Sahar from Iran was thrown out of her home for following Jesus. She later went to prison. Today - thanks to people like you - she helps other women like her see change.
“Who will take care of my son? Who will tuck him in at night?” These are the questions Sahar asked herself the night her husband demanded she leave their home. She was in a taxi on the way to her parents, not knowing if she would ever see her young children again. “I was asking, ‘God, why are You letting this happen? Why are You allowing such pain and hardship in my life?’”
As a woman in Iran, Sahar had no rights to see her children if her husband refused. And, in this moment, he was extremely angry that Sahar had chosen to leave Islam and follow Jesus. Millions of Christian women and girls have experiences like Sahar’s – that’s why Open Doors’ ongoing See. Change. campaign continues to highlight the stories of our Christian sisters around the world, persecuted for their faith and their gender.
Sahar had tried hard to be a good Muslim for many years. Though the family she grew up in wasn’t very religious, Sahar earnestly sought something to fill the emptiness she felt inside her. “I voluntarily joined Ramadan, prayed frequently and dressed very conservatively,” she remembers. “I did my best, but I felt there was no answer.”
For more than 20 years, Sahar tried to find truth in the Muslim faith. One day, everything changed. Her sister-in-law saw the despair that Sahar was feeling and gave her a Bible.
“She knew that I was a mess,” says Sahar. “She told me – ‘Sahar, Jesus Christ can change your life entirely.’ I was really eager to see that.”
As Sahar read the Bible, she began to find the answers she’d looked for her whole life: “When I closed the book, the first thing I said was, ‘It is truly the living Word of God – this God is righteous and holy. I saw His mercy, justice, holiness and love in this book and found it in this God. That’s what drew me in from the beginning.”
"I saw His mercy, justice, holiness and love in the Bible and found it in this God." Sahar
In particular, Sahar was moved by Psalm 45:10-11: “Listen, daughter, and pay careful attention: Forget your people and your father’s house. Let the king be enthralled by your beauty; honour him, for he is your lord.” As she explains, “God really spoke to my heart in this passage, and I felt a direction from God that compelled me to live my faith and follow God with full devotion. I knew that He had a plan for my husband too.”
It was hard for Sahar to see this plan at first, knowing the persecution that Iranian women face if they chose to leave Islam. She had seen it happen to others. “Becoming a Christian, for a Muslim woman, can have lots of dangers. If you are single, your family can ostracise you. I knew, if my husband realised I’d become a Christian, he would really get angry. There was real possibility of divorce and surely my children would have been taken away because of me being an ex-Muslim. They would not let me even see them, because all my rights would have been taken away as a convert.”
Sahar was more fortunate than some girls growing up in Iran. Her family didn’t think that women were inferior to men – but that opinion is quite rare in her society. “I myself did not experience the degradation of the role and place of women in personal life,” says Sahar, “but I could see it clearly in the lives of other women. I could see that they were not valued as they should be. Dignity and rights of a woman as a human being are being ignored and violated.” This influences the ways in which female Christian converts are persecuted.
“Everything that I have witnessed since childhood, in my own life or my friend’s or any girl or woman living in an Islamic-Iranian society, caused some fear to take hold in my life. At first, I wasn’t aware of it – but later I realised how fearful I am. How disappointed I feel. How undervalued.”
But that’s not how God sees Sahar. He spoke to her about her true, God-given identity.
“I heard something really strange from the Holy Spirit in my heart,” she says. “I heard Him say, ‘You are my daughter, I chose you. You will serve among women and even nations.’” Sahar was astonished – “I asked God loudly, ‘How could this be?’”– but these words helped make her determined.
“I was so eager and thirsty for God that I made my decision. I was ready to give everything for God and devote myself to Him.”
"I was ready to give everything for God and devote myself to Him." Sahar
Sahar courageously chose to tell her husband about her faith. And what she feared came true. He was furious and sent her away: that’s how she found herself crying in the back of a taxi, sent away from her home and her children. Her ordeal went unnoticed by the surrounding world – she was one of many hidden victims of persecution. “My pride was broken. I felt that everything was being taken away from me. I didn’t do anything wrong, I wasn’t a criminal. I knew everything was in God’s control – but I couldn’t control my feelings. I was in so much pain.”
Worse than the shame was anxiety over her children. “My rights were taken away, as a convert. My heart was broken – as a human, as a woman, but mostly as a mother.” Sahar knew the truth of Matthew 19:29: “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” It was devastating, but Jesus was worth the price.
