Solitary Christianity: We Must Awake and Arm the Sleeping Giant of Iran

In December 2017, I began a series about the three unique challenges that are creating a crisis for the church in Iran and the three opportunities we have as a Church to address this crisis. This article is the second challenge in that series.

What challenges are causing this crisis for the Iranian church?

The first challenge is Shiite Christianity. Without intervention, the Iranian church will allow Shiite cultural behavior norms to destroy the developing Christian community and the church’s witness. As individuals, Iranian Muslim background believers are very passionate about their faith and very grateful for their salvation. However, they have no knowledge nor experience of a vibrant Christian community. They need to be taught biblical principles for Christian fellowship because they have never before encountered fellowship in this manner.

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At least 9 out of every 10 Christian live between the walls of their homes and apartments feeling small and powerless, not knowing that in truth they are one part of many making up Iran’s sleeping giant—the church.

The second challenge is Solitary Christianity. At least 9 out of every 10 Christians in Iran have no Christian fellowship or live connection with other known believers. They are alone. They have no models, no mentors, and no support. They live between the walls of their homes and apartments feeling small and powerless, not knowing that in truth they are one part of many making up Iran’s sleeping giant—the church.

How and Why the Church Got Put in Such Isolation

Did you know that the history of Christianity in Iran goes back to the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:9)? Yes, Parthians, Medes, and Elamites were all residents of Persia. Aramaic-speaking Assyrian Christians formed some of the earliest churches, and Armenian Christians joined them in the early 17th century, settling deep in Iran. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Protestant missionaries arrived in Iran and began evangelizing the ethnic Persian Muslim community. But growth was very slow.

At the time of Islamic revolution in 1979, there were more than 500,000 Armenian and Assyrian Christians. Most have left Iran since then and that number is currently less than 100,000. However, during the same time span, the number of Muslim background believers (MBB) has gone from less than 500 in 1979 to an estimated 1–3 million today. Today there are no churches in Iran where MBB’s can attend. There are a few Assyrian and Armenian churches left, but they are forced to worship in their own language and are forbidden to allow any MBB in their midst.

In the last 40 years, the number of MBB’s has exploded, creating unprecedented growth of the Christian population and one of the highest growth rates of Christianity in the world. This tremendous growth has occurred despite the government forbidding conversion from Islam to Christianity and responding with arrests, torture, and death. This growth has threatened Iran’s Islamic government and has caused them to persecute MBB’s out of fear.

The number of Muslim background believers (MBB) has gone from less than 500 in 1979 to an estimated 1–3 million today.

How many MBB’s are in Iran? The most conservative number is around 400,000. Many concede that a more accurate estimate is more than 1 million Christians, with a majority being MBB. My experience and close work with Persians in Iran—and recent events that have contributed to yet another explosion in conversions—tells me that the real number sits easily somewhere between 2 and 3 million. Our underground house church leaders put the estimate even higher.

The reaction of the Islamic government fits with this higher number. They are scared that their oppression tactics are not reducing or even slowing the growth of MBB Christians.

In 2013, the government tried to stomp out the threat by quarantining individuals. They imprisoned many pastors, forced the rest to flee the country, locked the doors to every Farsi-speaking church, and banned and burned Persian Bibles. Evangelism is illegal, gathering in public places is illegal, gathering at home is illegal, reading the Bible is illegal, and Christians continue to be persecuted, tortured, and sometimes killed.

The Islamic regime intends to stop, silence, and suppress any expression of Christianity that might seduce the growing masses of Muslims disillusioned with Islam.

The Resulting Challenge

The result is that 95 percent of Iranian Christians live in isolation from one another just as if they were imprisoned in solitary cells in their homes. They hunger for the bread of life that comes from the Word; they thirst for the connection in the Spirit with other believers. But they worship and pray alone.

The result is that 95 percent of Iranian Christians live in isolation from one another just as if they were imprisoned in solitary cells in their homes.

Without connections and resources, they are immature in their knowledge yet supernaturally hungry for spiritual truth and growth. Unlike a large portion of the Church in the West that is content with spiritual immaturity, the number one request we receive daily from these Christians is “train us, teach us, equip us!” They want to pour out their lives for the One who saved them. But they don’t know how or where to start.

If no one steps in to help them, the Islamic government’s tactic of separation will succeed. Alone, these Christians are allowing their witness and supernatural gifts to stay hidden, asleep.

The Opportunity: Wake and Arm the Sleeping Giant

What would happen if we could encourage, equip, and mobilize this “sleeping giant” church throughout the country? Two to three million believers throughout Iran who are ready to be salt and light and share the gospel would impact families, friends, neighbors, and all people in their circle of influence in astonishing numbers.

This opportunity is why we have started the 412 School of Ministry (based on Eph 4: 12—equipping the saints for the work of ministry) in 2018, to equip and train Iranian Christians so they can multiply and mobilize others. This need is why we responded to the December 2017 and early January protests with nightly, live prime-time broadcasts. We shared God’s message of love to a hurting nation and showed believers how they could reach out to the people around them during this time with the gospel.

