By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani who faces execution for refusing to abandon his faith in Christ and embrace Islam was still alive Thursday, March 29, “through the power of Jesus Christ and prayers”, an official assisting him told BosNewsLife.
“Though we received word that his execution could be imminent, neither he nor his attorneys have received a written verdict or execution order,” said Jason DeMars, director of advocacy group Present Truth Ministries, who closely follows the case.
“Through the power of Jesus Christ” [and] prayers he has been preserved alive to this day,” DeMars added. “We give credit to the Spirit of God moving in hearts and minds around the world and causing them to take action to help Youcef.”
The 34-year-old pastor, a leader of one of Iran’s largest evangelical house church movements, was sentenced to death by the local court in his home town of Rasht.
After an Appeals Court asked it to again investigate the case, the court eventually asked Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini to give his opinion.
But with international pressure mounting on Iran to release the pastor, there “has still been no response from the Ayatollah to the [court’s] letter” sent October 10, last year, De Mars explained.
Local officials indicated in December however that they could release the pastor if he agreed to make a statement saying Islam’s Prophet Mohammed was “a messenger sent by God” Christians with close knowledge about the situation told BosNewsLife earlier.
Pastor Nadarkhani reportedly refused to do so saying the statement would “amount to abandoning his faith in Jesus Christ.”
DeNars said his group has asked Christians around the world to “continue to pray for him, his family, and his church” and to “spread the word” on internet service such as Twitter or website Facebook, at churches and local communities.
Pastor Nadarkhani, who is married with two children, has been detained since 2009 when he was captured in Rasht to register his house congregation, which is part of the Church of Iran movement.
The regional Gilan Court sentenced Nadarkhani to death in November 2010 on charges of “apostasy”, or abandoning Islam.
His appeal against that ruling was rejected in 2011 with the Supreme Court saying “he can be executed” though it asked for a “re-examination” by the same court that already sentenced him to death.
Despite the reported difficulties there may be at least as many as 100,000 devoted evangelical Christians in Iran, many of them former Muslims, according to mission groups.
Iranian government officials have denied wrongdoing and accused Pastor Nadarkhani of being “a criminal” and “Zionist.”