Jailed Iranian pastor Behnam Irani, who was last month denied hospitalization despite his critical condition, wrote a letter from his prison cell days before Christmas, ministering to Christians in his country and thanking God for letting him share "very little of" Jesus' suffering on the cross.
"Despite the pressure and difficulties in prison, I am pleased to share, what is like a fountain, my Christian joy with you in the new Christmas days to come," wrote Irani, who is currently serving a six-year sentence, according to the letter translated by Minnesota-based Present Truth Ministries, which has missionaries and pastors working in various Middle Eastern countries.
"My brothers and sisters, I love you all. Christ has given you to me on Calvary. Even if I were sentenced to many years behind bars for the salvation of one of you, there would never be any complaint," said the pastor in his 40s in the letter, seemingly written to the people he has ministered to and Christian workers in Iran.
Before his arrest in 2011 for "acting against the interests of national security. Irani was leading the Church of Iran in the city of Karaj in Alborz Province. He has been tortured in prison and was denied hospitalization for a bleeding ulcer. He had been found several times unconscious in his prison cell when visited, raising fears for his well-being.
But Irani is still thinking of the well-being of his people. "You are so precious that God himself braved the death on the cross. Do I or other servants not have to bear imprisonment for you?" Irani added. "I wish you can love each other as much as I love you, at least. Sooner or later our earthly settlement will end, and we will leave the world with all its attractions. Please do not let any earthly attraction prevent you from sweet Christian relations."
Irani also sought to warn and encourage Christian workers, asking them to fix their eyes on spiritual things and not on worldly problems and temptations. "There were times when I was being tempted and paying more attention to my future during my ministry as a servant of Christ," he wrote, adding that verses from the Bible serving as "a red light stopped me, even though I was sometimes fined for passing this red light."
Many a times, he added, Christians, especially servants, act like the Samaritan woman (John 4). The water jar she was carrying represented her worldly needs and desires, but she left it after she realized who Jesus is and what He can offer. Irani said Christian workers should not be concerned too much about financial support and other difficulties.
"In these days which are truly evil, I encourage you to be alert. Do not fear for the recent economic crisis covering the larger part of the world and especially Iran," he wrote in the wake of reports that many Christians from Iran are fleeing persecution and famine. "You servants will find new excuses for reducing the quality and hours of your ministry; and drowning more deeply in worldly affairs you will come to a point when it is too late."
To his "brothers and sisters, and servants who are scattered all over the church of Iran," he stated, "Tears are shed for you. I wipe them not to be noticed. They originate from the pain of my love to you. How well I now understand when Paul the Apostle said to the church, 'I raised you with tears.'"
The issue of some fleeing or migrating to other countries must not cause division in the church, Irani warned. "Perhaps one day we who are currently residing in Iran will immigrate away and they [those who have fled or migrated] return to Iran instead. What is expected is that we don't forsake God's kingdom wherever we are in this planet. Believers ought to cooperate fully with servants and aid them in pressure and difficulties. Bear their possible mistakes with the Christian love and don't express them verbally. Respect the anointing God has given them, and know that any disrespect to their ministry and anointing is regarded as disrespect to the Holy Spirit."
Irani became a Christian in 1992, and became a pastor 10 years later. His wife and two children have said they are afraid that unless the beatings stop and he is offered proper medical care, he might die in the prison soon.
But suffering has not robbed Irani of the joy Jesus gives. "Once again, I congratulate all the saints at Christmas and the coming new year," he said, concluding the letter.