Do you know that I am constantly humbled by the young people of Iran? They come to Christ in record numbers and serve God with passion and great love for Him. And they share their Savior even more when the government tries to stop them.
Youth in Iran Choosing Christ
Last week, Fox News spoke with my friend Mani Erfan, CEO and founder of CCM Ministries. Mani has been on our board of directors, and together we have served the underground church movement in Iran for the last fifteen years. Fox News reported an astronomical increase in Iranian citizens converting to Christianity in recent years. Mani explained, “It’s been predominantly young people. We call it an awakening.”
If the current trend continues, experts predict that the number of Christians in Iran will soon exceed 7 million. It’s true that due to restrictions and persecution, no one can count with full certainty the number of people adhering to a faith outlawed by the Islamic regime. But we at Iran Alive know through our daily interactions with Iranians that far more Muslims are committing their lives to Jesus than is often told to the public by news and tabulating services.
Therefore, it is very possible that Christians will account for 10 percent of Iran’s population by 2020.
Middle East Paradigm Shift
This number constitutes a major paradigm shift not only for Iran but the whole region. War with the Islamic State (ISIS) has decimated the numbers of Christians in regions such as Iraq and Syria. A majority have been killed, forced to convert, or have fled. Iraq’s 1.5 million Christians in 2003 number only a possible 275,000 now.
So when I often say that I expect that Iran will become a Christian nation in this generation and a light to the whole Middle East—even to Israel—this is why: Iran’s Christians are multiplying and becoming an army of love and good news, reaching out to their neighbors and pointing them to the true Savior. The youth have seen the ugly insides of Islam and a repressive regime—and they have discovered the love and joy of Jesus. To them, there is no comparison, and no other option for them other than to surrender their lives to Christ, whether that means living or dying for Him.
Iran—A Spiritual Battleground
But, my dear friends, this astounding growth of Christianity—and with it the growth of secret and illegal church meetings in homes—also means that Iran will continue to be a major spiritual battleground over the next few years and beyond. Satan is losing his stronghold over Iran. A losing enemy is a dangerous enemy.
We must increase our commitment to pray for our dear brothers and sisters in Iran—and we must also pray for those dear Muslims on whose behalf God is working even now, to draw them to Himself. We must increase our commitment to support the growing but fledgling church in Iran as it works to disciple its members and throw off the chains of an oppressive regime.
I am honored to be a part of this great turn in the history of the Middle East. Won’t you join me?
Chiaramonte, Perry. “Underground Church Grows in Iran Despite Regime’s Efforts.” Fox News, November 28, 2016.
Since the November 8 election of Donald Trump, we have seen a mixed reaction in the U.S. concerning expectations for his presidency. Some are hopeful; some are fearful.
The same mixed reaction is true for Iranians.
Iranians Living inside Iran:
- Some are now hopeful that President-Elect Trump will do something to bring down the current regime in Iran. They are even hopeful that an Iranian regime change during the Trump presidency will allow a democratic, secular government to come into power.
- Some, though, are fearful that Trump will cause a military attack on Iran during his presidency. They do not want war. They have seen the result of the American-led military offensive in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they do not want that.
Iranian Refugees and Those Iranians with Families in the US:
- Like their fellow Iranians above, refugees are also hopeful that Trump will cause a regime change in Iran, specifically so that they—or family members living abroad—can return to Iran and reunite.
- At the same time, many are fearful that Trump’s proposed policies will make it harder for Iranian refugees to come to the U.S. or even for Iranians to come as tourists to visit their family members already living here.
Many of these hopes and fears involve complicated political processes and global partnerships, and so the uncertainty depends on much more than one man’s administration, even the administration of the person often called the most powerful man on the planet. Like the Americans, Iranians will have to wait and see how President Trump gathers policy support and conducts his first year in office—maybe even just his first 100 days—to have a better idea how his administrative actions will match with his election promises.
For the Iranian government, however, the concerns are more immediate and clear.
- They are fearful that the recently removed sanctions will return. Sanctions will weaken the Iranian government and limit its financial resources. Iran will not be able to continue its activities in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen as before. Sanctions will also reduce Iran’s ability to fund terrorism around the world.
