A house of healing for Iran's fleeing Christians

Kouroush lost everything when he fled Iran.(Photo: Open Doors International)

Four walls, a ceiling, a lot of dust and building material: that's how the brand new community centre for Iranian Christian refugees to Turkey is currently looking.

Kouroush*, the initiator and the driving force of the construction, is an Iranian refugee himself. He believes that the converts fleeing fierce persecution and imprisonment in their homeland need a safe space to heal. That is his vision for the building, based in one of Turkey's largest cities.

Kouroush grew up in a Muslim family in Iran. His first encounter with Christianity was in high school, though at the time, he resented his friend for the introduction. Years later, as an adult, he visited a house church by the invitation of the same friend, and this is where he started his journey as a Christian.

Kouroush became a leader of a house church but this came at a price: he was arrested and tortured. Kouroush says he is still astonished about the injustice he experienced in prison: "I hadn't committed any crime to deserve this. I didn't murder anyone, I didn't steal anything. All I did was to surrender my heart to Jesus."

His time in prison, however, did not scare or discourage him, and after his release he continued his ministry. Then, the secret service tracked him down again. Kouroush saw no other option than to leave his beloved country and seek a new home in Turkey.

Converts with a Muslim background constitute the largest group of Christians in Iran. According to Open Doors' researchers, last year at least 1,000 Christians were forced to leave the country for faith-related reasons. It is especially the leaders of Christian convert groups who have been arrested, prosecuted, and received long prison terms for alleged "crimes against national security". Last year, Open Doors' research team registered 110 cases of Christians who were detained for faith-related activities and 44 cases of Christians who were sentenced to jail.

Kouroush recalls the first moments after he arrived in Turkey: "It was some kind of fear, mixed with sadness and confusion about why I was here. I lost everything - my job, my family, my country."

He realised that he, and Iranian Christian converts like him, needed a safe place, a place to feel at home again and talk to people who speak his language, a place to share his story and read the Bible in peace.

"I am not the only one," says Kouroush. "Finding such a place is one of the biggest challenges for any Iranian refugee."

With the help of Open Doors, Kouroush started creating that safe space for himself and others. In the new community centre there will be space for spiritual needs: a library full of Christian books in his native tongue of Farsi and a room for discipleship courses. The centre will also accommodate a café for people to receive biblical counselling over a cup of Iranian tea. Distribution of relief items to Christians will also take place from the centre.

While the builders are still busy installing toilets and building walls, Kouroush is already counting the days until the centre opens: "I am really looking forward to what God is going to do here."

Iran is number 8 on Open Doors' World Watch List 2021, a ranking of 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

The Iranian intelligence service closely monitors Christian activities and other religious minorities. They are responsible for raids on Christian gatherings in private homes, arresting all in attendance and confiscating personal property. Those arrested are subjected to intensive and often aggressive interrogation.

*name changed for security reasons

Open Doors UK & Ireland is part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians for over 60 years and works in over 60 countries. In 2020, it raised £42 million to provide practical support to persecuted Christians such as food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources. Open Doors UK & Ireland raised about £16 million.