By Mark Ellis —
As a child growing up in a Muslim family in Iran, Hossein Soodmand’s parents taught him not to talk to Jews or Christians, because they were considered unclean.
When he was seven-years-old, he threw a stone and broke a Christian woman’s water bucket. As soon as he saw it break, he turned to run, but tripped over a large stone, crashed on the ground, and blood began to ooze out of his knee.
Then he saw the Christian woman move towards him and fear gripped his heart. There was no escape. He had thrown the stones. He deserved the punishment. Now her shadow loomed over him and he expected her to strike in anger.
But something astonishing happened. Instead of angry blows, her hand reached down and helped him to his feet and the ‘unclean’ Christian woman cleaned his wound. Then she gave him some sweets. He had shown hate, but she responded with uncommon love. He never forgot this unusual display of mercy and grace.
Years later, during Hossein’s two-year military service, he got very sick and had to go to the hospital. An Armenian Christian friend came to see him and left him a cross as a parting gift. That night Hossein had a vivid dream about Jesus Christ. Jesus gave the young man something to eat. The next morning, Hossein woke up sweating and realized Jesus had touched him and brought healing to his body.
Full of gratitude, wanting to know more about Jesus, Hossein searched until he found a Christian church in Ahvaz. “I kept on asking people where a church was, till I found (one where) I can worship God,” he wrote later. It was in that church that Hossein became a Christian.
After he told his family he had begun to follow Jesus, he was asked to leave their home. Despite the rejection, he established a crucial principle that held for the remainder of his life. He loved his family, but he loved his Savior even more.
Hossein moved to Tehran and worked as a street vendor, staying with
Christian friends he met in the army. His concern at this time was not money — it never would be. His first priority was God. He would make sure he got to every Bible Study meeting, and spent many hours being discipled by an older brother in the faith.
When church leaders in Tehran saw his dedication, they encouraged him to attend Bible courses taught by a much-loved American Presbyterian missionary to Iran, Dr. William Miller. Hossein soaked in the teaching, was always a top student, and developed a reputation as an evangelist.
After this he became a bookseller for the Bible Society, and travelled across Iran selling the Scriptures. Then he went to Isfahan and began work in the Christian Institute for the Blind. While serving there he fell in love with a blind woman, Mahtab Noorvash. They were married by Rev. Arastoo Sayyah, who became the first Christian martyr after the Islamic Revolution.
In 1980 Hossein moved to Mashad, the city of his birth, to evangelize and plant a church. Many responded to his messge and a fellowship was born, which met in the basement of Hossein’s house.
But the storm clouds of persecution that followed the Islamic revolution gathered over the budding fellowship. The church was often forced to close and Rev. Soodmand and other believers were arrested multiple times by the religious police. They suffered psychological and physical torture. Though the physical church was often closed, Hossein never stopped working, and would gather his flock privately to teach and encourage them.
When the religious police saw they could not silence Hossein, the persecution increased. One day they came to his house and offered an ultimatum: “Either deny your faith and stop what you are doing or we will kill you,” they said. “You have two weeks to think about it.”
Hossein met with church leaders in Tehran who offered to help him and his family escape Iran. His response was full of the sacrificial love demonstrated by his Savior.
“I am a follower of the great shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus Christ,” he told them, “and I am ready to sacrifice my soul for my sheep. For me to escape from this persecution would cause the hearts of my flock to become cold and weak. And I never want to be a bad example for them. So I am ready to go to prison again and, if necessary, to give my life.”
Just as Jesus set his face to the cross, Hossein went home to confront their ultimatum with courage supplied from above. Rev. Soodmand did not run away. He stayed at his post, looking after his flock. And so he was arrested again.
Two weeks after his arrest, a family friend went to the offices of the religious police and receiving chilling news: Hossein was hanged in Mashad prison on December 3rd, 1990.
The authorities would not give his family permission to bury the body. Instead he was buried by strangers in a part of the Mashad cemetery reserved for those the government call ‘the cursed.’ The family were not allowed to put up a headstone, a cross, or even a simple sign with his name. For those who don’t know, his resting place appears as a dusty, unmarked grave. For those who know, however, it is has the fragrance of Jesus’ sacrificial love.