By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– Christians were urged Saturday, September 24, to “fast and pray” for an Iranian pastor as an Iranian court was to “re-examine” within hours whether he should be hanged for converting from Islam to Christianity.
Youcef Nadarkhani, 34, whose first name is also spelled as Yousef, was to learn as early as Sunday, September 25, about his fate, said Jason DeMars, who leads Christian mission group Present Truth Ministries (PTM).
“His trial is on the 25th [of September] in the morning in [the] Gilan provincial court. In the United States it will be around 11:30 PM Central time on the 24th,” the well-informed DeMars told BosNewsLife.
The court already sentenced the pastor to death, but following Nadarkhani’s appeal Iran’s Supreme Court asked judges to “re-examine” the case. The Supreme Court also warned the pastor that “he can be executed” if he does not returns to Islam, BosNewsLife reported earlier.
In a prayer appeal, DeMars asked Christians “if you feel led [by] the Lord” to “fast and pray for brother Youcef”, who is married with two young sons.
DeMars said that “Though the situation looks very dark naturally speaking, our God is the one who made light to shine out of darkness and the one who specializes in doing things thought impossible.”
He urged believers to “Pray for wisdom for strength for Youcef to take his stand, for the attorney to have wisdom and courage to speak the truth.” He said it was also important to pray for “the hearts of the judges to be as clay in the hands of the Master Potter, our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In a letter obtained and published by BosNewsLife last month, Nadarkhani himself told his house church that he the Bible had told him that Christians can expect to suffer for their faith in Christ. The “Word of God tells us to expect to suffer hardship and dishonor for the sake of His Name. Our Christian confession is not acceptable if we ignore this statement, if we do not manifest the patience of the Lord in our sufferings,” he wrote.
Nadarkhani also referred to the Biblical account of Jesus’ suffering at the cross at Calvary before His resurrection from death on the third day so everyone who believes in Him has eternal life . “The Son [of God] was challenged at Calvary in the hardest way, as it is written in the Scriptures,” he explained.
Pastor Nadarkhani of the Church of Iran, a major house church network, was detained in the northwestern city of Rasht in October 2009, while trying to register his home church. He was sentenced to death by hanging for being an apostate to Islam in November 2010.
His appeal against the sentence was rejected on June 27, 2011, and send back to the same lower court that already sentenced him to death, according to several trial observers.
Iranian Christians also say the pastor has been tortured in the prison of Lakan, just outside Rasht.
He was previously imprisoned in December of 2006 on similar charges of “apostasy”, the word used for abandoning Islam for Christianity, and evangelism, before being released at that time, Christians familiar with the case said.
There has been growing pressure on especially Christian converts in the Islamic nation. The government of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made clear it wants to “defend Islamic values” of the country.
Besides Nadarkhani, several Christians remain detained, often on charges that include “apostasy”. Several house churches have reportedly been raided by security forces.
Despite the reported crackdown, church sources say the number of Christians in Iran has grown from 500 known believers in 1979 to at least 100,000 devoted believers today.