Iranian Christians who endured horrific conditions in prison for their faith were helped in their healing journey by a recent gathering in Turkey.
Open Doors hosted the ex-prisoner training session, which brought together 30 Iranian Christians living in Turkey as refugees since being freed from prison in their home country.
One of the participants, named only as Wahid, was a former house church pastor in Iran and now leads a congregation of 200 in Turkey.
He said that healing from his experiences in the Iranian prison system is a ‘painful process’ but the training event had given him the chance to open up with others who knew firsthand what he had gone through.
‘In the training, I met people who went through the same experience as me,’ he said.
‘We understood each other, and we learned from each other. I cried a lot, but I was also comforted a lot.’
He continued: ‘As a former Iranian prisoner, I have often felt alone and thought nobody cared about me. This training proved me wrong. You showed me I’m not alone.
‘In daily life, I find it difficult to talk about my time in prison, it’s a horrible story.
‘And, as a leader, it’s a big temptation to pretend you are stronger than you actually are.’
Another former house church leader, Mojtaba, initially found it hard to deal with the traumatic memories of his time in prison. The stress even manifested itself in physical ways, causing him to suffer from dizziness. This was particularly the case when he started to counsel fellow ex-prisoners.
The training has taught him how to create a ‘safe space’ between himself and his own memories as well as the painful stories being shared with him by the people he is counselling.
‘Now, I have learned to keep a certain distance. In the long run, this will mean I can do more for them,’ he said.
He added: ‘Sharing about my prison time also reminded me about the lesson God taught me there: “Be silent, I will be close to you.” I try to apply that lesson to my life again.’
Despite what he has gone through, he said he is not seeking recognition from other people.
‘I don’t want others to see me as an important person because I spend time in prison for my faith,’ he said.
‘I am no more than any other Christian: I need God just as all of us do. And I need Him now too. So I try to focus on Him first.’