By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
TEHRAN/LONDON (BosNewsLife)-- Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who faced the death penalty for "apostasy" but was recently released, has thanked those who had prayed and petitioned on his behalf during his imprisonment for nearly three years, BosNewsLife monitored Wednesday, November 28.
In just released comments, he told supporters, “It is the opportunity for me to share about what the Lord did for me and to thank you because you supported me by your prayers, you supported my family in a very difficult time.”
Nadarkhani made the remarks this month as a special guest speaker at the national conference of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a Britain-based advocacy group that closely followed his case.
“My prayer is I ask the Lord to bless you for what you did for me as a small member of the body of Christ," he told participants at the gathering in London titled 'For Such a Time as This'.
"Today my presence here is the will of God and the result of what your prayers did for me,” said Nadarkhani. His family stayed behind but CSW told BosNewsLife that he will "shortly be returning to his family in (the city of) Rasht."
Pastor Nadarkhani also spoke at four services at Holy Trinity Brompton church this month, CSW said.
The church leader was sentenced to death for "apostasy", the word used for "abandoning Islam" in 2010 but released on September 8 this year after a court appearance in which he was unexpectedly acquitted of the charge but found guilty of evangelizing Muslims.
Though the court sentenced him to three years imprisonment, he was released as he was deemed to have already served his time.
Iranian officials have denied wrongdoing and accused the 35-year-old married father with two children, of being "a Zionist" and "criminal"and said their actions are aimed at defending "Islamic values".
Despite the reported difficulties there may be at least as many as 100,000 devoted evangelical Christians in Iran, many of them former Muslims, according to mission groups.
Pastor Nadarkhani's congregation, which has hundreds of members, is part of the Church of Iran, one of the largest evangelical house church movements in the country,
In several letters obtained by BosNewsLife, the pastor made clear that he wasn't surprised he had been prosecuted by the authorities of strictly Islamic Iran.
Nadarkhani said the Bible tells Christians to expect persecution. The “Word of God tells us to expect to suffer hardship and dishonor for the sake of His Name. Our Christian confession is not acceptable if we ignore this statement, if we do not manifest the patience of the Lord in our sufferings,” he wrote.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas told BosNewsLife that Pastor Nadarkhani's most recent "testimony" shows his "faith and perseverance, and of his love for God, for his family and for his nation."
Thomas said the pastor's "quiet courage, integrity and lack of recrimination cannot fail to have inspired anyone who heard him to deepen their own commitment to their faith.”