By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- Iranian Church leaders have urged prayers for Christians in Iran amid concerns authorities will raid more house churches and detain believers over the Christmas and Western New Year period.
The appeal came after a letter was released of jailed Pastor Behnam Irani, 41, who activists say may not survive the remaining five years of his prison term on what that call trumped-up charges" of “crimes against national security”.
Iranian Christians have told BosNewsLife that he was previously beaten by fellow inmates and guards of the Ghezel Hesar Prison in Karaj city, one of the toughest jails in the country, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of the nation's capital Tehran.
He also lost about five kilograms as he fights a blood infection.
Authorities have denied adequate medical treatment "for his deteriorating health" and for injuries sustained from "frequent and brutal beatings by prison guards and other inmates" since his imprisonment in May last year, according to his 'Church of Iran' house church movement and rights activists.
Irani may also face the death penalty on separate court-advised charges of "apostasy", or abandoning Islam, said Firouz Khandjani, a council member of the Church of Iran.
Yet, in a just released letter written from prison for last year's Christmas, the frail Irani urged his pressured church members to remain joyful this Christmas season.
"Despite the pressure and difficulties in prison, I am pleased to share, what is like a fountain, my Christian joy with you in the new Christmas days to come," he wrote.
"And I know that you, who are the saints and spiritual children of God, are acquainted with this joy. As a minister of God, I allow myself to announce you to be happy," Irani said.
"Know that all the happiness that we have on Earth is the first fruit of that great joy provided for us in heaven."
He made clear he understood their worries at a time of reported persecution, which forced some to flee abroad.
However, he said, "please pay attention to what God says in [Bible verse] Matthew 6:26, "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?"
Iranian church leaders made clear that believers should continue to remember Irani and other jailed Iranian Christians.
The leaders asked to pray that "Those detained for their faith...will know the presence and peace of Jesus, and be released soon" and that "their families, pastors and close friends...will know the presence, peace and protection of Jesus," reported advocacy group Middle East Concern, which released the prayer requests to BosNewsLife.
They said it was important to also pray for "Leaders of recognized churches, many under pressure to cancel or limit Christmas celebrations" and officials of house churches and others seeking to worship this Christmas.
Additionally they asked prayers for Iranian Christians who are facing financial difficulties because they lost their work or helped to pay for bail and lawyers fees for those behind bars.
Iran's authorities and those seeking to learn more about Christianity were also mentioned among the prayer requests.
Despite the reported persecution, there may be at least 100,000 evangelical Christians in Iran, according to church groups, with others giving higher estimates.
Many of them are believed to be former Muslims. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has defended the harsh policies and condemned the growing house churches.