In 2009 Victor Bet Tamraz received a call at his home from an officer with Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security summoning him to the church he pastored. When he arrived at Tehran Pentecostal Assyrian Church, officers told him: Stop holding services in Farsi or we close the church.
Bet Tamraz asked for time to go inside the church to pray. The detail waited outside. Over the years his church more and more had filled with Muslim converts. To end services in Farsi, the most common language spoken in Iran, would end opportunities to serve them. Only ethnic Assyrians could attend services spoken in Syriac, which meant a slow death for the church at the hands of the state.
When Bet Tamraz returned, he handed the church keys to the officer in charge. "Thank you very much," he said. "Please close down the church." He later said God made his decision clear in prayer: "Let them close the church because when they close one church, I will open the gates of heaven."
In the United States you can be called a quitter for this, even in the church. Handing valuable property to the state? Giving up a vibrant church plant without first launching a prayer chain or an awareness campaign?
To be sure, the church closed. But it didn't end trouble for Pastor Bet Tamraz. Tehran's security apparatus never stopped watching him ( see "Shadow groups within shadow groups"). In 2014 officials arrested him during a private Christmas gathering in his home. Plainclothes officers led him to Evin Prison, where he spent 65 days in solitary confinement. When he became sick, prison officials moved him to a room with dozens of Muslim men. Bet Tamraz shared the gospel with them, and some of his fellow prisoners, by their own accounts, became Christians.
Bet Tamraz did not go on trial until May 2017. Three months later, Tehran's Revolutionary Court sentenced him to 10 years in prison for "forming a group composed of more than two people with the purpose of disrupting national security."
By that time his wife, Shamiram, was imprisoned, along with son Ramiel, who was arrested at a picnic and charged with "acting against national security." His daughter, Dabrina, left the country and received asylum in Europe.
"They have been targeted solely for peacefully practicing their Christian faith," Amnesty International emphasized in a 2018 report on the cases.
Throughout this ordeal, the Bet Tamraz family has endured by fixing their eyes not on the situation but on what God was doing beyond the situation. The kingdom, they believe, is God's to build, not theirs.
But trouble everywhere brings dissent and fear, even inside the Church. At an event sponsored by the Family Research Council in Washington last month, Dabrina told the story of another leading pastor under arrest. Fellow Christians begged him to deny his faith before authorities so he could walk free.
"How can I deny my faith when thousands of Christians pray for me?" he responded. "It's for their faith that I have to stand strong, and it's with their prayers that I am able to. My heart is filled with love for Jesus, my mouth cannot proclaim something else."
Bet Tamraz and his wife are out of prison on bail, their appeal hearing again postponed on Feb. 24. Ramiel is scheduled for release in March. Dabrina continues as an outspoken advocate for Iran's Christians: "There is a fear broken in their lives as they stand for their faith, and it's with your prayers that they stand."
They stand firm, you see, for us.