- Iran’s government is afraid that, with the United States’ consent, Israel will attack Iran’s nuclear sites to stop the development of the nuclear bomb.
- They are fearful that, after his inauguration, President-Elect Trump will cancel the nuclear agreement—at least as far as the U.S. is concerned. Iran considers that deal a great victory for their side. Without giving up much, they gained a lot. They consider the Obama administration naïve to agree to the nuclear deal and fear they will be unable to stage and perform the same negotiation show with Trump.
The Most Powerful Man on the Planet
Yes, the world waits anxiously to see how the next four years will alter regimes, foreign policies, and the balance of power. But one thing I know to be certain and unchanging: the most powerful man on the planet is not the president of the United States. The most powerful man is the Lord Jesus Christ. And He is toppling regimes that have held strong for fourteen centuries.
The face of Iran is changing as Jesus makes Himself known to Muslims and as they receive His love. He has the power to change lives in a way that neither the Ayatollah nor the President of the United States could ever prevent or copy. And He is providing to Muslims something they have never had before: a certain hope for their future.
Will you pray with me that even more Muslims will come to know Jesus as their savior in the next four years than ever before? Iran is the gateway to the Middle East. Once Iran is transformed by the Gospel, the whole Middle East will be impacted.
I thank you for your concern for Iran and its people—a people God loves just as much as you and me.
Solomon, Jay. “Trump Faces Battle to Undo Iran Nuclear Deal.” Wall Street Journal, November 11, 2016, sec. Politics. http://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-faces-battle-to-undo-iran-nuclear-deal-1478860207.
Iran defies global suicide statistics
Globally, men commit suicide at higher rates than women. The statistics show that men are more than three to five times more likely to succeed at killing themselves than women. But in Iran, women commit suicide more often than men. Only China compares with Iran in this grim statistic.
You may think these numbers show the despair of women in Iran, and you would be right—but they do not show its full depth. Across the world—including China—when women do commit suicide, their number one method is some form of poison, either drugs or pesticides; in Iran, the number one method of suicide is self-immolation (burning). Half of all suicides in Iran happen through burning, and for every five of these desperate acts, four are committed by women.
These Iranian women really want to take their lives in a horrendous way. They don’t want to take poison as the easier way out; they want to die with great pain. It is to the point now where suicide by self-immolation happens more frequently in Iran than in Hindu cultures, which see fire as a purifier. This trend in Iran is considered by global health organizations as a significant public health problem.
What has caused Persian women to have such despair?
According to the studies, the top motivating factors for self-immolation among women in Iran are marital conflict and conflict with other family members.
In Islam, women have no value. Millions of Persian woman endure marriages where their husband beats them up. Sharia and government law approve of husbands beating their wives. Many married women are just the maid, the cook, and sex slave. The husband often doesn’t love them.
He might even be married to other younger women. What the wives like doesn’t matter, and they have no real path for speaking up. Many feel their only escape is death.
Why do women stay in these marriages?
A woman in Iran usually cannot get a divorce. The courts are against them obtaining a legal divorce. They could perhaps just leave—and some do—but, please tell me, where would they go? A divorced woman in Islamic society is considered a curse. The divorced woman opens herself to be approached for prostitution (called a “temporary marriage” in Shariah law). Any and every man can offer her some money one night at a time, creating yet another form of horrific enslavement.
Also, if the woman leaves or divorces her husband, she loses her children, who always go to the husband. So women generally just suffer in these relationships or they kill themselves with great pain and self-hatred.
There is a better answer:
Throughout history, the oppressed have always responded to Jesus best. In Iran, the most oppressed are the women.
Christ is so appealing to these dear souls who have been devalued by their husbands and society that they fall in love with Him. Suddenly they come to Christ, and they realize they are valuable and God is calling them to serve. Their commitment is tremendously high because they know where they come from, and now they are daughters of the King. This correct assessment of their self-worth brings such healing.
So when a woman comes to Christ, they become a great light. The husband notices, “You have changed.” And they have. Before they were hopeless and the husband was unkind or even cruel—the least the wives felt they could do before was be angry, answer back, and hurt their husbands in return. Now they have responded to a Greater Love, and they begin returning grace and kindness for the abuse thrown at them. It shocks everyone.
