I got a really killer cold last week. It knocked me out for a few days and made me feel miserable. One morning I shuffled into my shower and turned the water on as hot as it would go, hoping the steam would help clear my packed sinuses. As the blistering water stung my shoulders and I felt my sinus pressure ease, I suddenly thought of Behnam Irani.
That's because one of my roles at VOM is to help keep our www.PrisonerAlert.com website updated with information about prisoners. Pastor Behnam went to prison in May 2011. He had been convicted of "crimes against national security" — government speak for preaching Christianity — and sentenced to a year in jail.
For some reason, Iranian prisoners don't always begin to serve prison sentences as soon as they are sentenced. In Behnam's case, he was sentenced in January, and didn't go to prison until May, when he voluntarily surrendered to authorities. That's right. He was living his life for six months, and authorities were leaving him alone, when he decided to present himself at the prison to begin his sentence. I suppose he felt convicted as a Christian to submit to authorities, though he certainly wasn't avoiding detainment before that time. He was likely eager to get his one-year sentence out of the way so he could go back to his family and ministry.
To his surprise, after he entered prison, Behnam learned that he'd be forced to spend five years in prison for previous convictions also related to his Christian work. It's not yet clear whether he'll be forced to serve five years total, or six. Either way, the 43-year-old man will be in prison for a significant portion of his life because of his work for Christ.
For the first few months, he was held in solitary confinement. Later, he was moved to a room so full of prisoners they couldn't lie down. Due to stress and regular beatings, Behnam's salt-and-pepper hair has now gone completely white.
Recent reports have detailed how sick Behnam has been. And that's what brought him to my mind that morning in the shower. Mentally I'd been complaining about feeling rough, about not being able to accomplish things I'd wanted to do. But Behnam had voluntarily submitted to prison, and now is dealing with a bleeding ulcer and weakness, in addition to beatings, lack of food, and little medical attention.
Can you imagine bleeding, needing to use the bathroom constantly, having little to no privacy, not having access to a doctor or pharmacy and all the while missing your family?
And yet, Pastor Behnam wrote in a December letter to his church members, "Despite the pressure and difficulties in prison, I am pleased to share … my Christian joy with you. … Even if I were sentenced to many years behind bars for the salvation of one of you, there would never be any complaint."
If it were you in prison, do you think this is what you would write home?
Will you take time today to write an encouraging letter to Behnam? You can also write a letter to Iranian officials asking for Behnam's release. Simply click on the "Petition Official" link on the page.
Dory P. has worked with VOM for six years. She grew up in Ecuador, met her husband while working with another mission organization, and now lives in Oklahoma. Between her husband and two-year-old son, they share five passports. Dory helps tell the stories of the persecuted through VOM's newsletter, and her husband also serves with VOM's international department.