We crossed the Iranian border at midnight and with the help of a local we were through in under two hours. That night we got lost on our way to a hotel and down a back alley found some locals hanging out. After some difficulty explaining what we were looking for (accommodation), they jumped in their car and led us to the best hotel in town. Along the way many locals were beeping their horns and waving to us. Everyone was extremely friendly and chatty. In the morning at breakfast many others greeted us saying, “Welcome to my country, if you need anything just ask me and I will help you”. As we drove south to Zanjan, we pulled over for a toilet break when a local family stopped and offered us tea from a rather large thermos he stored in his car – meanwhile, several young men drove their motorbikes up and down the layby at outrageous speeds, showing off their tricks and stunts as we set off again on our way.
After a long day we sat in a kebab house making plans for our trip to Tehran the next day. At this point a local came in and said, “Please, you must come round to my house for tea” . So we did. When we arrived his whole family was there – including cousins, children and grandparents. We sat in his garden on some very comfy Persian rugs sharing stories, drinking tea and eating fresh watermelon until 2.00 a.m. The following morning we awoke to find the police standing around our car. Unsure of what they were saying, or what the issue was about, they started getting frustrated with us and asking for our passports when the brother of the man whose house we had been at recognised us and came over to help out. He then, in another act of kindness, jumped in our car and directed us out of the town and onto the motorway. Then he hopped back out and caught a taxi all the way back to the shop he owned in town. He didn’t want any money to pay for the taxi, he just seemed happy to have helped.
I tell you this story because out all the nations I’ve visited, Iran, supposedly closed to the ideals of the West, offered me a welcome like no other. Hospitality was abundant; generosity was shared at any given opportunity; and the common desire to be known and loved was apparent in every town we visited. Yet, Iran also has a darker side. The authorities continue to impose severe restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly and reports of torture and discrimination against women are all too common.
Hi. My name’s Craig Philbrick and I’m Tearfund’s Digital Campaigns Officer. I am paid to use online technologies to challenge the systems and structures that keep poor people poor, and I absolutely love my role. Why? Because, never before have we had such an opportunity to ignite and inspire the church, by using social media as a platform to develop innovative ways to take meaningful action for justice.
Over the past year I’ve learnt the importance of giving voice to build a movement, mobilising people and achieving lasting social change. Together, with a huge dose of ambition, creativity, skill, hard work and inspiration from the Holy Spirit, can we challenge and overcome the systems, structures and ways of living that keep maintain the cycle of poverty.
So, whenever people ask me about Iran I tell them about its beauty and the incredible people who welcomed me into their homes but as a campaigner I must also campaign against all forms of oppression, prejudice and abuse of power. I believe that social media can and does challenge those systems that keep its citizen controlled. Could Iran tweet its way to freedom ? Maybe.