Please Pray for Saeed and Naghmeh
Right after an early morning interview on Saturday, January 16, I heard the good news that the Iranian government had released the four Iranian-American prisoners and an imprisoned American student. I was particularly happy to hear the Saeed Abedini was among those released.
As many of you might know, Saeed is my relative. He is married to my niece, Naghmeh, who in my opinion is a hero, fighting for the release of her husband tirelessly for the past three and a half years. I had the privilege of sharing the Gospel with Naghmeh when she was nine years old. She came to Christ while she stayed with us for a couple months.
I know many of you have been praying for the release of Saeed.Please continue to pray for Naghmeh and Saeed. They face great challenges ahead of them. In November, Naghmeh shared with the public that her relationship with Saeed had been filled with abuse for many years. Now that they are back together, they need our prayers and support even more for personal and relational restoration. I am so glad that Franklin Graham himself has offered to do marriage counseling with them.
Why Did the Iranian Government Free the Prisoners?
I believe the Iranian government wanted to project a positive image to the world as the sanctions were being lifted. They wanted no one doubting that removal of the sanctions was and is a good idea. The government released the captured American sailors so promptly and treated them so gently for this same reason.
Iran’s government was struggling to survive because of those sanctions. The nuclear deal threw them a financial lifeline that will help them survive for the next ten years. They are about to receive over $100 billion dollars to pursue their goals around the world. These goals include opposing America in every aspect. Unfortunately Iran will use some of this money to support terrorism against American citizens. I hope I am wrong, but it is very possible that we will see an increase in anti-American terrorism around the world and in the U.S. itself.
One thing is for sure: the release of these American citizens does not mean that the Iranian government is changing its policy towards United States. The Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, was very clear when he warned, after freeing the hostages, that Iran should remain wary of its old enemy the United States and its “deceit and treachery.”
Please Continue to Pray for Iranian Christian Prisoners
In many ways, Saeed had become the face of persecution in Iran. This was a good thing because it reminded us to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Iran. Now that Saeed is free, let us not forget those who remain.
Christianity continues to grow in Iran, and the government continues to react to it by increasing persecution. Even now, many heroes in Iranian prisons are suffering for their faith. Their names may not be in the media as Saeed’s was, but God knows their names and cares for them. So let us obey the Scripture that says, “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Heb. 13:3, NIV).
Please Join Us in Supporting the Persecuted Christians in Iran
With your support and the help of organizations such as The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), we are serving persecuted Christians in Iran. We provide assistance with the emotional, spiritual, and financial needs of families who have a member imprisoned for his or her faith. Our 24/7 satellite TV broadcast serves the millions of persecuted Christians in Iran who are living in isolation and in fear of arrest, imprisonment, torture, and even death. Together, we are able not only to inspire and encourage them to stand up for the Lord and not give in to fear and pressure, but also to share their faith with their persecutors. We believe these actions are God’s will for His children—and that is what we will do.
Dorell, Oren. “International Sanctions against Iran Lifted in Landmark Nuke Deal.” USA Today, January 16, 2016. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2016/01/16/usa-iran-diplomats-nuclear-deal/78892802/.
Wilkin, Sam, and Sharafedin Bozorgmehr. “Iran’s Khamenei Welcomes Sanctions Lift, Warns of U.S. ‘Deceit.’” Reuters, January 19, 2016, sec. World. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-nuclear-khamenei-idUSKCN0UX10Q.
Islam demands obedience but provides no power to obey. Muslims are desperate for the power and grace to change that Jesus offers. I want to share with you a quick story of how Jesus is transforming Iran by letting His presence and His power become known to Persians through our ministry. Arman contacted us through email to let us know how Iran Alive’s counselors and satellite television broadcasts (Network 7) helped free him from bondage:
My name is Arman, and I’m 32 years old from Iran.
At the age of 18, I became addicted to pornography. By the time I was 24 years old, I was tired of myself and my addiction, and I didn’t know what to do.
I thought if I got married, I would be healed of needing to watch pornography. But my addiction continued even after my marriage.
