The 1990s were one of the most difficult decades for Iran’s small but growing church, as several leaders were martyred for the sake of their faith and their desire to share God’s message of salvation, hope, and love. In a powerful interview on SAT-7 PARS program Insiders, Issa Dibaj spoke of the life and example of his father, the Revd Mehdi Dibaj, as he followed in the footsteps of Christ.
Mehdi Dibaj spent nine years in prison following his original arrest and was given a death sentence for the “crime” of apostasy. Through the efforts of others, particularly the Revd Haik Hovsepian (who was later also martyred), he was released without explanation. But five months later, after attending the birthday celebrations of one of his daughters, he was kidnapped and murdered on 24 June 1994.
“I was 13 years old when my father was arrested for the second time. Maryam was 11, Yousef about nine, and Fereshteh was six or seven,” Issa recalls, as he speaks with Hengameh Borji , presenter of Insiders.
A Father’s Love
“For all of us, most of our childhood was without our father,” Issa adds, but one memory is clear in his mind. “My father told us a story from his initial imprisonment. The agents from the revolutionary guard came and said, ‘Come with us to answer some questions and we will bring you back.’ He told us ‘They took me in the car, and when we got there and I saw the bars of the prison cells I understood that it wouldn’t be just a few questions and that I would be trapped here, and all of a sudden, I was worried’. He was worried for us, his children, at home on our own, and wondered who would look after us.
“He told us that as he was being led into the cell, he lifted his hands and prayed, ‘O Lord, my experience of fatherhood is only 10 years, but You have always been the Father. So, I commit my children into Your glorious hands and ask You to look after them yourself and that You be their Father.’
“And as I look back on those days, I can see that we were looked after. When my father was in prison, the church was wondering what to do with us, when my uncle, with whom we had not had contact for years, miraculously got in touch, and we lived with him for several years. This was the grace of Father God. Even now, I can see that although from a human perspective we did not have a father or mother supervising us, God was truly a Father to us.”
An Example of Steadfast Faith
“Many times, in prison, they said to my father ‘Just pretend you have turned back and become a Muslim, and you will be free and able to leave the country. You can be a minister somewhere else, and we will let you be.’ But he refused and persisted in what he knew to be right.
“This is what I learned from him: that if I know something is right, I must stand firm in it. If we know that doing something or a belief is right – it doesn’t have to be in the context of faith – we should not compromise for the sake of sparing the feelings of others. We must persist in following it. This was a major influence that my father had.”
A Passionate Love for Christ and People
Asked whether his father’s life was wasted in prison, Issa shakes his head.
“When he was in prison and after he was freed, all my memories of my father are that he really loved Jesus Christ and he saw life as an instrument for glorifying Him and for reaching others with the message of salvation. We lived in a very small and conservative town where everyone knew each other, and we were the only Christians. Even though it was dangerous, when he rode in a taxi or went to a store, my father would give people pamphlets and copies of the Gospel of Luke and John. He had no fear of sharing the Gospel, even when we received threatening letters in the early days of the revolution.
“His view of life was that it should be an instrument to glorify the Lord, and I believe he fulfilled that goal very well.”