Sahar kept praying for her husband’s heart to soften – and God listened. It took time, but eventually Sahar’s husband invited her back into the house and the two slowly started rebuilding the loving relationship they had had before. But the troubles she faced were far from over. Christians in Iran don’t just face persecution from their family and community. There is also significant danger of persecution from the authorities – as Sahar discovered when she was arrested and taken to prison.
“One morning, Islamic intelligence agents came and shockingly arrested me. I had never expected that. They took me to Evin Prison.” Evin Prison is notoriously appalling, with terrible conditions for prisoners. “They took me to court twice – my preliminary sentence was 91 days, but in appeal court, they gave me five years in prison. My sentence was ‘threats against national security’.” This is a charge that is often made against Christians who convert from Islam in Iran, particularly if they are active in telling other people about Jesus.
Many husbands in Iran would reject their wives after this sort of ‘shame’. If Sahar’s husband had chosen to do that, she’d have been left without any rights – unable to do anything about it because of her gender. Thankfully this isn’t what happened. “My husband was worried about me,” Sahar shares. “When I was released, his approach to my faith had changed. He was accepting me as I was.”
But because of the threat of long-term imprisonment, Sahar and her family left the country soon after she was released. They now live in Turkey, where Sahar is discovering what God’s promise that she would ‘serve among women and even nations’ means.
Sahar now supports other persecuted Christian women with encouragement and discipleship, as well as practical training. Because of her own experiences, she is particularly able to help these courageous believers understand their identity in Christ.
“All the brokenness that I had, the fear and trauma I had as a woman, made me more understanding of their situation,” she says. “I tell them, ‘God loves you – He has your back and He is supporting you. He will heal you and deliver you and bless you.’
"I can share my experiences with them, teach them, be by their side, pray for them and guide them." Sahar
“I am able to share with other women who were Muslims and now are Christians what God has done in my life. Women who are having similar issues as me. I can share my experiences with them, teach them, be by their side, pray for them and guide them.”
So many Christian women and girls are like Sahar – persecuted for their faith, and vulnerable because of their gender. This persecution is often hidden and unnoticed by the wider world. Open Doors’ vision is to ensure that each of these women is seen, heard and empowered to reach her God-given potential – and this is exactly the work that Sahar is bravely undertaking, as are many Open Doors partners around the world.
And you can be part of it today. Your gifts and prayers will help each courageous women or girl see change: to heal from her trauma, to grow in her faith and to know she is loved.
21 March 2023
Sahar is now living as a refugee in Turkey - and we are pleased to be able to share that she and her family weren't directly affected by the recent earthquakes. A local Open Doors partner got in touch with Sahar, and she shares her experiences from 6 February:
"I woke up at 6am to phone calls from my relatives and friends in Iran. They had heard about the earthquake and wanted to check on us. When my phone rang at such early hours, I was so scared and expected to hear bad news.”
After a few hours, when she learned more about the earthquake and how terrible it was, she prepared an emergency bag with all the important documents, and has left it beside her entrance door since.
“I’m saddened to hear about the people in the affected areas who have lost their loved ones, their homes, and everything they had. The situation is horrible. I’m also worried about my family…. What would happen to us if we experienced the same disaster in our city?”
"Pray for Turkey and all the people who are suffering and are left homeless and hopeless because of the earthquake." Sahar
Sahar also shares how this crisis can make life even more difficult for refugees in Turkey, like her and her family: “We already face so many problems as refugees, we barely receive our basic human rights. Now, with this crisis, the discrimination is worse than before. Seeing my people in pain, with no solution at hand, breaks my heart.”
Sahar asks us to continue lifting the country of Turkey in prayers. “Pray for Turkey and all the people who are suffering and are left homeless and hopeless because of the earthquake. Please pray that God would help all the refugees in this country who cannot go back to Iran [or their homelands] nor can they go to another country. They already face different problems daily, and now they have to face this. Also, please pray for the current situation of Iran, where people are fighting for their freedom and justice.”
Lord God, Thank You that You see Your daughters – that none of their suffering is hidden from You. As You have promised, You are ‘close to the brokenhearted and save those who are crushed in spirit’ (Psalm 34:18). I pray that my persecuted sisters would heal from their trauma and be empowered to reach their God-given potential. Please give each woman and girl peace, joy and strength, and equip Sahar, Aizah and all those who support persecuted Christian women. Amen.
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