Imagine facing a choice between arrest and prison or a chance to run. One Iranian pastor had that choice -- and chose to turn himself in.
It would be five years before Pastor Farshid Fathi would be a free man again.
Fathi had police break into his home on the day he was arrested and taken to prison. He had already been arrested earlier that day by Iranian police, but had been released as it was not known at the time he was a pastor, Mission Network News reports.
"They wanted him to come in and give himself up," says Joe Willey, marketing and communications manager for SAT-7 USA.
SAT-7 is a Christian broadcaster that produces faith-based and educational satellite television services to more than 25 million people in the Middle East and North Africa. Fathi recently shared his story on one of the broadcaster's talk shows.
Willey says Fathi chose to go peacefully with police.
"Although he had an opportunity to run or go into hiding, he made a decision to be with other Christians in their suffering," Willey says.
The pastor was not unaware of his risk of being jailed. He had converted from Islam to Christianity and in Iran, where Christians are in the minority, he knew there was a strong chance he could be arrested.
Open Doors USA reports the level of persecution Christians face in Iran is extreme. The country ranks ninth on Open Doors' 2020 World Watch List which monitors levels of persecution around the world.
"(Christians are) not given the freedom to share the Gospel with others," Willey explains. "And conversion to Christianity is a punishable offense. Christians are often under real pressure to renounce their faith, and they need our prayers to persevere."
Fathi was able to save several of his Christian colleagues and contacts in the area, however. His release after his first arrest gave him time to delete several brothers and sisters in Christ from prison.
After his 2010 arrest, Fathi spread the Gospel and spoke of Jesus in prison. Willey says he would meet regularly with a small tight-knit group of believers.
"On Sunday, they would gather in his small cot that was about six feet by two and a half feet. They would get together, five or six of them, and they would study God’s word and pray," he says.
According to Willey, Fathi says his time in prison deepened his relationship with God.
"He tasted grace in a new and strengthening way," Willey says.