National Magazine of the Lutheran Church of Australia

Prayer for new beginnings

April 2016

by Lester Reinbott

Imagine being threatened with death for being a Christian in this day and age. What would you do? A young Iranian family facing that terrifying reality risked everything for the hope of a fresh start and a new life in Australia. This is their story.

Why would a young family suddenly leave their home and parents and friends, their work and country, and risk their lives on a dangerous sea voyage from Indonesia to Australia? Yet that is exactly what Amin and his wife Khatereh and their five-year-old daughter Ailin became desperate enough to do in 2013.

They fled Iran in fear of the government. To stay would have meant torture and imprisonment for Amin, or even cost him his life.

Amin, Khatereh and Ailin* currently live in Brisbane, having moved there recently on an Australian Immigration Department community detention order.

They have connected with the St John’s Lutheran congregation at Corinda in the inner-western suburbs, where they have been warmly welcomed and are enjoying the friendship and support of the congregation. They attend worship every Sunday and Khatereh was baptised on 5 February. Last month they prepared a special Iranian morning tea for the church members as a way of saying ‘thank you’ to them for their help and support.

Amin, Khatereh and Ailin live in hope of being able to build a new life for themselves here in Australia.

Amin worked for 14 years for a government-run cement company in Mosjed Soleiman in Khuzestan, in southwestern Iran. In his role as a representative to management for the workers, he criticised the government for their poor treatment of workers in the factory.

He was arrested for doing so and tortured and interrogated for two weeks, before being taken to court and charged with apostasy (converting from Islam to another religion) and insulting the ‘Supreme Ruler’ of Iran. The penalty for apostasy in Iran is either death or lengthy imprisonment. Amin had become Christian through the influence of some friends, and the authorities had become aware of this.

A lawyer friend at the court helped Amin and the charge of apostasy was dropped, but he was convicted of the second charge and sentenced to 40 lashes and two years in jail. The lawyer appealed the sentence and Amin was let out on bail and was able to go back to work at the factory. However, under pressure to do so from the other workers, he again spoke out against conditions at the factory.

Intelligence officers then raided his house and seized Christian literature. When Amin again contacted his lawyer he found out that the judge was asking for him to be re-arrested and charged with apostasy as well as breaking his bail conditions. The lawyer told Amin he had no choice but to go into hiding.

So Amin, Khatereh and Ailin fled Iran. They flew to Indonesia hoping to get to Britain but, finding that door closed, their only other option was to go by ‘people smuggler’ boat to Australia. It was a terrifying journey for people who had never even seen the sea or been on a boat before they left Iran. They arrived at Christmas Island on 25 July 2013. Since then they have been in detention, spending six months on Christmas Island, 10 months on Nauru and 12 months in Darwin.

As a result of these conditions, both Ailin and Khatereh have been very traumatised. Khatereh still has trouble sleeping at night because of the experiences she has had and her fears about the future.

Amin, Khatereh and Ailin live in hope of being able to build a new life for themselves here in Australia. They are grateful to the Australian government for the help they are currently being given for their medical conditions and they are enjoying the relative freedom that community detention in Brisbane is allowing them.

Amin and Khatereh give thanks to God for the freedom they have to practise their Christianity here in Australia, something they could never have done as Christians in Iran. Ailin is also enjoying going to Sunday school, which she would never have had the chance to experience back in Iran.