He were merely a man, humility and meekness are the very last characteristics we could attribute to some of His sayings. 

     "I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic--on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg--or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.... 

     "And now, what was the purpose of it all? What did he come to do? Well, to teach, of course; but as soon as you look into the New Testament or any other Christian writing you find they are constantly talking about something different--about His death and His coming to life again. It is obvious that Christians think the chief point of the story lies there. They think the main thing He came to earth to do was to suffer and be killed…. 

     "We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself…. If you take 'paying the penalty'…in the more general sense of…'footing the bill', then, of course, it is a matter of common experience that, when one person has got himself into a hole, the trouble of getting him out usually falls on a kind friend. 

     "Now what was the sort of 'hole' man had got himself into? He had tried to set up on his own, to behave as if he belonged to himself. In other words, fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realizing that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor--that is the only way out of our 'hole'. This process of surrender--this movement full speed astern--is what Christians call repentance. Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death. In fact, it needs a good man to repent. And here comes the catch. Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly. The worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it. The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person--and he would not need it…. 

     "Can we do it if God helps us? Yes, but what do we mean when we talk of God helping us? We mean God putting into us a bit of Himself, so to speak. He lends us a little of His reasoning powers and that is how we think: He puts a little of His love into us and that is how we love one another….  We now need God's help in order to do something which God, in His own nature, never does at all--to surrender, to suffer, to submit, to die. Nothing in God's nature corresponds to this process at all…. 

     "But supposing God became a man--suppose our human nature which can suffer and die was amalgamated with God's nature in one person--then that person could help us. He could surrender His will, and suffer and die, because He was man; and He could do it perfectly because He was God. You and I can go through this process only if God does it in us; but God can do it only if He becomes man…. 

     "Now the Christian belief is that if we somehow share the humility and suffering of Christ we shall also share in His conquest of death and find a new life after we have died and in it become perfect, and perfectly happy, creatures." What do you think, honored Sir: isn't this good news worthy of being taught in Iran by pastors and others? 

     I was able to find where I can order Mere Christianity in Persian so you can read the whole book for yourself. It would be my honor to arrange to have it sent to you, but I would need to hear back from you so I can be sure you really want to receive it. 

     With ongoing prayers and best wishes for you and your countrymen, 
     Mrs. Allacin Morimizu 
   PS. As the mother of a student bound for college next year, I want to thank you for the kindness you showed to the college students in New York City last month. 
     PSS. My husband is an engineer. The enclosed is a recent article from one of his magazines that might be helpful to you. (Popular Mechanics, "The Real Truth of 9/11" by James B. Meigs [an eyewitness in New York City at the time], September 2011, p. 58)

Letter 5, Also on Sky-Blue Paper
This is the letter I sent at the beginning of this year: Greetings or Salom--I have started learning Farsi by audio CDs this new calendar year so I can better understand and intercede in prayer for you, the Ayatollah Khamenei, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani and other Iranian Christian pastors and their families. My plea to you and the Ayatollah remains the same: please release Pastor Youcef from prison and restore him to his family and church. On March 21 you will celebrate No-Ruz with your countrymen. It will truly be a New Day if you can find it in your heart by God's grace to treat Christian pastors with kindness, appreciation, and respect because of God, who sovereignly ordained that all people everywhere think about what happened 2012 years ago whenever they consider each day's date.

     In my last letter, dated October 26, 2011, I presented you with an explanation of the Good News or Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, that is something you (or I) did not grow up with but that is not what matters; what matters is what is true. To quote again from C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity, "We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. We have all seen this when doing arithmetic. When I have started a sum the wrong way, the sooner I admit this and go back and start again, the faster I shall get on. There is nothing progressive about being pig headed and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake." That was true when Lewis wrote during World War II and it is even truer now. I do not want to see our countries go to war.  Both countries need the same solution: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Dr. Ahmadinejad, please free Pastor Youcef. He can explain more to you, and I am willing to do my best to answer any questions about Christianity you have. With prayers that will not cease and best wishes for you and your countrymen.
Pastor Youcef still has not been released but the last word is that the execution order appears to be suspended. I and many others still keep praying for him, his family, their oppressors, and others in similar situations. Perhaps the Risen Lord Christ will see fit to redirect Pastor Youcef's persecutors in the same way He redirected the Apostle Paul!
Acts 9 Tells the Exciting,True Story of How Jesus Redirects Paul

Praise God from whom all blessings flow: Pastor Youcef was released from prison and restored to his family September 8, 2012! That same day I sent a brief email to the Iranian leaders with my heartfelt thanks and desire for God to bless them. Other pastors, however, are in Iranian prison so the work of prayer and encouragement must go on.

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