22 March 2023

‘Being Christian in Iran, it’s not a good thing’: The Reverend Leili Shirmast’s complicated journey to ordination

The Reverend Leili Shirmast’s path to ordination included fleeing her home country and living as a refugee for six years. Photo: Janine Eastgate.

Maya Pilbrow

10 February 2023

The Reverend Leili Shirmast’s faith has accompanied her through difficult times.

Mrs Shirmast, who was ordained as a deacon at a service at St Paul’s Cathedral on Saturday 4 February 2023, credits God with giving her hope during some of her family’s biggest struggles.

Mrs Shirmast and her husband Pedram arrived in Australia in 2019 after spending six years as refugees in Türkiye.

They had left their native Iran after fearing religious persecution.

Mrs Shirmast grew up in a Muslim family in the Islamic Republic of Iran and first heard the gospel through her husband.

“I became Christian in Iran,” Mrs Shirmast said. “Being Christian in Iran, it’s not a good thing.”

Read more: A Chinese dissident’s daughter, Xiaoxi Lou wants people to know Christ

Iran is home to the world’s strictest laws on blasphemy and apostasy, according to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Punishments can include the death penalty.

“If [the government] figure out that you’ve changed your religion, they will kill you. It’s not safe at all,” Mrs Shirmast said.

According to non-denominational mission Open Doors, which works to support persecuted Christians around the world, converts from Islam are at an especially high level of risk of being monitored, harassed and arrested by Iran’s increasingly theocratic regime.

Mrs Shirmast and her family were forced to make the difficult decision to leave.

“It was really hard to leave everything behind,” she said.

She and her husband spent the next six years as refugees in Türkiye.

Mrs Shirmast acknowledged that this period in her life was difficult.

“[As a refugee] you don’t have respect, you don’t have any idea about your future. You can’t have a good job. You can’t study. It was really hard,” she said.

She said her faith helped guide her during this period. She and her husband ministered to fellow Iranians and Farsi speakers in the refugee community.

“God really blessed us with our church,” Mrs Shirmast said.

Read more: Women must be supported to withstand barriers to God’s call: Leaders

Since moving to Australia, Mrs Shirmast has worked to build a similar level of community with fellow Iranian Christians. But the journey has not been without challenges.

At first, the culture shock in Australia was immense.

“After one month, I just cried and told my husband take me back to Türkiye! I missed our church and our family there,” she said.

But Mrs Shirmast said her calling to serve God was instrumental in her and her husband’s efforts to build a new life in Melbourne.

“We were called to work with refugees, to work with people. And we really felt God guiding us and helping us,” she said.

She and her husband originally joined Emmanuel Iranian Church in Dandenong, spending two years in the congregation.

When the time came to start their placements ahead of ordination, they moved to St Philip’s Deep Creek.

“We decided to start our new journey somewhere else that we could grow more and learn more,” Mrs Shirmast said.

She said the multicultural congregation at Deep Creek provided new opportunities to grow in her ministry.

She said the parish had been incredibly supportive and welcoming.

“The first day I went there, I felt I was in our church in Türkiye. It was a very good feeling. I think God guided us to go to that church,” she said.

Mrs Shirmast and her husband will start as assistant curates at St Philip’s following their ordinations as deacons.

Read more: ‘It is Christ who has called you’: Eighteen new priests ordained

She said her journey to ordination had been complex.

“I felt disappointment. I felt fear. I felt joy. I felt doubt. I felt confidence. It was a roller coaster full of different emotions, especially for the three days before the ordination,” Mrs Shirmast said.

She said her ordination represented a climax in her ministry.

Mrs Shirmast said that while she was the same person she had always been, she now had more responsibilities to serve others.

She said she was excited by the opportunities she now had to reach out to more Farsi speaking people, especially new arrivals to Australia.

Mrs Shirmast said she knew what it was like to have lost hope, and she was optimistic about her ability to reach out to refugees who had been in similar circumstances.

“I need to try my best and ask God to give me power,” she said.

For more faith news, follow The Melbourne Anglican on FacebookTwitter, or subscribe to our weekly emails.

Share this story to your social media

Share on facebook
Share on twitter

Find us on Social Media

Recent News

Worldwide refugee crisis looms over Walk for Justice

Refugee advocate Bishop Philip Huggins said that while last year the focus of the walk was on urging changes to refugee policy, this year the focus was on gratefulness for the federal government’s commitment to helping those who have long held temporary protection visas to reach permanent residency.

do you have A story?

Leave a Reply

Subscribe now to receive our newsletter and stay up to date with The Melbourne Anglican

All rights reserved TMA 2021

Stay up to date with
The Melbourne Anglican through our weekly newsletters.