Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh spent a harrowing eight months in one of Iran's most notorious prisons because of their Christian faith. Born and raised as Muslims, both women grew unsatisfied with the teachings of the Koran and converted to Christianity after personal encounters with Jesus.
Sensing a call from God, Marziyeh and Maryam spent several years in Tehran passing out Bibles and talking about Jesus. They were arrested in 2009 for promoting Christianity, and were ordered to renounce their faith or face execution. Refusing to turn from Christ, the women spent almost a year in the women's ward of Evin Prison, where they saw the harsh effects of Islamic law on women and, consequently, found hearts that were open to the hope of Jesus.
After international pressure from the United Nations, Amnesty International, and other human rights groups, the women were released in November 2009. They left Iran to continue ministry through writing and speaking in the United States, and they are currently seeking U.S. citizenship while living near Atlanta, Georgia. Freelance reporter Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra spoke with both women about their memoir, Captive in Iran: A Remarkable True Story of Hope and Triumph Amid the Horror of Tehran's Brutal Evin Prison (Tyndale Momentum).
For several years you passed out Bibles and talked about Jesus in Iran, which is illegal there. Was it inevitable that you would be arrested and imprisoned?
Marziyeh: We both had the same vision from God for evangelizing Iranian people by distributing Bibles. God showed me how Iran is like land that needs seed. He told me, "I will raise and grow this." Maryam also had a dream about this, so we became sure it was God's will.
We decided to cover all parts of Tehran. We usually went at night and distributed Bibles into mailboxes. Every day we went shopping or to restaurants and talked to people, often handing them a New Testament. We also started a house church for young people and another for prostitutes. All of this is illegal and dangerous because no one is allowed to talk about any religion except Islam.
During this time, we could see God's miracles every day. We have many stories of how God protected us.
Maryam: For the first two years, we were just distributing Bibles. We sometimes had thousands of New Testaments in our basement. After those two years, we started two house churches. It was good because the day they arrested us we just had 190 books in our apartment. If we had had 7,000 New Testaments in our apartment that day, they would never have released us.
In the months before you were arrested, you said you had inexplicably been unable to evangelize. Was that discouraging for you?
Maryam: Exactly two months before we got arrested, we didn't have any passion for evangelizing people. It was very hard for us, because in the first few years, we had so much passion in our hearts for talking to people about Jesus. But during the last two months we didn't have any interest.
Once I told Marziyeh that I would carry 10 New Testaments to the mountain outside Tehran, because there are always many people there. I went to the mountain, and after two to three hours I went home. I couldn't give even one New Testament to anybody. We knew something would happen, that there would be a change in our lives. We thought maybe our mission was going to change. We didn't know we were supposed to go to prison.
After we got released we heard from one of the security police that they were watching us for two months before arresting us. But they couldn't prove we were handing people Bibles. We believed it was God's protection for us.