iran1No Problem!
Denise and I were treated like VIP’s all the time. Entering the Tehran airport and exiting not one bag was opened not even the cross bag! Unbelievable. We had a very good 4×4 Nissan with a great safe driver and the nicest man as our guide. We had a combined cross walk and tour arranged before we arrived and it worked out wonderfully. In late ’97 a handful of U.S. Tourists were permitted to come in tour groups. We may have been the first U.S. Tourists to be given a private trip – a two person tour. Everyone was friendly to us, not one bad word or gesture! Amazing! We encountered no problem carrying the cross in the countryside!!! As ours was a pre-paid trip and we were treated to the best available hotels and food, the hotels were warm in the cold weather and the food good. We were there carrying the cross during the muslim holy month of Ramadan – no problem!

Cyrus the Great, Pasargad and Persepolis

iran2King Cyrus and Kind Darius of Persia along with other Persian Kings are often mentioned in the Bible (see footnote at end of this report). It was a true historic pleasure to be able to carry the cross to the Tomb of Cyrus who was chosen by God, used by God and came to know the Lord 2,500 years ago! We carried the cross into the old capital of Persia where Cyrus and Darius must have praised the Lord! Glory. Now the cross came in the plan of God! The devil and the ‘Prince of Persia’ who fought against Daniel, Michael and ‘the angel of the Lord’ must have screamed in fear as the cross was lifted up in this place! Glory to God. The blood of Jesus and the cross is terror to evil powers.

Crosses in Iran

iran3There are churches open in Iran we saw them and went into them. They are mostly made with a dome similar to a mosque but with a cross on top – in open view for all to see. We saw one car in a city with a cross hanging on the rear-view mirror. In the markets where the local people shop for food, jewelry, etc., there are cross necklaces available, cross key chains etc. Very often you see very lovely wood inlaid pictures of Jesus being crucified, they are in open view in the shop windows. One of the most common pictures in Iranian bazaars and even hotel dining rooms is the ‘Lord’s Supper’ with Jesus and the 12 disciples at the table! One local guide for two days with us was a Jewish man dating his genealogy back to the Babylonian captivity. He goes to his local synagogue.

Tears in a bottle

iran4Psalm 56:8 “Put my tears into your bottle; are they not in your book?” As we toured the National museum in Tehran looking at history dating back 6,000 years. I was amazed to see some odd shaped bottles and read the information and heard the guide’s explanation. When a husband went off to war the wife or loved one would weep their tears in a bottle, upon their return they would show how many tears they had cried, they were kept in a bottle. David cried to God “put my tears into your bottle”. God knows your every pain, your grief. He knows every injustice, hurt, and feeling in you. He keeps your tears as your treasure of love. The hurting lover would hand to her beloved the bottle of tears – they spoke louder than the words ‘I love you’. Everything you’ve gone through in life for God is a treasure for Him whom you love – and He knows it!

Praising Jesus in front of the ex-Hilton in Tehran!

iran5iran7The last night in Tehran Denise and I and some local Iranians were walking around the circular driveway in front of the ex-Hilton with our hands lifted up to the heavens singing the song ‘Hallelujah’! And praising the Lord! It was one of the most moving and memorable times of my life. It was cold, snow was on the ground but the Glory of God filled our hearts. One man said with tears in his eyes, “I’ll miss the cross!” We left behind brothers in Jesus. We are gone but part of our heart remains. We take with us their great love. King Cyrus and Darius were praising our Lord God two thousand years before America was even discovered! And they still are today!

