Revive Our Hearts Podcast

God Is at Work in Iran, Day 1

Episode Resources

Watch Sabrina Aslan's story.

Leslie Basham: He was a young pastor in Iran. He had unknowingly provoked the government, and now Albert Aslan was being interrogated.

Pastor Albert Aslan: They took me to a room with a lot of drugs and syringes and the smell of alcohol. I tell you, it was scary, because I thought, Oh my, are they going to inject anything?

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth for Tuesday, May 17, 2016.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Yesterday, we heard about the importance of living and ministering in complete dependence on the Holy Spirit. Our guests on Revive Our Hearts over the next couple of days are a beautiful example of that very thing.

Their names are Albert and Sabrina Aslan. Now, that name may sound familiar to readers of The Chronicles of Narnia. Aslan is the Turkish word for "lion," and as you listen these next two days, I think you'll see that the Holy Spirit working in this couple has given them a lion-hearted passion to share the gospel of Christ in some really difficult places.

I first met Sabrina Aslan two years ago at True Woman '14.

Sabrina Aslan: My name is Sabrina Aslan, and I'm coming from California but originally am from Iran. I was in Tehran, the capital city of Iran . . .

Nancy: It wasn't hard to see that behind her modest, soft-spoken demeanor, was a woman who was courageously following God's calling on her life "for such a time as this." It turned out that Sabrina is a faithful listener to Revive Our Hearts.

Sabrina: Yes, I always consider and try to always remind myself of this sentence from Nancy: "Whatever is making you closer to God is a blessing, even suffering, even hardship; just praise God for that." This is so precious to me!

Nancy: We'll hear Sabrina's story on tomorrow's program, but today we're going to focus on a riveting story from her husband, Albert. Albert knows firsthand what it's like to tell others about Jesus in a country that has the reputation for being one of the most resistant to the gospel.

Albert Aslan came to faith in Christ at the age of eighteen. From the outset, his spiritual hunger was voracious.

Albert: God put a great desire in my heart to study the Word, to pray. I was studying day and night in the different books of the Bible with the limited resources I had. That way, God was nourishing me, and afterward sent some brothers and sisters to help us, to edify us.

Nancy: It wasn't long before Albert was teaching the Bible and proclaiming the gospel.

Albert: Preaching in a church after my conversion, it was the beginning of my ministry. I started teaching the youth in the church and preaching more, and then going to different cities to take care of the local congregations whose pulpits were vacant.

Nancy: The Iranian government allowed Christian churches to operate and speak to minority groups like the Assyrians. They weren't allowed to try to convert any Muslims. Unbeknownst to Albert Aslan, the government was checking up on him.

Albert: In one city, I was working for eight years. After eight years, right before I was done with the ministry in that city. On the last week I finished my five-day conference on the book of Revelation, I received a note that the government has called me for some Q & A interrogation.

Nancy: It couldn't be good. Would he be imprisoned? Would he be forced to choose between renouncing his faith and severe punishment, perhaps even death? Albert didn't know, but he did know what Jesus told his followers in Matthew 10:18 . . .

And you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

Albert: That was the teaching I had been teaching for years, but in that day I experienced it.

Nancy: The interrogation was long and intimidating, and it centered around his activity as a pastor.

Albert: Basically, they were going to see what's happening in the church building I was in charge of, the people I was meeting . . . because I used to open the door for people and they used to come in.

Sometimes they were asking a question, sometimes they were looking for a book, or sometimes to take a picture from the sanctuary. That was what they wanted to do. I used to open the door for them, and the government was unhappy.

From the perspective of the government (this is what they told me), "Whenever you answer the question of a Muslim person about Christianity, you have committed a crime, even to answer the question!"

And when I said, "Okay, excuse me, but what should I do then? Somebody's knocking on the door, and I open it . . . I shouldn't open the door? What should I do?"

And the guy started mocking me and said, "Oh, I thought you would be smarter than that. This is the only way and the best way: send them to us. We would teach them what Christianity is about."

Nancy: Albert's interrogator was sarcastic and cruel.

Albert: He started asking me if I could recognize his voice, and I said, "No, I don't recognize your voice." He kept asking me to make sure if I knew who the guy was, and I said, "Honestly, I tell you, I don't recognize your voice and I don't know who you are," because I was blindfolded.

He said, "For three years I have been following you. I have been next to you or behind you. I sit in the airplane whenever you are traveling." He was mocking me with his tone, and he said, "Okay, in order to refresh your mind, let me remind you of the question I asked you."