It got to a point where I started cheating on my wife. I forced my wife to sleep with others, and I would sometimes find another woman to have a threesome with us.
Then I was introduced to Network 7. When I watched the program, I became disgusted with myself and the things I had done. I felt very filthy!
I contacted your counselors, and little by little the Lord started changing my ways of thinking. I received healing and freedom from this bondage. I now feel God’s presence and strength in my life.
Because of the changes in me, my wife has become interested to learn more about Christ, and she follows Network 7. I have been called to grow in the Lord and work with young people who are in the same bondage. I want to be a soldier for Him.
Praise God for how He is working in Iran! May He raise up an Army of Love that will transform the whole nation in this generation.
*As with all of my posts, names and faces have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.
Last year, in the months approaching Thanksgiving, I travelled extensively and spoke at many churches and conferences. One thing I said over and over was this: “I hope I am wrong, but soon we will see ISIS sleeping cells in the western countries and the U.S. start their terrorist activities.” It turned out that this prediction came true sooner than even I thought, first in Paris, and then in the United States.
The Paris attack and last month’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, has made even more clear the global strategy of the Islamic State (ISIS).
They are calling on all sympathizers and sleeper cells to carry out lethal assaults in the West. They want everyone to know that no one is beyond their reach.
The overwhelming result of these attacks is a rising fear about terrorism. According to polls, fear has reached a level not seen since the aftermath of 9/11. Such fear gives excuse to political frontrunners like Donald Trump to exercise hatred toward an entire people group. And many leaders and citizens are following in his footsteps. When they do this, they are handing a victory to the prince of darkness.
Satan’s plan through ISIS is to put fear in our hearts and foster hatred towards all Muslims so that we do not reach out to them. Sometimes, I can hear his dark voice saying, “They (Muslims) are mine, do not touch them. Fear and hate Muslims. Because if you love them, you will steal my captives from me.”
On the other hand, some do not take the threat of terrorism seriously enough. We see this position from political leaders that follow President Obama. They count low-level terrorism as an unavoidable necessity in our world full of “radical fringe” groups. It happens, they say, but not as often as car crashes, shark attacks, or lightening strikes. Fear of terrorism is overrated.
Peter Baker, a New York Times news analyst, recently showed this low view of imminent danger in a summary of President Obama’s off-the record comments: “He would send significant numbers of [ground] forces to the Middle East . . . only in the event of a terrorist attack in the United States so catastrophic that it all but paralyzed the country with fear.” The president apparently does not feel that there is a high probability of such a catastrophic event.
ISIS and other Muslim groups/nations do have a political agenda. Islam does actively promote the use of fear and terror to spread both its spiritual and political borders. We see this regularly in Iran, not only in the government’s persecution of Christians and its own Muslims but also in Iran’s continued launching of banned missiles despite last year’s nuclear deal and its continued support of Shi’ite terror regimes (such as Hezbollah and the Houthis) in the Middle East.
Yes, it is right to be wise about our borders, but not by hating a group of people both within and without. Terrorism from foreigners and domestic sleeping cells, such as the recent New Year’s Eve attacks on women in Cologne, Germany, will continue until we make some changes. Shunning Muslims is not the answer. Embracing them and allowing love to transform them is.
The real solution to terrorism and fear is to reach beyond our borders to people who are disillusioned with Islam and Islamic governments, to those who are more open to the Gospel of peace than at any other time in history.
God is at work in Iran and among the flood of refugees from Syria and Iraq. He is bringing hearts to Him and breaking down “the barrier of the dividing wall” between Christians and those born captives of Islam (Eph. 2:14, NASB). We must remember that, once, we too lived “according to the prince” of darkness and were “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:2, 3).
We must be cautious, but we must not fear or hate. God calls us to love Muslims so much that we are willing to share life with those who know only death—the life of the Gospel.
Won’t you pray for how God wants you to love Muslims this year? Steal Satan’s captives! Prevent more terror by helping bring Muslims to Christ in Iran, in America, and everywhere.