Iran in the Bible
Persia – Medes – Elam

(All in present day Iran and found in the Bible)
Darius King of Persia
Cyrus the Great, King of Persia
Ahasuerus (Xerxes)
1. Genesis 10:22, 14:1,9
2. I Chronicles 1:17, 8:24, 26:3
3. II Chronicles 36:22
4. Ezra (entire book)
5. Nehemiah (entire book) Shushan (Susa) is in Iran
6. Esther (entire book)
7. Daniel 5:25 to end of book
8. Ezekiel 27:10, 38:5, 32:24
9. Isaiah 44:28, 21:2, 45:1-13, 11:11, 21:2, 22:6
10. Jeremiah 49:34-39
11. Haggai 1:1
12. Zechariah 1:1
13. Acts 2:9

(Perhaps the ‘wise men’ that came to the birth of Jesus were from Persia because the use of ‘wise men’ was used by Daniel in the book of Daniel 1:20, 2:27, 5:15)

A great Internet site for study of Iran in the Bible – http://www.farsinet.com/iranbibl/

The Revolution of Denise’s Hat!

The women of Iran must wear a scarf to cover the head (all hair and neck covered)! The Koran does not say this but the religious leaders of Iran have interpreted it to mean such. After trying for a few days to keep the head covering from falling down Denise cast it off! What a radical woman! She prayed for God to use her to help be a iran8voice for the emancipation of women. She told God “I am just one woman but you can do anything” and sure enough the senior writer for the new York Times, Washington Bureau saw her and the rest is history! I am so proud of Denise, few people understand how strong, determined, courageous and fearless she is. You may mistake her because of her lovely smile and cheer but she is a woman of godly passion, brilliant in mind, and knowledgeable of world affairs. We celebrated her birthday in Iran, January 27th.

Explain It Again, Please: Who Says I Can’t Wear a Hat?
By Elaine Sciolino
Illustration By Nancy Carpenter

iran9PERSEPOLIS, Iran — It was nothing less than an act of revolution. The woman was wearing a hat.

A soft, floppy, brown, velveteen hat pulled in Islamically correct fashion over her head. And a long white silk scarf wrapped several times around her neck.

Denise Blessitt of Fort Myers, Fla., was traveling as a tourist with her husband, Arthur, on a two-week guided tour through Iran as he did his chosen work: carrying a collapsible 45-pound, 12-foot cross around the world on a privately funded pilgrimage. Mrs. Blessitt, a British citizen, had arrived in Iran in a headscarf but along the way had cast it off and put on a hat.

“I get stared at all the time,” she said as she navigated among the pre-Islamic columns dating back more than 2,500 years. “But this is your one woman’s crusade against the scarf. I’m glad to be helping with the emancipation of Iran’s women. I believe I have God’s protection.”

Iran10I have been traveling to Iran as a journalist for 19 years, and seeing Mrs. Blessitt brought to mind the changes I have witnessed — and had to deal with — in women’s dress over the years since the Iranian revolution.

When Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took up residence as an exile in a Paris suburb in the fall of 1978, his aides forced all female visitors, including me, to cover their heads with scarves. When winter came, we got away with big hats.

During the revolution in February 1979, women could go bareheaded. But very quickly they were ordered to cover their heads. At first Iran’s women resisted. Eventually they succumbed. So did visitors.

What an Iranian woman wears has often defined her politics. In 1936, Reza Shah barred women from wearing any veiled head covering. Under revolutionary rule, no women’s issue has been more widely debated than the “hejab” or Islamic dress. It is the most visible symbol of the regime’s power, and it would be the last to go.

Today, if a woman wanted the most anti-regime dress of all, she would first put on any kind of clothing that looks stylish, and then accessorize it with a kerchief that reveals hair.

A more acceptable covering is a loose-fitting, drab-colored longish coat worn over a long skirt or pants, and a hood that covers the head and neck but leaves a hole for the face.

The unassailable uniform, of course, is the classic black chador. It is a garment sewn of two pieces of fabric with no buttons or hooks that is thrown over the head, falls to the ankles and is normally held in place by a hand under the chin. Except, that is, when carrying an object like a baby. Then the chador is held in one’s teeth.

