Iranian-born Christian filmmaker underscores political dangers

The political unrest on the past month in Iran has brought a struggle familiar to Joseph Hovsepian into the international spotlight. In 1994, Hovsepian’s father Haik was murdered in Iran. Haik Hovsepian was a leading bishop of Protestant churches in Iran and had drawn international attention publicizing the case of Mehdi Dibaj. Dibaj was a Christian who converted from Islam and had been jailed for 10 years. Nearing execution, Haik Hovsepian prompted outside pressure on Iran to release Dibaj. Shortly thereafter, Hovespian was found dead from repeated knife wounds. Only 19 at the time, Joseph Hovspeian was understandably devastated. He and his family managed to flee Iran and he took filmmaking skills he began developing in his father’s church into a career. Educated in Great Britain, Joseph Hovsepian, 34, now lives in Southern California with immediate family including brother Andre. Joseph and Andre produced the award-winning documentary “A Cry From Iran” about their father’s life and murder in 2007 under their company, JFA Productions. “My heart is filled with peace as a result of everything my father represented,” Joseph Hovsepian said. “He was a man in the middle of a stormy ocean, but it is still a peaceful vision because of the trust and assurance he had as a man not scared of speaking the truth. … He trusted the Lord in every circumstance of life. The Lord raised him to be the leader of evangelical church in Iran. He was also a man that was determined in putting forth the effort to bring different denominations together no matter how hard the task because the body of Christ needs to be together.” Hovsepian has produced films and shows for Iranian audiences beamed into the country through satellite television. He and his family have developed Hovsepian Ministries to build resources to help serve the underground house church movement in Iran. “The ministry is advocating for churches in Iran to be able to share the Gospel and equipping them as much as possible,” Hovsepian said. “In the past six months I’ve been quite far away from computer editing of film and done a lot of church visits as we’ve tried to expand the ministry. It’s exciting to see how God is expanding the vision for us.” A vibrant house church movement exists within Iran, Hovsepian said, although secrecy and caution are at a premium. “It is definitely the case today that house churches are very important,” he said, “apart from a few church buildings that are strictly under government control. In those cases you will even have the secret police attend to watch what is going on. In the underground church of course you have limitations. They can’t sing too loud and draw attention. It’s much easier to handle if they’re not at one location and it works as a cell to have fellowship in different locations. Even group members will change names and try their best to act in a sage way to avoid being arrested.” The dangers to Christians are particularly heightened with the repression of protests and communication by the regime of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Large demonstrations by supporters of leading opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi and charges of vote-rigging in recent elections prompted violent crackdowns. “I have been in close contact during this process with a couple of close, trustworthy friends,” Hovsepian said. “It has been quite emotional. Hearing the voices on Skype is a mixture of excitement, hope and even fear. You just don’t know what is going to happen. “It gives me a picture of what Iranians are going through. Some of the Christians from the underground churches protested, but the majority didn’t attend. The main reason is that there is a lot of danger for Christians in the situations we see of what the government has done to its own people. “If you have a Christian arrested, it’s not hard to imagine how much more danger they would be in right now. If they are being tortured and didn’t call out to Allah for help but called for Jesus, you can understand the danger they would be in. The church is not all about political activism. Their opinion would be for Mousavi as the top choice because he is seen as more moderate. Iran is crying out for freedom and democracy. Mousavi is an icon of that.” Hovsepian added that Iranians have been encouraged by the support received by Americans online. “Especially for the younger people, they look at America as a symbol of freedom,” he said. “When you cry out for freedom you want your big daddy to hear you and you want the world to know. The Internet has made that so much easier.” Protests against the Iranian government are largely non-violent despite hostile tactics. Hovsepian relayed a story of government forces using hot water spiked with glass shards shot from fire trucks used to quell protests. “People do not have the tools to fight back with, but I think fear is still dominating,” he said. “The most powerful weapon Islam has in Iran is fear. When you see images of men wearing long beards and women wearing the hijab (head scarf) in these countries, many times it is out of fear for those in authority. That is not something that is apparent on the news. … I see a window of opportunity to introduce God, a God of love who isn’t forced into people’s lives by coercion.” Links: A Cry From Iran: http://www.acryfromiran.com Hovsepian Ministries: http://www.hovsepian.com

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