Mohabat News -- Mohammad-Rasoul Bagherian, an Iranian Christian convert, now resides on Bali Island, in Indonesia.
He was forced to leave Iran in 2010 after the Islamic regime of Iran intensified its pressures and threats against Christian converts. He, together with his team, comprised of Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, and Muslim members, decided to place a Christmas tree 37.5 meters (about 123 feet) deep in the ocean as a symbolic act to protest against "severe religious restrictions, and persecution of Christian converts", in different countries, especially in Iran. Although Iran has signed the Universal Human Rights Declaration and Christians' rights are recognized in the Iranian constitution, Christians, especially Christian converts with an Islamic background, face discrimination and persecution on a daily basis.
This symbolic act by Mr. Bagherian, set a new record in the Guinness Book of Records as well. It was in support of all those who have been persecuted for their beliefs. The undecorated Christmas tree was taken 37.5 meters down into the ocean in the name of "the Lord Jesus Christ" and it took divers two days to take all the ornaments down into the ocean and place them on the underwater Christmas tree. When all was set, each member of the group praised their God according to their own religious rituals. As one described them, "In this way, they became ambassadors of peace and brotherhood, deep in the ocean".
This action attracted broad attention across the world. The symbolic act confirmed the spread of a culture of peace and brotherhood, as well as increasing awareness by individuals, of their Human Rights. It also highlighted the need for peaceful defense of religion and prevention of violence.
The news of this symbolic work was published exclusively by Mohabat News and received positive feedback from Iranians as well as international readers. This prompted us to conduct an exclusive interview with Mr. Bagherian. Below is our interview with him.
-Mr. Bagherian, can you tell us more about yourself, so that our readers can get to know you better?
I am Mohammad-Rasoul Bagherian and I was born in 1975. I have been living on Bali Island with my family for the past three years. Before we moved to Indonesia, we were living on Kish Island. I was working as head of the invoices section of the Kish Tele-communication company. Also, I was working part-time as a diving head coach, teaching diving to those who were interested. Here I should mention that I have had cooperation with Mr. Sadegh Saba, from BBC TV in making a documentary about diving in Kish Island as well as deploying a traditional Haft-seen table under Persian-Gulf waters. I have also written a diving training book.
- What caused you to leave Iran?
First and foremost, I have to say that I was favored by the Holy Spirit from a long time ago, and as a result I believed in Jesus Christ as my savior. My testimony was printed and distributed among Churches on Bali Island as well as to other churches across Indonesia. The testimony is available there. I had a good business, by the grace of God. We had a happy life, full of peace with my wife and children. When we were in Kish, we used to have fellowship with house-churches that were active on the island, until pressure on Christian converts intensified in 2010. It was then that I heard 70 Christians had been arrested in Tehran and other cities across the country. I can remember that the pressures doubled after the Supreme Leader made the famous speech in Qom. In this connection, many were arrested and once released they were forced to leave the country. Also, my work permit was invalidated and we were deprived of many of our social rights, as a result of intensified pressures on Christians. This caused us to leave country just like many other Christians did. Our situation had become so difficult that they even seized our furniture and properties.
- What did you do after you forcibly left the country?
Fortunately, because of my professional skills in diving, I received job offers from Maldives, Malaysia as well as Indonesia. After consultation with my wife, we chose to go to Bali Island in Indonesia, because of the greater freedom of religion that's practiced there.
-Have you been as successful outside Iran as you were inside the country?
Well, yes. However, because of fewer numbers of Iranians in Bali, we do not have a Persian speaking church so we attend English church services. We have enjoyed God's blessings through international churches. Also, since Indonesia is a gateway for asylum seekers who are heading to Australia, we take advantage of the opportunity and share the good news and the word of God with asylum seekers who have been stuck in refugee camps in Indonesia. With support of the World Relief organization, we have planted a small church in the refugee camp in Bali.
- What triggered the idea of your symbolic protest by planting a Christmas tree under the ocean?
What brought this to my mind was that I wanted to amplify the voice of oppressed Christian believers through a message full of love and peace to the world. And when is a better time than Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of our Lord? Three billion people around the world share this love of Christmas. So, I didn't sit still and began to contact different organizations. I contacted the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Amnesty International that I am pleased to be a member of, and also World Relief, of which again I am an active member. By God's grace, I received replies from these organizations and other humanitarian organizations, churches and small local businesses expressed their interest in supporting such a unique initiative.
We spotted the location, the Tulamben area in eastern Bali. The area is one of the most visited diving destinations in the world and it is where the famous U.S. Liberty ship wreck sank. The final diving depth was set at 40 meters and the team members were selected from the best divers, most of the whom were my former diving students. Since the initial idea of this job was mine, I took the leadership responsibility personally.
-Why did you choose Bali?
The reason for choosing Bali is very clear. It is one of the rarest places in the world where followers of all religions including Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, and even a few Jews live together peacefully. Also, the central and local governments do not violate basic rights of their citizens (including religious freedom). This can be a good example to other countries. Thus, we were able to send the message of freedom of religion to the world from this area without any trouble.
-You set a new world record. Tell us more about it.
It should be noted that before our attempt, many other Christmas trees were planted under water. Placing a Christmas tree that deep in the water to set a world record, requires a lot of financial and human resources and involves a lot of hazards and adventures. However, by the grace of God, we managed to handle it. Everything from preparing prerequisites to doing the actual job was like pieces of a puzzle that came together under the shadow of the Holy Spirit and enabled my 20 fellow divers and I to attempt and to succeed in establishing the world record. It was a record that could be reported broadly by media all around the world and carry the voice of the persecuted church in Iran and other Middle-Eastern countries to the world. Therefore, at the end of our undertaking, a statement was written and signed by all participants. My wife and I will send the statement to all churches across Indonesia to be signed. Then we will deliver it to the Office of Human Rights in the U.N. This was done so that the world may become aware of the increasing persecution against Christians.
- What is your final word to Mohabat News readers?
I greet all believers who celebrate the birthday of the only Lord of love and freedom, Jesus Christ, and thank you for covering the news of this event, either through your website or through any other channels.