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Once tortured for his faith, Iranian ministers to refugees

BURBANK, Calif. (BP)–Roubik Hoospianmer was tortured in his native Iran for his Christian faith, and his brother was murdered.

“God for His purposes chose to spare me,” he says. “I never forget that.”

Now 41, he is bivocational as a social worker for Iranian and Armenian refugees, pastor of three immigrant churches, television preacher with weekly programs in three languages, husband of Odet Hartoun and father of three children.

Hoospianmer’s life of ministry started when he was 14; he started passing out Bibles to Muslims on the streets of Tehran. Within hours he was arrested. That didn’t stop him.

By the time he was 22 he had started his first church — it took four years of weekly, 200-mile, round-trip visits. Not long after that church start, he was remanded by his civilian employer to one-year mandatory service in the Iranian army, which kept him from the weekly trips.

But he was booted out of the military after managing to debate the merits of Christianity with the local mullah (priest) in the presence of the entire Tehran army base.

His civilian employer, the telephone company, sent him to the front of the Iran/Iraq war to repair cables, but after work he would bike 10 miles each way at night to town, where he searched until he found Assyrian Christians.

“I started with them my new church,” Hoospianmer said. During the seven years he and his wife grew the church in the war zone, they endured daily bombing, sporadic supplies of water, and continual harassment from the Secret Police.

Fifty people had been baptized and 10 called out as ministers when Hoospianmer received a cry for help from his soon-to-be-martyred brother, Haik Hovsepianhehr. His wife and two daughters already were on their way to Tehran when the Secret Police arrived and hauled Hoospianmer off to solitary confinement broken only by torture.

“One night I was full of bitterness against Islam and all enemies,” Hoospianmer said. “I couldn’t forgive them for what they do to me. I say to God, ‘I don’t want any more Muslims to come to know you.'”

That midnight a guard came with a soft-voiced request.

“I tell him, ‘I don’t want to tell you about Jesus.’ ‘You have to,’ he tell me. ‘You are pastor.’ After four hour, he accepted Jesus. I repented from my bitterness and the Lord saved me from it.”

Hoospianmer had been in the provincial jail for 28 days. The day after the guard’s conversion, two members of the Secret Police drove Hoospianmer through a blinding snowstorm and over a mountain pass to a Tehran jail. One became a Christian that night.

Eight more days of torture later, Hoospianmer was placed on probation, providing he reported every two weeks on all church activities, and that he did not speak to Muslims about Jesus.

“He was harassed for three years and was marked for death because despite the rules, Muslims were converted after coming into contact with him.

“This is Islamic law,” Hoospianmer said. “Converts die, especially if they are a pastor who brings others to Christianity.”

After attending the funeral of a Muslim-born pastor who had been killed, and seeing the blind widow and four young children, Hoospianmer arranged to give everything he had in exchange for refugee status in Germany for him and his family.

While there, he started three churches among Armenians and Iranians, but moved to California because “The Lord showed me in California one million Iranians,” Hoospianmer said. “Here we can be more useful.”

He baptized 66 Iranians within his first three years, then was called to Colorado to start an Iranian-language church. He’s been back in California for three years.

“Since ’98 to now I decide to serve the Southern Baptists,” said Hoospianmer said, who previously had been independent of a denomination. “I met Southern Baptists in Colorado. I researched and see that it is the right denomination and solid base for starting churches.”

Three things he liked about Southern Baptists, the pastor said: its balanced theology that was neither extreme nor emotional; its global outreach that matched his vision; and its polity that allowed every church its independence.

In addition to starting churches for Iranians (1998), Armenians (1998) and Jewish Iranians (1999), Hoospianmer for six years has had a thriving, three-program ministry on public access television. He preaches in Armenian, Farsi and English.

At least 750 families have contacted him because of the television ministry; many go to non-Southern Baptist churches because of the lack of Iranian or Armenian SBC churches.

But Hoospianmer has a plan to address that.

Iranian Christian Church in Glendale consists of 100 members, 98 of whom are refugees; he’s baptized 26 in the last year. Armenian Christian Church in Glendale (they share the same building) consists of 25 Muslim converts. The newest congregation, Iranian Christian Church of Los Angeles, consists of about 50 Jewish and Muslim converts who live in the Westwood area. He has identified 26 budding leaders among the congregations; six are attending the Brea Campus of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.

His plan is to identify leaders, train them, and send them out to start new congregations.

Hoospianmer has another plan.

He envisions a training center where people called to work with Muslims can spend six months in ministry with him in Los Angeles. Daily infusion of the language and culture of the Middle East would help acclimatize missionaries so they are ready to start work when they reach their overseas assignment area, he said.

“My desire is to be a missionary in the United States for Southern Baptists to reach the Muslims,” Hoospianmer said. “My elder brother died to reach Muslims. God has called me to live to reach them.”