A poster hanging at the entrance to the Ministry of Islamic Guidance and Culture, where foreign journalists check in, explains how women should dress: “The body is a tool for the spirit and the spirit is a divine song. The holy tool should not be used for sexual intentions.” If the outfit does not cover the body, except for the face and hands, the poster says, wear a chador.

I have never found the chador particularly practical or safe. It can get caught in the spokes of a motorcycle and in the stairs of an escalator. It drags along the ground collecting dust. It’s hot in the summer. And try taking notes while holding a chador closed under your chin.

Not to mention the temptation for any Westerner to defy the dress code and just wear something that looks good. Still, there are reasons to follow the rules. One big one is that I don’t want Iranians I deal with to get into trouble. A room service waiter could lose his job, for example, if he entered the hotel room of a bareheaded woman. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to make a point.

Some Iranian women are trying to do just that, however. After Iran’s soccer team qualified for the World Cup late last year, some women celebrating in the streets threw off their headscarves in full view of the police. The police did nothing.

The first time I wore a chador was when I accompanied Ayatollah Khomeini to the holy city of Qom early in the revolution. I wanted the anonymity and protection a chador would bring. So I customized a black and white print chador with a piece of elastic to hold it on my head and a zipper to keep it closed.

Later, I realized that the idea behind the dress code went beyond just hiding flesh and hair. The point was to nullify allure. When I flew into Tehran from Rome in 1982 wearing a gray Borsalino hat over my headscarf, I was ordered to take it off. I told the customs official it was my national dress. He was not amused. I took it off.

Yet no religious scholar I’ve met can cite a specific ban in the Koran against hats for women. What the Koran says is that “believing women” should “draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty.” They can go bareheaded in front of other women, their husbands, fathers, sons, nephews, servants, slaves and small children who “have no sense of the shame of sex.”

But now the new President, Mohammed Khatami, wants people to feel freer in their everyday lives. Many women have interpreted that to mean they can loosen up in the way they dress. So there is more hair showing in Tehran than in at least 15 years, and a lot more makeup. The mother and the wife of the president both wear makeup, so why not other women?

A year ago, my hotel’s security guard greeted me politely every day in Persian with the same message: “Fix your covering, madam.” I would smile sweetly and tell him I was not a “believing woman” but a Christian and a foreigner. Last month, he just said hello.

And I even dared this time to shed the appliqued raw-silk coat I normally wear (already a stare-getting get-up), and strolled the hotel lobby and some ministries in a pantsuit. No one seemed to mind that I had legs. Next time I may try it on the streets.

The new mood has brought other changes. Handshaking between men and women who are not close relatives is supposed to be forbidden. But one night, the 70-year-old Iranian father of a friend — a retired ex-deputy minister from the shah’s days — gripped my hand and shook it as he dropped me off at my hotel.

And that brings me back to the hat. For several years, I have been asking people in authority whether women — foreigners in particular — can wear hats. I have yet to get a consistent answer.

In an interview 14 months ago with Effat Marashi, the wife of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was then president, I was told I didn’t have to wear a scarf. “If it were up to me, I wouldn’t have forced you,” she said. “Non-Muslim women can go out any way they want in our religion. They should dress just the way they always dress.”

“May I go around Iran with no scarf, then?” I asked.

“You may,” she giggled. “But you wouldn’t.”

By contrast, the current first lady, Zohreh Sadeghi, took a harder line last month. “Our culture requires the scarf,” she said in an interview. “Usually it is not acceptable that foreign women wear hats.”

In fact, photos of bareheaded foreign women regularly appear in the newspapers. One paper recently carried a photo of a group of angry Afghan women — unveiled — their fists raised, protesting the excesses of Taliban rule. It reminded me of the pictures in Tehran’s newspapers a month after the revolution when thousands of women marched in the streets — bareheaded — with their fists raised, to protest Ayatollah Khomeini’s order that they wear Islamic dress.

Pilgrim followers of Jesus,

Arthur and Denise Blessitt
Luke 18:1