When Pastor Hamid Pourmand, a former Iranian army colonel, was accused of apostasy from Islam and proselytizing Muslims to Christianity, both charges punishable by death, he appeared before an Islamic judge with his life hanging in the balance.

“I don’t know who you are, but the rest of the world does,” the judge said, and acquitted him of the counts.

Pastor Hamid Pourmand (Photo courtesy of Compass Direct)

That decision came even though he’d been a Christian for more than two decades and during his extensive military career had had his superiors acknowledge a number of times he was a Christian, even to the point of excusing him from observing Muslim fasting requirements, according to a program offered by The Voice of the Martyrs.

The judge’s comments were reported by Compass Direct, and clearly acknowledged the influence that outsiders have into the workings even of an Islamic court, the VOM said. The VOM program is called PrisonerAlert.com and allows Christians around the world to send their prayers to jailed Christians, and their concerns to government officials.

Pourmand earlier had been convicted of deceiving Iranian armed forces and was sentenced to three years in jail. However, when it apostasy count was brought into court, he was released.

The website includes information about prisoners who have been detained because of their Christianity, the accusations against them and their circumstances, when those are available. It also has a section listing the prisoners who have been released.

Prisoners always need encouragement and the program is set up to print out letters that can be mailed to them in their own languages. VOM just reminds people not to make reference to that Christian organization, or any other group, since those imprisoned for their Christian faith often are accused of having connections to foreign organizations, and could get a stiffer penalty.

Letters to government officials on behalf of jailed Christians also are encouraged. The website guidelines are simple: be brief, clear and polite, talk about your general concern for persecuted believers.

In all cases, writers should AVOID politics or statements critical of the various governments.

Examples of letters that have been sent include:

  • “Dear Sir: We are thankful that your law in Vietnam allows freedom of religion. However, we heard that a man named _____ was put in the prison at _____. We are concerned about this and about his welfare. We would like to ask you to please give your attention to this matter. Thank you very much.”

  • “To Whom It May Concern: Last month, _____, a Christian, was arrested and charged with (the charge). He was given a (length of term) prison sentence. We ask that you release him. Thank you.”

  • “Dear Sir, Last year, _____, was arrested for _____. The story of this case has been circulated around the world and thousands of Christians know about it. We ask that he be released from all charges. We are praying for you as a leading spokesman for your country.”

Another success story was the account of Rhanja Masih, who was acquitted just last month by the Lahore High Court in Pakistan. He had been arrested in 1998 during a Christian funeral procession and sentenced to life in prison on blasphemy.

The judge at the end of his two-hour appeal hearing concluded there was no solid evidence against him and he must be acquitted.

Rhanja Masih

For letters to those jailed, Voice of the Martyrs has programming that allows various phrases and Scripture verses to be translated into the language the inmate reads.

“We also invite you to personalize your letter with a postcard or family photo. Attractive Christian greeting cards are especially cherished,” VOM said. “Christian prisoners are generally not allowed to write letters; however, if you put your return address on your letter, it may fall into the hands of family members, attorneys, or other acquaintances, whom VOM knows nothing about.”

The group also said it’s not uncommon for those living in restricted nations to write those in the West asking for money. “We DO NOT encourage individuals to send funds directly …. Through VOM’s Families of Martyrs Fund, we are able to provide assistance to these Christians in an appropriate manner.”

“Around the world today Christians are being persecuted for their faith. More than 70 million Christians have been martyred for their faith since 33 AD. This year an estimated 160,000 believers will die at the hands of their oppressors and over 200 million will be persecuted, arrested, tortured, beaten or jailed. In many nations it is illegal to own a Bible, share your faith, change your faith or allow children under 18 to attend a religious service,” the website said.

Among the nearly 50 nations where Christians are being persecuted in 2006 are Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Sudan, Syria, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Burma, Tajikistan, India, Nepal, Tibet, Brunei, Indonesia, Nigeria, China, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Cuba and Somalia.

More information about those nations, their Christians, and the persecution is available at VOM website.

VOM is a non-profit, interdenominational ministry working worldwide to help Christians who are persecuted for their faith, and to educate the world about that persecution. Its headquarters are in Bartlesville, Okla., and it has 30 affiliated international offices.

It was launched by the late Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand, who started smuggling Russian Gospels into Russia in 1947, just months before Richard was abducted and imprisoned in Romania where he was tortured for his refusal to recant Christianity.

He eventually was released in 1964 and the next year he testified about the persecution of Christians before the U.S. Senate’s Internal Security Subcommittee, stripping to the waist to show the deep torture wound scars on his body.

The group that later was renamed The Voice of the Martyrs was organized in 1967, when his book, “Tortured for Christ,” was released.

Previous stories:

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.