There are an estimated 450,000 Christians in Iran, out of a population of 77.2 million.
Having grown up in Muslim families before converting to Christianity as young adults, Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh met at theological college in Turkey in 2005. Deciding to work together, they returned to Iran and began sharing their faith.
They knew they were putting their lives on the line. Islamic laws in Iran forbid anyone from sharing their Christian beliefs, but in three years, Maryam and Marziyeh covertly put New Testaments into the hands of 20,000 of their countrymen and started two secret house churches.
In 2009, the two friends were arrested in Tehran for promoting Christianity. The official charges against them were apostasy, anti-government activity, and blasphemy, for which they were sentenced to execution by hanging.
Maryam and Marziyeh would go on to spend 259 days in Evin Prison, one of the world’s most notorious jails. In that time, their physical condition deteriorated and initially, they suffered verbal abuse from guards. They were interrogated and denied the use of public taps for drinking water and basins to wash themselves.
The women lived in a world where prisoners could be executed with little notice. It was six months before they were allowed access to a lawyer. But all the while, supporters around the world prayed for their release and written campaigns resulted in hundreds of letters being delivered to the prison.
The impact was palpable - as time went on, prisoners and guards inside Evin Prison began to ask Maryam and Marziyeh to pray for them, too.
Released in 2009, Maryam and Marziyeh now live in the United States and have written a book about their remarkable true story; Captive in Iran.
They continue to highlight the issue of Christian persecution in Iran and will visit Toowoomba this month for Open Doors.