He was reading from a script, because obviously he was holding a thick binder filled with pages. When he read the question, I realized, "Oh, yes! Somebody, somewhere asked that question of me."

And then he said, "By the way, let me make sure we are on the same page, so let me read the answer you gave." And when he was reading the answer, it was correct to the point; it was me."

At that moment I realized,  all my phone calls, all my contacts, everything was being monitored closely.

Nancy: It was like something out of a movie. Albert was astonished that so much effort had gone into spying on him for three years.

Albert: I thought to myself, Who am I? Because I knew what the reality was. I was not a spy. I was not rich. I didn't have anything to threaten the government. I knew that.

But it was a question for me, "Why are they thinking that way? Why am I a threat to them, so they are willing spend—I don't know how much, big money—the government is spending money to monitor me, watch me. What am doing? I'm just a tiny minister, a young minister in a small congregation."

But they were sensitive because they knew the light of the gospel was going out of the Christian assemblies and it was attracting people, and they were not happy, so they were looking for ways to somehow block it.

Nancy: In retrospect, Albert suspects a reason he was singled out.

Albert: My congregation was Assyrian.

Nancy: Okay, that's Assyrian, not to be confused with Syrian. The Assyrian people, also known as Chaldeans, Syriacs, or Arameans. They speak a common language, Assyrian, and they're indigenous to parts of Iraq. Turkey, Iran, and Syria, though Islamic persecution has forced many to flee their homelands.

In fact, according to the United Nations, about forty percent of the refugees we've heard so much about in the news are Assyrian. Now, back to Albert Aslan and his theory about why the government chose to follow him.

Albert: My congregation was Assyrian—a Syriac congregation—however, since we had the one person from a Jewish background who didn't speak Assyrian, we decided to conduct our Bibles lessons in the Farsi language (because of him). Farsi was a common language for all of us.

Maybe that was one of the reasons the government didn't like us. They preferred us to speak in Assyrian. Okay, Muslim people do not understand Assyrian, but when it's turned to Farsi, the common language, that becomes a threat.

Nancy: As the interrogation proceeded, Albert began to realize just how much his activities had been monitored. Remember how he mentioned that he would often open the doors of his church to visitors?

Albert: One afternoon, somebody knocked on the door, and I opened the door.  Outside I saw about ten ladies in black chadors—or coverings. You can see their faces, but everywhere else is black, covered.

They said they were coming from the university; they are finishing their studies at the university, and they're working on their final thesis for getting their degrees. They told me the subject they were studying was the two different environments, cultures of Christianity and Islam.

They wanted to talk to me to get the another perspective of this conversation. I was so happy. I took that advantage, and I invited them into chapel. They sat down in chapel, but I was not aware of the fact that one of them was recording everything.

So they started asking about Mohammed, about Quran, about the gospel, about Christianity. That was a perfect environment for me to preach and teach about Christ and glorify Christ. And I did.

I mentioned to them I could also offer them the Bible in Farsi if they were willing. At one point, they emphasized the point, "What's your perspective on prophets like Mohammed?" That's a crucial question. You can answer that in a very rude way, but I believe the Lord guided me to answer it from a positive perspective.

I said, "In the Bible, Jesus told us He's the Way, the Truth and the Life. We do believe in the Bible as the Word of God. There are two options: either He was a liar or He told the truth."

I told them, "I believe Muslim people don't believe Jesus was a liar."

And they said, "No-o-o, the Prophet Jesus was not a liar."

And I said, "In the Bible, He said, He's the Truth, the Life and the Way. There is no way to the Father except through Him, by Him. Either He was a liar or He told the truth. If He was a liar, forget about Christianity. Why would you study Christianity? If He was not a liar, and He told the truth, we are left with one option. We cannot accept anybody's claim for our salvation except Jesus."

So I wrapped it up with, "Jesus and only Jesus." I didn't mention Mohammed. I didn't mention the Quran. I didn't say anything. But during the interrogation, the guy referred to that incident because, apparently, it was recorded.

He started reading everything—some script of our conversation. So I used to open the door for them, but it was checked.

Nancy: Albert says there was another church in the same city that held their services in Farsi, and because of that they were deemed more of a threat.

Albert: The government sent three people to that congregation during one of the worship services to create a chaos, to scare people. They go, and the pastor was talking about Jesus dying on the cross at Calvary.