Once transformed themselves, these women are bringing healing to husbands and kids. Once transformed, these women become agents of transformation for the rest of their family and friends.
Our new initiative: Flourish
As you would guess, then, a majority of our leaders in the underground Church in Iran are women—and they are very good leaders. We want to continue reaching out to these dear sisters and equip them and develop them for the ministry God is giving them. Called “Flourish,” our new initiative is more than television programs, though it is that in part; this initiative is a call to women to be equipped and raise a new generation of leaders. It is a call to flourish in a society that expects them to wilt and burn.
Would you pray for this new initiative? My soul longs to see many, many Persian women discover their true worth as daughters of our gracious King. I pray that many will hear the call of Jesus, and know that His life is worth living. I pray that they will flourish and transform Iran into a Christian nation in this generation.
Ahmadi, Alireza. “Suicide by Self-Immolation: Comprehensive Overview, Experiences and Suggestions.” Journal of Burn Care & Research: Official Publication of the American Burn Association 28, no. 1 (February 2007)
Vijayakumar, Lakshmi. “Suicide in Women.” Indian Journal of Psychiatry 57, no. Suppl 2 (July 2015)
It used to take me weeks or months working with Persians who were interested in Christianity to convince them to choose Christ. For the older generations, the spirit of Islam lay heavy on them, a blindfold on their minds that prevented them from grasping the Gospel, truth, or often even logic. Fear of Islam and fear of the government would paralyze them.
But young people in Iran are now so open to Christ. The generation in their early twenties and younger often call or write to say, “I was watching your satellite TV program, and something in me said I need Jesus, and I’m ready.” No questions about Islam and Christianity. No fear of Islam or the government. Just, they are ready to choose Christ.
Why is this happening now? What is the change? Let me offer five reasons based on the regular testimony we receive from Iran’s young people.
- The depth of hopelessness is immense.
Young people under 25 look at their older siblings who have worked so hard to earn bachelor degrees, master degrees, and even PhDs and see that they are miserable. War and decades of harsh rule and sanctions have caused those in their thirties to early forties to name themselves the “Burnt Generation.” They can’t find jobs, they can’t afford to get married, and they have no future. So the younger generation says that even if we work hard, that’s our future. Life is empty.
- Sex and drugs have become normalized in the youth culture.
With no future or greater purpose to live for, young people even as young as 12 and 13 fill the void with promiscuous sex and drugs. In the larger cities, this destructive lifestyle has become so normalized among the youth that if a young person avoids these “fixes” for their hopelessness, they are considered weird and are ostracized.
- The spirit of fear has lifted from them.
While it is true that the Islamic government of Iran forbids such partying, the news media regularly report arrests of young people taking part in these activities. Unlike their parents and older siblings, who fear the consequences of such actions, the younger Persians assume that partying is the only pleasure they have.
They don’t care what the consequences are; they are not really afraid of the government. They say, “Kill me, kill me. I’m dead anyway.”
They aren’t afraid of Islam or Allah. They have rejected all religions and wanted secularism; they want to be like Americans.
- They discover that Christianity has a loving and forgiving God.
Yes, the drive toward secularism can become a challenge for sharing the Gospel. But these young people reject all religions because they assume that Christianity is just like Islam—or worse. So from just one broadcast on our Iran Alive satellite network, Network 7, they begin to see that Christianity is not what they thought before. The program speaks to what is in their hearts: that if there is a God, He is a loving and forgiving God.
Suddenly, they realize this Jesus is exactly what they need. They want Him, and they taste the hope He can give them. Now their lack of fear for the government and their understanding that they were “dead” in their life before Jesus becomes a huge positive for following Jesus. They are ready to live and die for Christ. The depth of their commitment frequently brings me to tears when we talk. We have to remind them to be careful so they can live and minister as long as they can!
As disciples, these young believers are ready to listen and be corrected. Unlike their parents, who would be offended by direct correction, the young people love straight talk. They become soldiers for Jesus, ready to run for the Lord.
- Jesus is moving in Iran, testifying about Himself through dreams and visions.
More than anything else, young people are choosing Christ because He is choosing them. We regularly receive testimonies from those to whom Jesus has appeared in a dream or vision. God is moving in Iran, according to His promise Jeremiah 49:38, “I will set my throne in Elam (Iran).”
