By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- An Iranian pastor, who is jailed in Tehran on charges linked to his Christian activities, says he is praying for the parents who lost their children in a recent school shooting in the U.S. State of Connecticut.
In a letter, obtained by BosNewsLife Thursday, December 27, Farshid Fathi Malayeri said he wanted to forget his own pain of being separated for several years from his children, Rosanna, 9, and Bardia, 3, to reach out to those who lost their loved ones.
Writing from Tehran's notorious Evin prison, Fathi recalled that a gunman shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on December 14 and slaughtered 20 first-graders and six educators. The gunman, who had also killed his mother that morning, committed suicide as police arrived.
"I really don't know what word in the world could comfort you, what relief could be helpful for your broken heart, and which hand could clean the tears which fall from your cheeks," the pastor said in his letter addressed to, "The fathers and mothers who lost their precious children in the Connecticut tragedy."
"I just want to say: 'I am so sorry and you are in my prayers'," he added in the letter, which was released by Elam Ministries, a mission group founded by Iranian church leaders.
"I am sure these high [prison] walls cannot stop my prayers for you. Before this tragedy happened, I was thinking about my suffering that I'm going through because of my Lord Jesus Christ, especially being far from my lovely kids. But when I imagine how hard your pain is I forget my sufferings," Fathi said.
"Because I know by God's grace I will see my kids at the latest in 2017 when I come out from prison. But unfortunately you have to wait a bit longer. So I would like to express my deepest sorrow for your loss," he wrote.
The pastor stressed it is important not to give up the hope Christians have in Jesus Christ. "I believe we will have enough time in heaven with our lovely children forever. There is no gun there, there is no prison, and there is no pain."
He signed his letter saying "In the hope of that glorious day...Your Brother in Christ from prison in Iran, Farshid Fathi," using the shorter form of his family name.
Earlier this year, rights activists condemned an Iranian court ruling upholding the six-year prison sentence for Fathi on charges that included "being the chief agent of foreign organizations in Iran" and "administrating funds for foreign organizations."
"As in recent cases involving Christians, the charges against the pastor were couched in political language when in reality he was arrested merely on account of his faith," said Andrew Johnston, advocacy director at rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
Fathi was also charged with possessing "religious propaganda", including printing Bibles in the Farsi language as well as possessing and distributing Bibles and other Christian literature, according to trial observers.
His fellow pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was acquitted of the death-sentence carrying charge of "apostasy" was returned to prison on Christmas Day on another charge linked to evangelism, the Church of Iran confirmed to BosNewsLife earlier. Another prominent evangelical pastor, Behnam Irani, is also being held.
Christians Christians have warned the 41-year-old pastor and father of two children may not survive the five years that remain of his prison term because of his poor health.
An Iranian-American pastor, Saeed Abedini, has also been held in Iran since September for his Christian activities after visiting family, according to his family.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday, December 20, that officials were "aware of the case," but gave no further details citing "privacy considerations."
Iranian authorities have defended the detentions, saying those jailed are linked to the growing house churches who "threaten the security" of the Islamic state and are "foreign-funded."
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