"What a privilege to live for our Lord and to die for Him as well."
That's what Mehdi Dibaj wrote to his son from his Iranian jail. Raised in a Muslim family, Mehdi Dibaj became a Christian in the 1950s, later becoming a pastor. In 1983 he was arrested and charged with apostasy for leaving Islam and becoming a Christian. Imprisoned without a trial, he was held in solitary confinement for two years and systematically tortured. He ended up serving almost ten years in prison.
When he finally came to trial in December 1993, he declared, "I am not only satisfied to be in prison for the honor of His Holy Name, but am ready to give my life for the sake of Jesus my Lord." Soon he was sentenced to execution. The sentence would have been carried out except for the intervention of Haik Hovsepian, the leader of evangelical Christians in Iran. Risking his own life, Bishop Hovsepian launched an international campaign for the sentence against Mehdi Dibaj to be overturned. In January 1994 Dibaj was released from prison a few days before his execution date. Soon after that Bishop Hovsepian disappeared. Twelve days later his corpse was identified by his son. The body had been stabbed 26 times.
For the next few months Mehdi Dibaj traveled across Iran, encouraging fellow believers and preaching the gospel of Jesus. On June 24, 1994 he was abducted. On July 5, 1994 his body was found in a park in West Tehran.
Now I quote from an article called The Church in Iran:
More Iranians have become Christians after the 1979 both inside Iran and among the Diaspora than at any other time in Iran's history since the Muslim invasions of the 7th century.
Much of this growth has been experienced by the Assemblies of God and the Presbyterian Churches. There has also been a major upsurge of house churches who meet underground. The estimated number of Protestant Christians who meet in buildings is several thousand; nobody knows the exact number of underground Christians, but there are at least ten different networks. Most of these home churches grow by the Gospel spreading through extended families. There is also evidence that there are numerous secret believers throughout the country.
One man dies, another man dies, the gospel spreads, the church grows.
This is nothing new.
Jesus spoke about this in John 12:24 when he said, "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds."
One seed is planted, then it dies.
From its death, a vast harvest grows.
We all love the harvest. It's the dying that gives us pause. It helps to remember that when Jesus spoke those words, he was talking about his own death. As Isaiah 53:11 (KJV) says, he shall see the travail of his soul and be satisfied. Out of his death came forth many "seeds," millions and millions of them, sprouting up into eternal life so that twenty centuries later the worldwide Christian community numbers over two billion.
One man dies. Seeds arise. The Word spreads.
Thus the pattern is set for all the followers of Jesus.
In that same passage Jesus spelled it out very clearly: "The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (John 12:25).
How much do you love your own life? Pastor Dibaj answered clearly when he said, "What a privilege to live for our Lord and to die for Him as well." Could we say the same thing?
You can read the rest of the message online.