The number one request we receive daily from these Christians in Iran is “train us, teach us, equip us!”

We have already started to see results from work we are doing to encourage and equip these Christians. Almost every week we hear testimonies of how Persian Christians have found ways to share their faith and bring others to Jesus. By watching us, they learn how to witness.

But we cannot awake this sleeping giant alone, nor arm it fully with the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and the sword of the Spirit without the help of the larger Church body (Eph 6:14–17).

We need the Church to work together on a larger scale, to reach out to the Iranian church with us, helping them learn to give and serve according to their gifting.

We need your help!

In addition to your prayers and your financial support, we need you to join us according to your gifting and calling. Others like Jack Graham, Pete Briscoe, Bill Hybels, and Michael Yusef already partner with us to broadcast their teaching in Iran and surrounding countries. Would you consider joining them and us?

You do not need to know Farsi to help us make good discipleship, theology, and Bible training available to Persians. We have resources for great-quality voice-over translations. We match the translation voice personality with the teacher’s mannerisms, tone, and passion. And we add subtitles when needed. We just need willing teachers and preachers with a heart for Iran.

We need teachers to record broadcasts and courses, and we also need technology specialists that can help us establish our online school. How are you gifted? Can you help with internet administration? Graphic design? Production? Course administration?

We need teachers to record broadcasts and courses, and we also need technology specialists that can help us establish our online school.

The task is enormous, but God has called us to it. Will you help us accomplish what he has asked of us?

The Church claimed Iran in the first century but was squeezed out. Now it’s time that God will set his throne in Elam (ancient Persia) and restore her fortunes (Jer 49:38–39). This time, if we equip her well, the Church will not only remain in Iran, it will spread and impact the whole Middle East and even the world. This is the pattern we are seeing.

Iran is the Muslim nation most open to the gospel. Iranians are hungry and coming to the Lord by the many. Even whole families at once! And Iran is positioned across the Middle East so that changes in Iran will affect the entire region.

Don’t miss this opportunity. Help us awaken and arm the sleeping giant. Help us equip an army of isolated Persian saints who want to bring light to the rest of the world.

I thank you for answering the call.

If the Lord is prompting to respond or inquire, you can contact me at hormoz@IranAliveMinistries.org or (469) 982-0000, or text “Iran” to 74784 for more information.

Signals of Change: How Christian Broadcasters Are Changing Iran

World News recently published a feature article that highlights what Iran Alive and other Christian broadcasters are doing to contribute to the fastest growing evangelical population on the planet.

I have reposted an excerpt here, with a link to the full article on their website. I pray you will find it encouraging, and remember us in your prayers as well.

Signals of change

by Mindy Belz

Protests in Iran have met censorship and brutality, but Christian broadcasters use daily media to spark lasting reformation. (Associated Press)

It’s noon in Dallas and 8:30 in the evening in Tehran when Hormoz Shariat, founder of satellite television’s Iran Alive Ministries, steps to the camera to begin the station’s daily live satellite broadcast. The 62-year-old Iranian-American pastor, wearing rimless glasses and a suit and tie, strikes a friendly posture whether he is preaching to a large studio audience or seated in comfortable chairs with his co-hosts. But he takes the one-hour live show very seriously: With a prime-time slot beamed from Texas into the Islamic republic, Iran Alive’s Christian programming has an estimated audience of 6 million people.

That’s nearly 8 percent of Iran’s population of 80 million, the overwhelming majority of whom are Muslims. Whether Iran has 2 million Christians—an estimate Shariat believes is not inflated—or closer to 500,000, as some experts claim, “that’s a lot of Muslims watching us,” he concedes. In addition to Iran Alive, the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) has Persian-language programming in the Middle East, and Cyprus-based SAT-7 PARS also carries round-the-clock Persian-language Christian shows.

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What Are the Differences between the 2009 Green Movement and the 2018 #IranProtests?

God is the God of history. He uses historical events to advance his purpose. In this blog, by looking at the recent uprising and comparing it to 2009 Green Movement, we will see that in the midst of all these events and even chaos, God is advancing the people of Iran, step by step, toward the fulfilment of his promise in Jeremiah 49:38: “I will set my throne in Elam (Iran).”

Protesters in Tehran's Valiasr avenue overturned a police car-VOA
Protesters in Tehran’s Valiasr avenue overturned a police car on 31 December 2017. (VOA)

Two Uprisings

In 2009, the Iranian people rose up in protest against the government and demonstrated in the streets. In late December 2017 and early 2018, the people again took to the streets in protest, tore down pictures of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and chanted death slogans. Government forces responded brutally both times, arresting thousands and killing scores of people.

But these two uprisings are very different. Their outcomes will be different, too. This time, the eyes of the people have opened.

What Happened in 2009?