When I put myself in his shoes as a pastor, you are watching, and three strangers are coming into your congregation. The red flag is up, because you know who they are, where they are coming from.

But the pastor was blessed enough. He didn't change his words; he didn't stop. He kept saying his sermon, which was, "Christ, and Him crucified." The time came, one of those three guys told the other two, "It's time. Let's start!"

One of them said, "No, let's leave."

The other guy kept insisting, "No, no, no. Now it's time. Everybody's here. Let's start the chaos! Tomorrow they're not going to come back here; they're going to be scared to death!"

And the other one said, "No, no, no, no. Do not do anything. Let's leave; let's leave." And they left.

The guy who prevented them from causing the chaos was a guy whom God saved that night, through that preaching, and he turned to be a believer!

My friends contacted me and asked me, "Have you heard about that guy?"

I said, "No." They said they wanted me to be in touch with him, to edify him—outside the church, in private. I said, "Okay."

So we started having a meeting with him in small restaurants, in the street, just to pray, just to share a passage of the Bible.

Nancy: Are you catching what's going on here? A government operative is sent to disrupt a church service. Instead, God saves him! Now, Albert is meeting with him one-on-one to disciple him.

It shouldn't be a surprise that the Iranian government, hostile to Christianity, might want to monitor Pastor Aslan's activities. All of this was prior to the investigation, but Albert already suspected he was being monitored.

I told him, "Listen, brother, don't call me when I am in the church, because we think everything is monitored. Do not call me; do not come to our church; do not do it." Everybody was watching for his coming in and his going out.

One day I was sitting in the office and my phone rang. I picked up the phone. It was him. And I asked him, "Why did you call?"

He said, "I need you. We need to pray. There is a heavy burden on my shoulders. Let's pray together."

I asked, "Where are you?"

He gave me the address. Immediately I hung up the phone, left the church. I had to lock so many doors—the first, the second, the third door. I started running as fast as I could. When I reached the destination, I looked for him. I looked for him, but couldn't find him.

I pretended as if I was shopping. I went to the front of the store, I went into the store, checked everything and couldn't find him. For about twenty minutes I went around and around. I couldn't find him.

I came back afterwards and asked my friends, "Have you seen him?"

"No."

"Is there anybody having any news? Where is he?" Nobody knows.

During the interrogation, the guy who was mocking me said, "Oh, by the way, do you remember that guy called you?"

And he mocked me saying, "Wow! What a good runner you were! You were fast—ha ha. You kept going around and around looking for him, and you didn't find him. Do you know why? Before you got there, we were there, and we caught him."

Still, to this day, I don't know what happened to him. I don't know.

Nancy: After several hours, the interrogation began to wind down. They took Albert to another room. He said there were lots of drugs, syringes and prominently, the smell of alcohol.

Albert: I tell you, it was scary. I thought, "Oh, my! Are they going to inject anything?"

Nancy: The government officials sat Albert at a table, pen and paper before him. They wanted him to promise, in writing, never to evangelize Muslims. Albert asked for some time to think about it, and his interrogator left the room.

Albert: I just prayed, because it was a dilemma: "Lord, I don't want to deny You. You have commanded us to teach and preach." I prayed and I prayed. And I took the pen, and this is what I told the Lord . . .

"Lord, I do not have the wisdom to give the right answer, but I do not want to deny You." Then I started writing.

Nancy: He filled in the preliminary information: name, date of birth and so on. What he wrote next, he credits to God, because he didn't even realize until years later that he had written something that would satisfy his interrogator without sacrificing his own integrity.

Albert: I wrote, "I testify that the way I have not yet broken the law of the land, and future too, I will not break the law of the land," and I signed it.

Nancy: Albert expected his interrogator to throw his statement back in his face, as he had done with previous statements Albert had written. But, to his surprise . . .

Albert: He said, "Wow! This is exactly what we wanted you to do! Thank you." The interrogator checked with his supervisor, and they let Albert go. He figured they were either blind, or couldn't read.

Nancy: How could that simple statement, "I testify that, as I have not yet broken the law of the land, so I will not break the law of the land in the future," how could that be enough to release him?

Albert: It took me a long, long time to realize the real meaning of the sentence I put on the paper. And I testify today, it wasn't me. Because I didn't know there was a difference between the law of the land and the law of Sharia. Only the law of Sharia says we cannot preach and evangelize, not the law of the land—at that time.

