Recently, and especially in the past two weeks, we have seen massive numbers of Christians arrested in Iran. This surge in persecution has occurred every Christmas for the past few years. Some people have asked me why. To help you understand what is going on in Iran, I will give three reasons:
1. More Iranian Muslims come to Christ during the Christmas season than any other time.
The Islamic government of Iran knows, just as we do, that more Muslims come to Christ during the Christmas season than any other time of the year. The joyful time of Christmas stands out against the many “mourning holidays” filling the Iranian calendar and so is attractive to Iranian Muslims. Therefore, not only Christians but also many Muslims love the Christmas season and celebrate it. Many Muslims set up a Christmas tree in their homes with decorations and gifts under it, knowing well that it is a Christian celebration.
Our underground house church network (and many others) do their greatest outreach during the Christmas season. They throw Christmas parties in their homes and invite Muslim friends and family members who gladly accept, knowing they are being invited to a Christian gathering.
Even as the meaning of Christmas is fading in the US into merely a “holiday season” concept, people of Iran—both Christians and Muslims—celebrate Christmas distinctly as the birthday of Jesus. So, when Muslims are invited by a Christian friend to go to a Christmas party, they know the theme will be a celebration of Jesus’s birthday. Therefore, they are not shocked when the gospel is shared with them in those parties and an invitation is made to trust Jesus as Savior—they expect it, are ready for it, and many times go to the party prepared to make a decision for Christ.
We take advantage of this open season through our satellite broadcast as well. Our programs become more straight-forward evangelistic conversations as we talk about the meaning of Christmas. Every Christmas, we broadcast the Jesusfilm multiple times in various dialects of Iran. We see many Muslims respond to these Christmas broadcasts and come to Christ.
2. The government is alarmed and reacts out of fear.
As the situation in Iran deteriorates financially, socially, and morally, more Muslims are open to the gospel. The underground church in Iran is growing, and the government is alarmed and increasingly feels threatened. Recently, Ayatollah Boroujerdi—director of a high-profile Islamic seminary in Qum, Vatican of Shiite Islam—stated that “accurate reports indicate that the youth are becoming Christians in Qom and attending house churches.”
Because of sanctions, the Islamic Republic of Iran is in a financial crunch. They cannot afford to put much of their limited resources into monitoring and containing the fast-growing number of Christians. Therefore, they turn to a policy of intimidation. That is, they arrest some Christians and publicize it to put fear in the hearts of others, hoping that they will not dare have Christmas parties and will cancel ones already planned.
“A reports indicate that the youth are becoming Christians in Qom and attending house churches.—Ayatollah Boroujerdi
3. Government branches compete for limited funds through persecution.
In Iran, several offices from various branches of government work to make sure the power will stay in the hands of the Mullahs and the Revolutionary Guard. These offices all have a mandate and authority to arrest and destroy all who might threaten the future of the government. This includes Christians. So, because of the current scarcity of finances, they must constantly compete for better funding. They win more resources for their office by showing their effectiveness in stopping Christians. Therefore, they
- try to arrest as many Christians as possible, and
- they make a big deal out of the arrests and publicize them in the news.
Their motive is not just to intimidate Christians, but also to show their higher-ups they are worthy of funding. As Christmas approaches, I expect that these arrests will continue and intensify. So please pray for Iranian Christians to be safe, wise, and alert. Also pray that they will be bold and not be intimidated by the Islamic government and will continue to evangelize Muslims through Christmas parties. Pray that many Muslims will come to Christ this month both in our underground house churches through personal evangelism and also through our satellite broadcasts as a result of our special evangelistic Christmas programs.