My dear friends, may God richly bless you in this new year. I thank you for all you have accomplished through Iran Alive Ministries in 2015 even as I pray for what God will do through us all in 2016. I pray earnestly for the year ahead because in looking back over what God has done in Iran and the world in the past year, the word on my heart for 2016 is “urgency.”
Major events are happening in the world very fast. Look at ISIS and the spread of terrorism in 2015 alone! Yet there is also another growing trend of which most of the West is unaware. Iran is the most open Muslim country in the world right now to the Gospel. It is the only Muslim country where Christianity is growing and Islam is experiencing its greatest defeat in its 14 centuries of existence. The government is threatened by this, but they haven’t been able to close the door of Christian growth.
“A great door for effective work has opened to me,
and there are many who oppose me.” (1 Corinthians 16:9 NIV)
But because the western Church is afraid of Muslim terrorism and has no working strategy to stop it, many in the Church have stayed spiritually blind to what God is doing in Iran. God wants to save the nation of Iran and make it a light in the Middle East.
We must work with urgency while this great door is open.
“We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day;
night is coming, when no one can work.” (John 9:4 ESV)
I fully believe that Iran will be the first Muslim country to bring the Jews to jealousy according to Romans 11:11 (“salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious”). The Iranian government has continued to proclaim that its greatest enemy is Israel, shouting, “Death to Israel!” and “We will wipe Israel off the map!” But I believe when the Jews see that the country that threatened their existence has suddenly turned friendly and started loving them, they will wake up to Christ’s message and become jealous of Christian faith among Iranians.
This transition is already happening.
In a country where Christianity is forbidden,
Muslim hearts are turning to Jesus
by the thousands every month.
Let us praise God for these Christ connections in 2015:
32,902—Phone and email communications
9,750,914—Total website hits and views on social media
67,810—Evangelistic chat room attendance
8,760—Hours of broadcasts
The number of people who have prayed with us
to receive Christ since our first broadcast in 2001:
Praise God for His work in the lives of Persians through Iran Alive Ministries. Our overall strategy is working! Here are a few main parts of that strategy:
- We are working toward not just converting people but also transforming lives. We teach not “easy believism” through television (as most Americans think of TV believers) but total surrender of life even unto death.
- We are targeting not only the masses to come to Christ but also those at the top: government officials, marketplace leaders, high-ranking military commanders, and top clergy. Yes, these top officials are secretly coming to Christ and sharing with us that they have done so.
- We aim not just to train church leaders but also to develop society leaders in government, media, arts, the marketplace, and education. As an example just this past month, a secular media mogul came to Christ. He and his family own the largest network of secular satellite channels in Iran. I am discipling and guiding them to be effective for Christ right where they are.
God wants to save Iran. Pray with me that we can transform it into a Christian nation in this generation!
In the past several weeks, I have shared lessons of gratitude from the persecuted church: The persecuted church is thankful for the Gospel and knows its power—so they share it with others, often at great risk to themselves. The persecuted church is thankful and desperate for Jesus’s presence—so they seek Him daily, they love what He loves, and they obey His commands.
This third lesson in this series is about having gratitude for something the persecuted church has very little of: freedom.
We are free in the West. Many of us use that freedom to indulge ourselves in a self-centered life seeking pleasure, comfort, and entertainment. But we are called to be different. We are called to be in this world but not of the world (John 17:14–18). Unfortunately, we Christians have become “one of them,” and living as “one of them” has become so normal for us that we do not even recognize it.
We are so used to our freedom that we no longer value it. We take it for granted, assuming incorrectly that the whole world is “just like us.”
We must know that much of the world does not enjoy our freedom. In addition to dictatorships in China (1.4 billion people), Russia (143 million), and North Korea (25 million), most of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims live under the bondage of Islamic regimes and the dark spirit of Islam.
We have over 2 million brothers and sisters in Iran. Most of them have come to Christ in the past 10 years. Yet 98 percent of them have never been to a church of any kind (neither building churches nor house
churches) even once. They do not have freedom. They do not have our resources. Yet they are living for Jesus. They are sharing the Gospel despite the high price of persecution (losing jobs, arrest, torture, jail time).
