At a neighbour’s home recently I met a young man from Iran who greatly encouraged me. Hearing of his life and education under the Islamic revolution was an eye-opener. You would think that being made to step on the American and Israeli flags at school each year as an act of renunciation of their policies would create a hatred of these nations. Instead, it created curiosity. You would think that religion classes would indoctrinate students in extremist Islam. Interestingly, Moses and Jesus seemed to him far more attractive than what he was taught about the prophet, Muhammad. Coming to Canada as a university student, you might think that he would have faced discrimination and misunderstanding. Instead, he felt welcomed and accepted and it only served to heighten his interest in Christianity. A friend had reached out to him and invited him to church recently, he said, and he was positive about the experience. I love the way that God shatters our preconceptions of how He works in the world. Have you heard that the church in Iran has become one of the fastest growing in the world?
The Gospel Coalition recently reported on the incredible growth that has happened in Iran’s underground church. While the hard-line Islamic regime has outlawed evangelism, banned Bibles, and arrested and even killed pastors, an underground house church movement has grown as people have become disillusioned with Islamic violence and believers have continued to share their faith despite the persecution. They report that “more Iranians have become Christians in the last 20 years than in the previous 13 centuries put together” and quote Operation World as naming Iran as “having the fastest-growing evangelical church in the world.” And this, despite the fact that Iran has been ranked as the eighth most severely persecuted place for Christians in the world by Open Doors International.
Because persecution is so strong within Iran, baptismal services are often held in neighbouring countries. In September, people from Persian-speaking churches in Iran and Afghanistan gathered for a day of testimonies and baptisms. Two hundred fourteen believers were baptized on a single day. One Persian mission organization reported 100 Iranians putting their faith in Jesus this Christmas and people being turned away from churches at Christmas due to over-crowding.
I think there are a number of ways that we ought to respond to God’s grace to the Persian community:
- Reach out to immigrants around you: The warmth and acceptance of Canadians was one of the things that attracted the young man I met to the Christian faith. Pray for opportunities to build bridges with Persians in our community.
- Don’t make assumptions about people’s spiritual openness: Just because someone has been raised in another religious tradition, it doesn’t mean that they’re not interested in discussing faith with someone from the Christian faith. If you’re respectful and listen as well as you talk, God will lead you to open people.
- Ask questions about people’s beliefs: The better you learn about what someone believes the more you’ll be able to relate to them as a person than as a preconceived stereotype. Take time to learn about them before you pull out your apologetics textbooks.
- Learn from the bold witness of Persian believers: We can learn from the persecuted church around the world that threats and opposition don’t mean that we hide our faith. Share how God has worked in your life. Invite people to join you to church. Take opportunities to share the gospel.
- Pray for Persian Christians: The persecution of the church in the Middle East is real and believers there need our prayers for protection and God’s sustaining grace.
In awe of Him,