This generation is so ready, so desperate. Give them a vision, give them a goal, and they will run with it.
We have in this current time an amazing opportunity to reach out and raise an entire generation of soldiers for Christ. I am grieved because time is passing, and we are merely harvesting the edges of a vast, ripe field. Many contact us weekly, and we cannot disciple them all in a meaningful way due to limited resources. We have to take in a few, and leave the rest outside the door.
Would you consider praying and thanking God for these young people? Would you consider joining in our efforts to give the youth in Iran hope in Christ and to transform Iran in this generation? You can find out more about our ministry through this link.
Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. —Ephesians 6:12, NIV
When people hear me talking or read my posts that say ISIS and terrorists are following the true Islam, some accuse me of hating Muslims. I do not hate Muslims. I love them. All people are treasures in God’s eyes. Muslims are treasures, and Jesus gave His life to buy them back—redeem them.
Muslims are not our enemy. Satan alone is our enemy, and Muslims are his captives whom we are called to set free. To set the Muslim captives free, we must strike a blow against Satan, and we do that by loving Muslims.
We Love Muslims by First Praying for Them
A huge part of loving Muslims is praying for them. The spirit of Islam blinds them to the truth of Christ. Islam is a spirit and not just a theology or a philosophy. You cannot reason a Muslim to Christ because Islam does not allow Muslims to think about and question what they believe.
In the past month, Muslims across the world celebrated Ramadan, a month-long time of fasting and recommitment to Islam. It’s a spiritual battle month because during this time Muslims are recommitting themselves to the spirit of Islam, and Satan is re-enslaving those that belong to him.
Ten ministries coordinated by author Tom Doyle and CBN News recently joined in a worldwide effort “to encourage Christians to pray specifically for a move of God’s spirit to draw Muslims to Jesus Christ during Ramadan.” Voice of the Martyrs, one of the ministries that participated in this Facebook Live event, has written about the event and my participation here.
I had the honor of being the second speaker for this CBN broadcast. Hundreds of thousands viewed it and prayed along with me despite some technical difficulties with the video. You can find the broadcast here. (Please scroll through the first few seconds to get to where I begin speaking.)
I want to thank the Lord publically for these prayers and His response. I know He hears and is moving even now to remove the blindness and fear from hearts and to draw Muslims to Himself.
Even though it is no longer Ramadan, we must continue praying for Muslims. Jesus is attractive. The message of the Gospel is sweet. But why don’t Muslims believe when they hear it? Because there is a spiritual battle for their souls that is trying to keep them in slavery through fear and intimidation. We can win this battle first through prayer and then through loving them.
We Must Love Muslims by Also Praying for Ourselves
We must pray for Muslims, and then, as our next step of loving Muslims, we need to pray for ourselves.
Terrorism and Islamic jihad are scary. I do not want to belittle the brutality and evil of what we have seen and heard, especially in recent months. But as Christians, we must remember that God is love and that love casts out all fear (1 Jn 4:8, 18). So if we are fearful and hateful of Muslims—even if we are indifferent!—that is not of God. The spirit of Islam is the spirit of fear and hate. May I even say that if you are fearful and hateful towards Muslims, you are submitting to the very spirit of Islam? So we must pray for our own hearts to be filled with God’s love—to be free from fear and hatred.
When we share the truth with love, the captives will be freed. Please join with me to confront the spirit of Islam with the best weapons we have: prayer and love.
VOM. “Praying for Muslims: Hormoz Shariat.” Persecution Blog. Accessed August 1, 2016.
CBN News. “Ramadan Prayer Outreach to Muslims Reaches over 7 Million People.” CBN.com (beta). Accessed August 2, 2016.
Another terrorist attack. Quickly, we see that the world is growing less shocked each time terrorists commit violence and mass murder. Terrorism in the headlines has become routine.
One Twitter comment sums it up well: “Je suis Paris (I am Paris), Je suis Belgium, Je suis Orlando, Je suis Ankara, Je suis Nice. Je suis sick and tired of this.”
And the list above only mentions a few of the past year’s attacks. It doesn’t even mention half the atrocities from the past two weeks.
