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Iranian Christian Family Escapes Capture, now on Flight to US

Iranian Christian Family Escapes Capture, now on Flight to US
Anglican priest faced jail and possible death had he been deported to Iran from Turkey

A World Exclusive

By David W. Virtue, DD
October 28, 2022

Anglican priest, Fr. Hekmat Salimi, his wife, and his daughter, are currently on board an aircraft flying directly to the US from Turkey escaping a deportation order issued by the Turkish government to be sent back to Iran, to likely face execution, VOL has learned.

Earlier this year in February, several news agencies picked up the story of the plight of Fr. Hekmat Salimi, an Iranian Christian convert and Anglican priest who fled Iran six years ago to Turkey, seeking asylum. The Salimi family, along with other Iranian Christians, sought asylum in Turkey and resettlement in 2015. More than four years after their arrival in Turkey, their case was finally heard in December of 2020, but their plea was rejected.

Turkey issued the family a seven-day deportation warning this past February to either return to Iran or face forced deportation. According to the National Committee for Religious Freedom, as well as the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Turkey remains a concern with regard to Religious Freedom matters. "Religious freedom conditions in Turkey remain worrisome, with the perpetuation of restrictive and intrusive governmental policies on religious practice and a marked increase in incidents of vandalism and societal violence against religious minorities." https://www.uscirf.gov/countries/turkey

"I became personally concerned for the safety of this family," said Archbishop Foley Beach, Primate of the Anglican Church in North America. "I felt the ACNA should try to help and so I contacted the JAFC to see if they had any ideas." The JAFC is the Jurisdiction of the Armed Forces and Chaplaincy, best known as "Anglican Chaplains", and is one of two jurisdictions in the ACNA -- the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC) being the other. Working on behalf of Archbishop Beach and the ACNA, the JAFC was able to first aid in finding a safe place for the Salimi's to live in Turkey while they worked with the US State Department to bring Fr Salimi and his family to safety and a new life in the United States.

"There are quite a number of people who work these type matters for our bishop in the JAFC," said the Rev. Canon Timothy Ullmann, rector of St. George's Anglican Church in Auburn, Alabama, the JAFC's pro-cathedral. "We will be welcoming Fr. Salimi and his family to Auburn and St. George. For the next year, we will be responsible for their care until they have become acclimated to their new life in the US." St. George's is a Chaplain-led church founded with a primary mission to Auburn University faculty and students in 2020. It has grown quickly and now also serves as a training location for JAFC chaplains.

"Auburn is home to many ex-patriot Iranians and, in fact, we've run across some who became Christians because of their pastor back in Iran, Fr. Salimi" shared Dcn Joe Saloom, a retired Alabama attorney, deacon at St. George's, and member of the JAFC's Executive Committee. "When the Salimi family lands here in Atlanta in a few hours, they will be greeted by quite a few familiar faces!" The JAFC also has Ms. Jazmin McGinley, the wife of military chaplain Fr. Drew McGinley, greeting the family. "Farsi is her first language and she will spend time with Salimi's over the next few days to help them settle in," added Canon Ullmann.

Bishop Jones created and oversees a robust 'Anglican Office for International and Government Affairs' in the JAFC given the governmental and international connections involved with the Anglican Chaplains ministry. Archbishop Beach has been "tapping the shoulder" of the JAFC over the last couple of years to assist him in handling some matters on the provincial level, such as the plight of the Salimi family.

"Bishop Jones has assembled and is the hands-on leader of a really remarkable group of people to handle very unique matters such as this," said the Reverend Canon Justin Murff who serves as the Director of the AOIGA in the JAFC. Bp Jones told VOL this morning that, "Canon Murff is the lead on this matter getting the Salimi family to safety and, frankly, is most responsible for likely saving their lives." Canon Murff also serves as the Executive Director of the NCRF. While Cn Murff leads on International matters for the JAFC, the Reverend Canon AJ Nolte, a distinguished professor from Regent handles the Governmental matters. "All the team members work together, of course; and recently it's been humbling and exciting for us to serve Beach and work closely with Bp (Bill) Atwood on several international matters," added Bp Jones. Of particular note is the Venerable Job Serebrov who serves and advises as legal counsel. Archdeacon Serebrov is a well-known attorney having served in both Bush administrations and is the lead legal advisor on several matters for the JAFC and ACNA. "I'm proud of the work my folks are doing, and have done - particularly over the last couple of years for Archbishop Beach," remarked Bp Jones.

VOL said at the beginning of this year that the JAFC was "one of the good things to watch in 2022" and they have been busy. "Bishop Jones likes to stay hidden in the woodwork," quipped the Reverend Canon Tim Trombitas, Director of Communications and PR for the JAFC, who notified VOL of this story.

When asked about the many things in which Bp Jones and the JAFC are involved, he responded, "People who don't know all that Bishop Jones and the JAFC does are absolutely astonished when they learn."

He continued, "I know that saving the lives of the Salimi family may seem just another thing that needed to be done, but I for one am very thankful for the good things that JAFC does and I wouldn't want to serve any other bishop."


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