Pastor Mohammed Bajher Yusefi, affectionately known by his flock as "Ravanbaksh" (soul giver), was slain on Saturday September 28, 1996.
Pastor Mohammed Bajher Yusefi, affectionately known by his flock as "Ravanbaksh" (soul giver), was slain on Saturday September 28, 1996. Pastor Yusefi had left his house in Sari at 6 a.m. to spend time in prayer, but he never returned. The Iranian authorities notified the family later that evening that his body had been found hanging from a tree in a nearby forest.
The 35-year-old pastor converted from Islam at the age of 24. After attending Bible school, he entered into full-time ministry and became pastor of the Assembly of God churches in Sari, Gorgan, and Shahr in the province of Mazandaran.
Pastor Yusefi is survived by his wife, Akhtar, who also is from a Muslim background, his 7-year-old son Stephen, and his 9-year-old daughter Ramsina. He had also raised the two sons of Rev. Mehdi Dibaj while he was in prison for 9 years, because he too had refused to deny his faith in Christ and return to Islam. Three months after Mehdi Dibaj was released from prison in June 1994, Mehdi was abducted and later found dead.
Pastor Yusefi is the fifth Christian leader in recent years to have been martyred in Iran. In addition to Mehdi Dibaj, also murdered in 1994 were Rev. Tateos Mikaelian and Rev. Haik Hovsepian-Mehr. In 1990, Rev. Hossein Soodmand was martyred. The persecution of evangelical Christians in Iran is wide-spread. Converts to Christianity are especially targeted and are arrested and tortured because of their faithfulness to Christ.
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"Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection... they were stoned; they were sawn in two; they were put to death by the sword... the world was not worthy of them." -- Hebrews 11: 37-38.
Iranian Assemblies of God pastor Mohammad Bagher Yusefi has been found dead in a forest near his home city of Sari, the capital of the north western Iranian province Mazandaran. Mohammad Yusefi left his house at 6 o'clock in the morning on Saturday 28th September for prayer and never returned. Later that evening his family were contacted by the local authorities who said his body had been discovered hanging from a tree. Although the authorities say they are investigating Yusefi's death, there can hardly be any doubt that he has been martyred because he was a Christian leader from a Muslim background. Mohammad Yusefi was the pastor of the Assemblies of God churches in Mazandaran, and had recently been responsible for seeing the church grow in size in the city of Gorgan. Mohammad Yusefi had also raised two sons of Rev. Mehdi Dibaj while he was in prison for 9 years because he refused to deny his faith in Christ.
Sixty year old Rev. Dibaj was released after an international campaign, but was murdered three months later in similar circumstances. Yusefi's body is expected to be released by the authorities today and a Christian funeral is planned for Saturday 5th October.
Thirty four year old Mohammad Bagher Yusefi, was born in a Muslim family, but became a Christian as a young man. He was a very committed Christian, a gifted evangelist and pastor. He became known as Ravanbakhsh which in Persian means "Soul Giver." Those who knew him were especially struck by his gentleness and humility. He loved music and wrote many indigenous Mazandarani Christian songs.
Mohammad Bagher Yusefi leaves behind his wife, Akhtar, who is also a committed Christian from a Muslim background, and two children, a daughter Ramsina aged 9 and a son, Stephen aged 7. Akhtar became a Christian under the ministry of Rev. Hossein Soodmand who was martyred in 1990. The grieving family will be comforted by the prayers of Christians around the world as this sad news reaches them.
According to strict Islamic law Muslims who change their religion should be killed. Mohammad Bagher Yusefi is the seventh Christian leader to be killed in Iran since the 1979 revolution. At the beginning of the revolution the Anglican Church, which was mainly made up of converts from Islam was attacked. Rev. Sayyah the priest in Shiraz had his throat cut, and Bahram Deghani-Tafti, the son of the Anglican bishop, was shot. More recently Islamic hostility to Christianity has concentrated on the Assemblies God churches as Muslims are becoming Christians in their churches. In December 1990 Rev. Soodmand, the leader of the church in Mashad, was executed by hanging in a prison in Mashad and then in January 1994 Bishop Haik Hovsepian Mehr and in July, the same year, Rev. Mehdi Dibaj were killed. Also in that year the sixty-two year old leader of the Presbyterian church, Rev. Tateos Michaelian, was murdered after taking over Bishop Hovsepian's position as Chairman of the Protestant Council of Ministers.
Though grieving at the moment the leaders of the church in Iran are determined to continue the work of preaching the Gospel. They fully believe the words of the great early church leader, Tertullian, "that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church" and are expecting the church to grow.
With a population of over 65 million and influence over much of the Middle East and Central Asia, Iran represents a great challenge to the world-wide church. Though small and living in constant danger of persecution, the church in Iran has been a faithful witness. Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution Iranians have become responsive to the Gospel and many have become Christians.
The martyrdom of Mohammad Bagher Yusefi echoes a Macedonian call to Christians around the world to partner Iranian Christians in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ by all possible means to the Persian Speaking World.
Martyred & Imprisoned Christian Leaders in Iran
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