Rashin Soodmand was just 13 when she heard the horrifying news that her pastor father had been executed. Hossein Soodmand, a former Muslim, was the last person to be hanged in Iran for apostasy after he steadfastly refused to cease his Christian activities. Thirty years later, his daughter has also found her life calling in serving the Iranian church.
Rashin’s father was born in Mashad, “a fanatic city and centre for pilgrimage”, Rashin told SAT-7 UK Executive Director Rachel Fadipe at a Christian women’s conference earlier this year. She shared her father’s and her own stories of following Christ.
Aged seven, Hossein had joined other local boys in throwing stones at a Christian woman who was collecting water at a well. To his surprise, Hossein’s stone penetrated the woman’s bucket and, scared of a beating, he turned to run away. In his haste, he tripped and saw blood oozing from his knee. Worse still, the woman was now coming towards him. When, to his amazement, the woman lifted him up, cleaned the wound, and gave him some sweets, all he had heard about the “unclean” Christians started to change.
It was later, as a teenager doing military service, that Jesus appeared to Hossein in a dream while he was recovering from illness. Soon after, he gave his life to Christ and began to share his faith joyfully.
Hossein’s family, however, were unimpressed. Forced to choose between them or Christ, he left Mashad and went to live in Tehran. There he worked initially as a street vendor while attending Bible classes in his spare time. He became a hard-working evangelist and, later, a Bible distributor for the Bible Society.
In 1970, Hossein moved again and took up a post as chaplain at the Anglican Hospital for the Blind in Isfahan. Here he met Rashin’s mother, Mahtab Noorvash, who had been blind from birth. The couple fell in love and married two years later.
Within months of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, authorities closed the hospital and God put it on Hossein’s heart to go back to Mashad and start a church in his home city. “There were other Christians in the city.” Rashin explained, “but mostly from Assyrian backgrounds. There were very few from Muslim backgrounds”.
The small church began in the basement of the family home, but numbers grew quickly. “Even though I was a small child,” Rashin remembers, “I could see people coming to our church, not just on Sundays but for discipleship classes too.”
As the church and Hossein’s ministry grew, so, within six or seven years did the pressure from the authorities. “They kept warning my father. He had to go to the police office and they warned him to stop his ministry. My father replied ‘I can’t stop. If people ask about Christ I have to answer them’.”
Finally, Hossein was given an ultimatum: close your church or face the consequences. Rashin’s father travelled to Tehran to see Bishop Haik Hovsepian-Mehr, the leader of Iran’s Assemblies of God churches in which Hossein was serving. Bishop Haik said the situation had become so serious that he should leave the country and take up a pastoral role abroad that was now vacant.
But Hossein’s words are imprinted on Rashin’s memory: “I am a follower of the Great Shepherd of the Sheep, our Lord Jesus and I am ready to sacrifice my life for my sheep. For me to escape because of persecution could cause my flock to become weak and I never want to be a bad example for them, so I am ready if necessary to give my life.”
When Hossein returned to Mashad, the police were waiting for him. He was arrested again and Rashin, her mother and three siblings had just one more opportunity to see him. When another church leader came to Mashad to learn what had happened to Hossein, the prison authorities revealed that he had been executed.
Recalling this time, Rashin said, “I could have become full of self-pity, but in a strange way my father’s martyrdom strengthened my faith, as I knew he had died as a soldier in God’s army.” Even today, she says, “I vividly remember all the people whose lives were changed as a result of my father’s ministry.”
Inspired by his example, she wrote a letter to God, “promising to serve Him as my father had done”. As part of this, Rashin was drawn to study psychology. She shared her dream with another church leader. He could see that God had a plan for her future. He explained that his daughter was studying at Elam Ministries’ Bible college in the UK; why not go there where Rashin could study both psychology and theology to enrich her ministry?
This new chapter of Rashin’s life gave her the opportunity to meet her husband, Amir Bazmjou, who was also studying at the college. When the two-year course ended, he had to return to Germany until he received his refugee status there, but eventually they were able to start the ministry they share today. Together, they founded Torch Ministries. Its vision is to see Persian speakers follow the Lord Jesus, be transformed, restored, discipled and serving the Kingdom of God.
For both of them, one key way of fulfilling this has been through presenting Christian programmes on SAT-7 PARS, the network’s Persian language service. Amir is a regular guest on live discipleship programmes filmed in our London studios. Rashin is a member of the SAT-7 PARS board and has co-hosted two recorded series for the channel.
Sarah’s Daughters aims to give women a biblical view of their identity so they can relate fully to their Heavenly Father, live in His grace, and achieve their full calling in Christ. In Journey to the Depth of Happiness, Rashid and Amir share together how joy can be found even in the midst of difficulties by keeping our focus on the Lord and making godly choices in our daily lives.
Having known suffering herself, Rashin is well-equipped to serve others. She qualified as a counsellor two years ago and is now completing a degree in psychology. She combines biblical and psychological insights to help others through teaching courses and other materials. A special focus is on Iranian women who experience rejection or violence because of their Christian faith.
“I support Christians inside Iran and those who are in Turkey,” she said. “We finished 10 lessons on domestic violence to help Iranian churches understand these issues and teach their congregations how to address it.”
As she looks back on the letter she wrote to God 30 years ago, Rashin says, “Since I dedicated myself in that letter to God, He has led me faithfully, step by step, and has shown me His plans.”
Give thanks for the life of Hossein Soodmand, and pray for Rashin and Amir’s ministry to Iranian seekers and believers today. Pray for SAT-7 PARS’ viewers to benefit from their programmes and that they will be able to know God’s peace, grace and joy, despite the difficulties they face.