The Green Movement of 2009 happened because the people protested fraud in an election that declared incumbent hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the presidential winner. A majority of people had voted for a moderate candidate, yet the election result did not reflect that vote. The demonstrators, protesting in a few large cities, demanded a recount.

After a brutal crackdown, the people also began demanding civil liberties promised them in the 1979 Revolution.

In 2013, a moderate candidate, Hassan Rouhani, won the election, and the people celebrated.

The Clerical Government’s Political Game

Over and over again, the Islamic government of Iran has deceived its people with a political game: alternately “electing” a hardliner or a moderate candidate to the president’s office. This game show has been going on since the mid-1990s. The people of Iran would become so desperate after a period of a hardliner rule that they would feel victory and relief when they got to elect a moderate president.

They celebrated on the streets when Rouhani was elected in June 2013 and again in May 2017. The majority failed to realize that this election was just a staged political play to keep them busy year after year, for president after president.

During last year’s election campaign for Rouhani, the people were very excited and involved, not fully understanding the implications of having only two clergy-approved candidates: Ebrahim Raisi (with a black turban) and Rouhani (with a white turban).

Both candidates were required to implement the will of the mullahs. The real choice that Supreme Leader Khamenei was giving the people was this: Do you want a president with a black turban or white turban?

The people did not realize that moderate candidates are just a faction of the extremists who want to give the people a little freedom (e.g., letting a woman show her hair a little more without threat of arrest). Otherwise, in policy and decision making, moderates are still committed to obey the Supreme Leader Khamenei and implement his wishes.

“Over and over again, the Islamic government of Iran has deceived its people with a political game: alternately “electing” a hardliner or a moderate candidate to the president’s office.”

What is Happening in 2018?

What is happening now is that the people of Iran are finally waking up to this game. They realize that the mullahs in power have been manipulating them for decades: keeping them busy with governmental politics while advancing their own agenda domestically and internationally and personally benefiting from their positions of power.

They now know that electing a moderate president is a hoax and will never do them any good. We are seeing a big shift in awareness and a desperation for something different, something more.

After the first large-scale demonstrations died down, many mainstream media outlets reported that the spontaneous uprisings had fallen apart. But the eyes of the Iranian people are now open, and this hunger will not go away. I am not the only one saying this. Alireza Nadar, a senior policy analyst at RAND corporation recently wrote the following:

There has been speculation that the uprising will die out or be crushed by the regime. However, a key barrier has been broken: Iranians are no longer contained by the wall of fear created by the Islamic Republic. Not only has Iran’s theocracy lost its legitimacy, but it has lost its ability to control the public through the instruments of violence. Unlike in past protests, countless Iranians have demonstrated that they will no longer participate in the political game of “reformist vs. conservative” (better known as “moderates vs. conservatives” in the West). For them, no one from the establishment, including the so-called reformists, can make their lives better. For them, the entire system has to fall for a new Iran to be reborn.  —Alizera Nadar, Politico Magazine

The #IranProtests are the beginning of change. It will take time, but change will happen in the next couple of years. The clerical government likely will not stay in power.

Consider these differences in the response of the people:

  • In 2009, the people rejected the result of an election; now they are rejecting the whole Islamic rule, even Islam itself.
  • In 2009, the people chanted, “Where is my vote?”; now they are chanting, “Death to the Islamic Republic” and “Death to Khamenei.” Even Rouhani, who was popular and celebrated in the streets after the May 2017 election, is facing “Death to Rouhani” slogans.
  • In 2009, the demonstrations occurred in only a few large cities; this time they started in scores of smaller cities and towns before getting to the big cities. The voices of some of these rural people have not been heard as a group since the revolution of 1979.

 

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“This time, the eyes of the people are open.”

How You Can Pray for Iran

The hopelessness and desperation that brought about these protests are real. Iranians are suffering. Officially, forty percent live below the poverty line. In reality, the number is probably higher. They cannot find work. They cannot buy food or gas. Drought and water mismanagement has made it difficult to grow crops.

During our live, prime-time, daily programs in January, we encouraged people that God loves them and cares about their suffering, just as we do. We also shared that God has a plan to save and bless Iran. We showed Christians how to reach out to the demonstrators and provide love and hope. Many did.

Please pray that, God willing, we will be able to continue to mobilize the 2 million Christians in Iran to share the gospel and be the light and love of Christ to a hurting nation.

Pray that their pain will be a bridge to salvation.

Pray that their eyes remain open.


To learn even more about what is happening in Iran and how Iran Alive is responding, read this article by Mindy Belz in World Magazine, “Signals of Change.” You can also text “Iran” to 74784 to sign up for updates and testimonies.


Related articles:

Belz, Mindy. “Signals of Change – WORLD,” February 3, 2018. https://world.wng.org/2018/01/signals_of_change.

Nader, Alireza. “Why the Iranian Uprising Won’t Die.” POLITICO Magazine.  http://politi.co/2mcuSiD.