The Terrorism Cycle
Fill in the blank below with the place of any of the recent attacks. The rest of the cycle looks the same:
- The terrorist act happens in __________. We are all shocked. Many are dead and wounded. Our televisions carry live coverage on nearly every channel.
- We mourn and express our condolences to the families who lost a loved one.
- We start asking who did it and why. Then it is revealed that the attacker(s) was an Islamic jihadi.
- Politically correct groups warn everyone that we must not connect these acts to Islam itself. They suggest we can call the perpetrators criminals, extremists, terrorists, and whatever other name we want to call them, but we are not in any way to connect them to the religion of Islam, even if they themselves announce that their motivation has been obedience to the teaching of Islam to jihad (fight) against infidels and kill them. Even if they shouted “Allahu akbar” when they were committing murders.
- President Obama condemns the act and makes his usual weak statement trying not to offend anybody, especially Muslims. He makes sure to avoid mentioning Islam in his comments. After the attack on July 14 in Nice, France, he said, “On behalf of the American people, I condemn in the strongest terms what appears to be a horrific terrorist attack in Nice, France, which killed and wounded dozens of innocent citizens. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and other loved ones of those killed, and we wish a full recovery for the many wounded.”
- Secretary of State John Kerry makes a statement that the U.S. government is working to determine if any American citizens were injured in the event.
- We gradually forget and fall back to sleep until another terrorist event wakes us up again to restart the cycle that goes nowhere.
Breaking the Cycle
When are we going to break this cycle? When are we going to identify and address the root problem? We cannot solve the problem of terrorism if we refuse to identify its root. How can a doctor cure a disease if he does not dare identify the cause of the disease because the patient may be offended? When are we going to wake up from our slumber and look at the real issues in order to bring real solutions?
In the U.S., most of the media coverage is about WHAT the terrorist (jihadi) did with many details and pictures and footage. But they stop there and do not dare cover WHY he did this. They dare not talk about the motive of the terrorist even when he clearly states it in his writings and speech, even when he shouts “Allahu akbar” while he is killing.
I love Muslims. I am called to love Muslims and lovingly share the good news of Jesus with them. I have dedicated my life to loving Muslims. Nevertheless, the moment I mention that we need to look at the Islamic theology that motivates the terrorist, I am accused by emails and blog comments that I am a Muslim hater and that I am spreading hate!
Address the Problem, Love the People
Ronald Reagan was instrumental in bringing communism down because he addressed the problem of communism directly and boldly. He did not care about political correctness. It was the 1980s and the PC crowd had not yet risen to power.
This is what Reagan said about communism: “How do you tell a communist? Well, it’s someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It’s someone who understands Marx and Lenin.”
If the PC crowd had a voice then, they would have said, “President Reagan, by making this statement, you are offending many good communist citizens. You may alienate them and hurt their feelings. You are spreading hate.” My guess is that President Reagan would have answered, “I hate communism, but I love the people who live under communism.”
We Must Have Courage to Speak the Truth in Love
If Reagan were alive today, I imagine he would say something like this about Islam: “Who is a Muslim? Well, it’s someone who reads Quran. And who is an Ex-Muslim? It’s someone who understands Quran.”
If we do not face the reality of Islam and the belief and theology behind these terrorist acts, we will never be able to address the problem of terrorism accurately and give realistic and effective solutions. We will be stuck (as we are now) in the cycle I described above. Unfortunately, we gradually become desensitized to the news—something the psychologists call “terrorism fatigue.” It will shock us less and less and gradually become merely a reality of living on this earth. As time passes, we may become even less motivated to identify the problem accurately and solve it effectively.
We must wake up to the reality that these terrorists are, in fact, Islamic jihadis following the teaching of Quran and the lifestyle and example of Prophet Mohammad. We must love Muslims but hate the theology of violence and murder. We must have the courage to discuss Quranic verses in our media. (A reporter in American can be fired by just quoting—and not even interpreting—Quranic verses in his speech and writing!) We must find courage to expose and discuss the teachings of Quran publicly. We must get free from this self-deception that Islam is “just another religion” and face the fact that it is a political and militaristic movement. Muslims who commit themselves to obey the teachings of Quran and follow the example of Prophet Muhammad end up becoming terrorists.
We must have courage to speak the truth with love (Eph. 4:15). It is the only meaningful way forward.