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News from the Diocese of Iran

Within the diocese the churches remain closed. The reasons for this are unclear. The diocese and the few Anglican Christians remain among the most isolated in the Communion – not having received a pastoral visit since the departure of the Vicar General in 2019. Archbishop Michael Lewis is seeking to obtain a visa to make his first visit to the country. We need to continue to hold the three deacons – Mr Shahram Dezhbod (Tehran), Mr Babamohammadi (Isfahan) and Mr Ashrafi (Shiraz) in our prayers along with Mr Payam Mousavi, who handles some administration in the diocese and the few employees in Tehran and Isfahan in our prayers. Repair work on buildings is frequently needed. Permission was received to hold two funerals in Isfahan followed by burial in the Armenian Christian Cemetery - for Shirin Noorvaksh, the mother of Payam Mousavi, and for Mahtab Soodmand.

Mahtab Soodmand the widow of Pastor Hossein Soodmand died in her home in Turkey in January. Mahtab, who was blind, was brought up in the diocese’s Noor Ayin Hostel in Isfahan - her husband, Hossein was at one time evangelist in the Isfahan Christian Hospital. They were married by the Revd Arastoo Sayyah, martyred in February 1979. Hossein went on to pastor a church in Mashad which is where he was arrested and executed on 3 September 1990 for refusing to deny his faith and return to Islam. Mahtab and her family remained in Iran until recently when she came to Turkey with a son and daughter, who were able to travel with her body to Isfahan.

Bishop’s House – a museum. The official residence and family home of Bishop Dehqani-Tafti, former Anglican bishop in Iran, expropriated in 1980 was inaugurated on February 3 by the Mostazafan Foundation, set up to support the poor, as the ‘Isfahan National Museum of Arts’ open to the public. This is part of a programme to restore confiscated buildings. Bishop Guli Francis-Dehqani, daughter of Bishop Hassan, commented: ‘If it is to be a museum, I hope it will in some way reflect its history, which was that it used to belong to the Persian Christian Church.’

Mr John McDouall, former chair of the Finance Committee of the diocese and a generous donor to the diocese died at the age of 97 in London on May 24th. In Iran he donated land for a farm for the education of blind boys and for the Anglican Cemetery. Coming to London after the Islamic Revolution he supported Bishop Hassan in starting the monthly London Persian service. After Bishop Hassan stood down, it has continued to this day largely because of John’s organisation and leadership for many years which included sending out monthly reminder letters in beautiful Persian script. The service is now led by the Revd Aptin Samadi, Chaplain to the Persian Community in London. He was a man of deep spirituality, immense generosity, thoughtfulness and kindness, given to hospitality and to prayer.

Two Anglican families are seeking refugee status in Turkey. Mr Hekmat Salimi, 72, was banned from having contact with any Christians in 2012. He was a lay reader who had led the reopening and refurbishment of the Anglican Church in the Isfahan suburb of Julfa in 2009, after it had been closed for 30 years. This led to renewed pressure against him, as well as his work with the house-churches that had opened after the Iranian authorities began banning churches from holding services in the national language of Persian. Eventually the restrictions became too much, and he travelled to Turkey in 2016, to be joined by his wife and daughter, where he has been seeking asylum which has thus far been refused and he is now threatened with deportation back to Iran.

Mr Ismail Maghrebinejad, an active Christian from the Anglican Church in Shiraz, is also in Turkey where he took refuge following arrest, trial and imprisonment in Iran for alleged membership of an organisation hostile to the regime. He too is seeking asylum which has yet to be granted. As prayers are offered for the diocese and all other Christians in Iran, so those who have had to leave the country and are in need, also should be included in our prayers and concern.