They desperately need our support. We must stand with them and help them transform Iran into a Christian nation. They are ready to live and die for Jesus, but they need our help.
What should we do? First we must change our mind about Muslims:
- We must decide to love people who are Muslims. “God so loved the world…” (John 3:16). God loves Muslims. Therefore, we must love them. If we hate Muslims or fear them, we are not loving them and we are clearly out of sync with God’s heart that loves them.
- We must see Muslims as victims and not as terrorists. Almost all Islamic people are Muslims not because they choose it, but because they are born into a Muslim family.
They are captives. They have all the characteristics of a captive: they have no choice, they are forced to stay in captivity and do the will of their captors, and they will be shot in the back if they walk away.
We must have compassion for Muslims. Millions of Muslims are recognizing that they are in captivity and are asking, “Is there a savior?” and “Does anybody care?”
- We must seek God’s plan for Muslims. The world does not have an answer to Islam advancing in Europe and America. Islam is not just a religion but a political system as well, and western governments do not know how to counter this. Islam demands more than the religious goal of converting the world to Islam. It also has political and militaristic goals. By Allah’s command in Quran, Muslims are to take over the political system of the world—by force if needed.
The world does not have a workable plan, but the Lord does.
If we ask God, “What is your plan for saving Muslims?” I am sure He will not be shocked or unnerved with that question. On the contrary, He will show us His plan for saving Muslim, and He will open our eyes to see what He is doing to make that happen.
I can imagine that after explaining His plans and what He is doing, He will confront us by asking, “Will you join me? Will you have my heart and mind for Muslims? Will you obey my commandment to go?”
America is the wealthiest and most powerful country in the history of the world. We must use our freedom and power to do God’s will and not to pursue a narcissistic life style. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48, NIV). According to the Bible, one thing is clear, one day we shall stand before the Lord and give an account of the resources and the freedom He has given us in the U.S. (Rom. 14:12; 2 Cor. 5:10).
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Gal. 5:13, NIV).
We live in a free and wealthy country. Let us use our freedom and wealth to do His will. Let us ask Him where He is working and invest our God-given resources to advance His Kingdom.
Christians spend 98 percent of their income on themselves. American Christians spend 95 percent of offerings on home-based ministry, 4.5 percent on cross-cultural efforts in already reached people groups, and .5 percent to reach the unreached. We can do better. Let us start today.
I recently was amazed by the deep faith of a lady in Iran who allowed Jesus to help her love the woman who stole her husband. She might be unique in her devotion to love her enemy, but she is not alone in her suffering. Many women in Iran are trapped by marriage laws that turn their homes into prisons.
Before the revolution in 1979, the minimum age for marriage was 18 for women and 20 for men. Restrictions against polygamy meant men with special circumstances had to get judicial permission to take a second wife—or face jail time. The first wife also had to give her husband legal written permission before he could take another wife.
What does the law in Iran say now regarding marriage?
After the revolution, these protective laws were largely repealed or set aside. The minimum age for marriage fell to 13 (sometimes 9) for girls and 15 for boys. The religious regime, in accordance with the Quran, also abandoned restrictions on polygamy.
A man now has a legal and religious right to permanent marriage with up to four wives. He has no need to establish cause for taking another wife or solicit judicial or spousal permission. Therefore, even the requirement that a man establish financial ability to maintain his wives has no review or oversight. He alone can decide what is right for himself.
In addition to these permanent marriages, since Iran is a Shiite state, a man can contractually enter an unlimited number of temporary marriages (called Sigheh). The length of these temporary marriages can be from 15 minutes to 99 years. Yes, many view this as merely legalized prostitution sanctioned and supported by Islamic law.
In contrast, a wife must obey her husband in everything, and since his marital desire may arise at any time, she may not even leave the home without his permission. If a couple does divorce, the custody of her children is automatically given to her husband. I know many women who are suffering from physical and emotional abuse and have to endure and even quietly serve their abusive husbands because they do not want to be separated from their beloved children—the only source of meaning and joy in their lives. These laws reduce women to property and enslave them sexually while giving men free rein to sidestep moral obligations of faithfulness and love within a relationship.