Nancy: Albert Aslan says he felt so happy to know he had neither denied God or lied to his government.

Albert: It was releasing to me when I realized, "The Bible says you don't need to think about that. When you are taken in to the government, or rulers, the Spirit will put the words into your mouth."

And I realized, "Oh, I believe it. It was the Lord Who wrote the words; it wasn't me. It wasn't the result of my wisdom. It was God's leading—praise the Lord!"

Nancy: The whole experience was a wake-up call for Albert. He said it helped him understand . . .

Albert: "This is a real business! When I am involved in the preaching of the gospel in an Islamic environment, I should accept that they are not happy. The enemy is not happy because, all that light which is shining forth, the enemy is losing their soldiers. They are coming to the light."

I realized they are more serious in their objectives than many of us Christians. We take it for granted. "This is a ministry; we do whatever we can do, that's all." No, no, no! You are in a battle! Be serious the way your enemy is serious.

The enemy is spending bunches and bunches to reach his objectives. You as a Christian, in the ministry, be serious and take it seriously, and do all you can. You are the real children of the Lord, for His glory. So do it in the best way possible!

Nancy: Eventually, the Lord closed doors for Albert and Sabrina Aslan in Iran. He led them to the United States where Albert became the pastor of an Assyrian congregation. They were comfortable there, but after a number of years, God put a new burden on their hearts.

What about all the Farsi-speaking people still in Iran and Syria who had never heard the gospel? Was the Lord now wanting to do something in their lives "for such a time as this"? Tomorrow, you'll hear what the Aslans are doing to tell people throughout the Farsi-speaking world about Jesus.

We'll hear a final word from Albert in just a minute, but first I want to give you a snapshot of what you'll hear tomorrow. Sabrina Aslan has been taking the truth that she hears day-by-day on Revive Our Hearts, and sharing it in the Farsi language with women in Iran, Syria and other places in that region.

What an amazing example of what we talk about all the time here on Revive Our Hearts. We want to speak the truth with you, so you can then share it and disciple other women. This is what the True Woman movement is all about.

This radio program could not exist—could not be discipling or encouraging women like Sabrina—without the support of listeners like you. Here's the way this ministry works: listeners hear this program, they appreciate what God is doing, and they choose to support the ministry by praying and by giving.

These friends are excited about what God is doing through the program, and they're eager to see the ministry impact more lives in their community and around the world.

Right now, the Revive Our Hearts team is in dialog with Albert and Sabrina Aslan about how we can work more closely to get the message of this ministry out to more Muslim women who have never heard these truths.

We can't move forward with opportunities like this without your help. The month of May is the end of our fiscal year. That's when we bring one set of annual budgets to a close, and we get ready to launch a new year of ministry.

We're asking the Lord to help Revive Our Hearts end this fiscal year "in the black," in a solid position to move forward with new opportunities in the Middle East, in South Africa, in Switzerland, in Brazil and in other parts of the world.

We're seeing the Lord stir the hearts of women in a deep way in all these places. In order to take steps forward, we're asking Him to provide for some substantial needs here in May.

When you make a donation of any size this month, we want to say thank you by sending you a CD that has encouraged my husband and me a lot over the past months. The CD is called Love Divine, by pianist Jan Mulder. This is a special Revive Our Hearts edition of the CD that you can't get anywhere else.

Would you pray about how the Lord might want you to be involved in helping us here at this fiscal year-end? Then give us a call at 1–800–569–5959 and ask for the Love Divine piano CD, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

Thank you so much for standing with this ministry at such a time as this!

I'd love for you to see the story of Albert and Sabrina Aslan on video. You can see the faces behind the voice you heard today when you watch a short but powerful video that our team has put together. You can watch it at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Imagine the Lord calling you to speak to women in Iran and Syria. Does that sound intimidating? Sabrina Aslan didn't feel ready for that assignment. Tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts, you'll hear out how the Lord has been working out that calling in her life.

But before we're done, let's hear one last encouraging word from Pastor Albert Aslan. He puts our focus right where it needs to be, on our sovereign God. We asked Albert if he ever heard what happened to the government official who had spied on him for years and then interrogated him.

Albert: No idea, but I do believe God is able even to save them by His mysterious ways. Maybe some time, maybe one day, he will listen to the radio or will watch a sermon even by me, and he will come to faith. God is able to do exceedingly beyond what we think or pray for!

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.