What does the God of the Bible say?
Although these women are trapped in loveless and abusive marriages with no legal recourse, they are not unloved. Jesus loves them. And as each woman begins to understand that only Jesus’s love and presence can truly fill her heart—and as she receives that love—she is able to endure the rejection and even forgive her husband. We have many testimonies where the wife’s forgiveness and a heart filled with the joy of Jesus have caused the husband to take notice and also seek salvation in Jesus. The love revolution that begins in the hearts of these rejected women plays a significant part in transforming Iran into a Christian nation in this generation.
Did you know that Iran Alive takes special care to broadcast several satellite television programs addressed specifically to women so that they can hear the Gospel within the safety—and sometimes the prison—of their own homes? Please keep praying for the millions of Persian women who do not yet know the love of Jesus.
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A couple weeks ago I asked if you were ashamed of the Gospel. Today I have another question: If you truly appreciate what Jesus has done for you, you will love what He loves. If not, you may be taking Him for granted.
- For many in the West, experiencing Jesus daily is not a desperate need but a mere option.
For the persecuted church, walking with Jesus and experiencing Him daily is not an option but a desperate need. Their lives are so empty of hope and joy that Jesus is the only source and strength they have.
In the West, we have many resources for comfort—something that most of the world only dreams about. We live with abundance and rarely feel a desperate need to spend our waking moments in Jesus’s presence. Yes, sometimes in our troubles we cry out to Him, but this is rarely a daily thing.
- Our relationship with Jesus is often based just on need, not true love for Him.
The persecuted church not only has a continuous need to experience Jesus, but also it has a deep love for Him. Coming from darkness, they appreciate light. Coming from the depths of hopelessness, desperation, and loneliness, they value His constant presence. Understanding well what He has done for them, they are ready to live and even to die for Him. Someone has said, “You don’t know Jesus is all you need until He is all you have.”
I don’t want to put down the faith of my brothers and sisters in the West. But this is a reality we must face: The persecuted church desperately needs Him and continuously seeks His presence; we don’t think we need Him as much and continuously do not seek His presence.
That is why for us walking with Jesus must be intentional. We must make a conscious decision to read His word, obey Him, and walk in the Spirit. We must choose to be faithful to His Church. We must decide to love what He loves and who He loves.
- The Church in the West is experiencing Jesus less and less because it is obeying His command to “Go” less and less.
In Matthew 28:19–20, Jesus promises His continuous presence when we obey His commandment to go: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…And surely I am with you always.” It is in the going that His presence goes with us. In the comfort of us staying and focusing on our lives—to make them a little more comfortable—it is hard to experience deeply the presence of Jesus. The Church in the West is experiencing Jesus less and less because it is “going” less and less. The persecuted Christians have a zeal to share their faith even when they know they may end up in jail or be killed for it.
We are moving toward worldwide chaos and violence. The Islamic State (ISIS) and militant Islam will not fade away. Muslims have a mandate by Quran to take over the world by violence. ISIS is actively doing it, and more and more Muslims are waking up to that call. Members of ISIS are not fanatic Muslims but committed and obedient Muslims.
The disturbing point is that ISIS is obeying its mandate more vigorously than most Christians do. They are commanded to “go,” and they are ready to kill and die to obey that mandate.
We Christians also have a “go” mandate. How are we obeying the mandate of our Lord in Matthew 28? As ISIS brings death and the bad news, we must bring life, love, and the good news. The Gospel is much more powerful than the message of the Quran (obey or die)—but only if we share it. We have the Holy Spirit and the power of God’s word. We can defeat any dark spirit and theology of death—but only if we go and get into the action.
Will you decide today to walk with Jesus? Will you love what He loves? God has prepared Iran for a major transformation. The people of Iran are ready.
“And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” —2 Cor 5:15, NIV