Starving Christianity: Hungry for the Word of God

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Challenges and Opportunities for the Iranian Church

God is moving in Iran, bringing Muslims to faith in him at a higher rate than in any other Muslim nation. A vibrant church in Iran has the potential to change the face of the entire Middle East. But the church is heading toward a crisis.

In this series, I am writing about the three challenges that threaten the future of the church in Iran even more than the Islamic government. We have discussed the challenges of Shiite Christianity and Solitary Christianity. This third challenge—a growing crisis—threatens to uproot the foundation of the Iranian church.

Crisis 3: Starving Christianity

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Christians in Iran are starving for systematic truth and resources. They are passionate for Jesus and the Word of God. But the building churches are closed. Pastors and church leaders have been forced out of Iran. And the government makes it difficult to gather or talk to others openly.

The vacuum of mature teachers and experienced elders is a growing crisis for the 2 to 3 million believers that make up the Iranian church.

In America, amazing preachers and resources are everywhere. It is like a banquet table has been set for guests and filled with a feast made by top chefs. But few come. Few are hungry.

In Iran, Christians are so hungry for teaching about God’s Word that they fight for any dried-out bread crust they come across. They want it and they flock to it. But their table is empty—or worse—it’s filled with unwholesome imposters posing as real food.

In Iran, Christians are so hungry for teaching about God’s Word that they fight for any dried-out bread crust they come across.

Where can these new Christians go to find mature, faithful answers to their questions? Who will help them understand the whole counsel of God and separate what Islam has taught them from what God reveals in his Word?

Many wolves in sheep’s clothing are already stepping in, pretending to teach Christianity when they are really teaching something else. The church must make a move now to build a strong and deep foundation in Iran. Too much in the whole Middle East depends on it.

What Has Caused This Challenge?

As I mentioned in part two of this series, the Islamic government of Iran closed the doors to the building churches in 2013 and made it illegal to gather in homes. They also arrested a few key pastors and church leaders.

These arrests were no simple show of force but a distinct strategy to force all Christian leaders out of Iran. Avoiding persecution of high-profile leaders that might cause a worldwide outcry and pushback, they arrested lesser-known leaders instead and charged them with heavy offenses that carried long-term jail sentences. For others, after interrogations, they released the pastors, telling them to show up the following month for another court date and interrogation. And then they handed the leaders their passport. The message was clear: leave now or spend your life in jail.

They threatened a few pastors so that they could push all the leaders out through fear. If any Christian leader tries to go back to Iran now, they are arrested and charged. So all the mature, experienced leaders have been pushed out of Iran by force.

This purging has left the 2 to 3 million children of the faith without elders, pastors, or teachers that truly know the Bible. They are young and thirsty.

This purging has left the 2 to 3 million children of the faith without elders, pastors, or teachers that truly know the Bible.

The Immediate Danger: Cults

These Christians have so much passion—much more passion than many in the West who have good resources at their fingertips—but without biblical knowledge to have discernment, and without elders to guide them. The Bible is very new to them. They search out resources online and wherever else they can, but like hungry children who put everything in their mouths, they sometimes have difficulty knowing the difference between orthodox truth and cult heresy. How can they know what to eat unless someone older in the faith helps them?

Paul and the First-Century Church

This problem is very similar to the problem Paul faced with the first-century church. Despite opposition, the church continued to grow and spread quickly. The new Christians had only a few teachers and the Hebrew Bible. Gentiles often had neither the Hebrew Bible nor any background to understand God’s true nature. They were used to what they knew: capricious Greek and Roman gods and the type of worship those gods demanded.

In other words, they were very much like Muslim background believers who need to learn all over again the true nature of God and how he desires us to know him and worship him.

So what do we see over and over again in Paul’s letters to the churches? He warned them of cults (e.g., Acts 20:28–30; Rom 16:17). He had to explain how their cultural behavior and misunderstandings failed to fit with God’s Word and God’s standard (e.g., 1 John 4:1–3). He had to explain again and again who this Jesus was and what his followers should know to be true about God’s nature and their own salvation. He had to help them put together all the pieces of faith and knowledge and understand them systematically (e.g., 1Pet 1:18; Rom 5, 6).

Paul turned to the prevailing tool of the day to counter the rise of cults and the misunderstandings of the faith: he used high-tech media. Yes! At that time, the most advanced media was writing letters and passing them from city to city and village to village for believers to study and copy down. Today, media looks like social media apps, satellite TV, and the internet.

Opportunity 3: A Bible School through Today’s Media

The advances of technology mean that many Iranians do have access to some form of digital Bible that they can download and even pass on to others. But we cannot stop there and say, “They have God’s Word in their language. That’s all they need.”

If the Ethiopian eunuch of Acts 8, who was likely a Jewish proselyte, needed Phillip to explain how Isaiah 53 shows Jesus coming as a suffering servant, how much do more Muslims—people who have been fed much misinformation about Jesus—need a Phillip to explain the Bible systematically?

Social media, satellite TV programs, and all kind of internet resources—this technology is a huge opportunity for the church to reach out to believers in Iran and help them mature in Christ.

The 412 School of Ministry

That is why we are using the best high-tech media we can to create an online 412 School of Ministry, based on Ephesians 4:12. This school will provide systematic training for the church of Iran, develop leaders who can discern truth, disciple others, and model Christ not only in their understanding but also their actions.

A Call to All

Iran is the Muslim country most open to the gospel. Islam is being defeated at an enormous rate, making Iran the gateway to Christ for the entire Middle East. If we leave them to themselves at this critical moment and do not help them to develop a mature faith and systematic understanding of the Bible that they can pass on to others, we will be responsible for one of the great failures of the church in the twenty-first century.

This opportunity is not just a call for me and Iran Alive but for all mature followers of Jesus Christ to use the media of today to provide a sound, systematic foundation for a hungry church.

If we leave them to themselves at this critical moment and do not help them to develop a mature faith and systematic understanding of the Bible that they can pass on to others, we will be responsible for one of the great failures of the church in the twenty-first century.

Let’s take some of the banquet feast from our table in the West and share it with our brothers and sisters in Iran. Join Jack Graham, Pete Briscoe, Child Evangelism Fellowship, Recovery International, World Amity, Michael Yusef, and Christ for Crescent Moon—some of the people and ministries who already partner with us—to send systematic Bible teaching to millions of Christians who are waiting and ready to learn. These believers have a chair and want to pull it to the table, if someone will only put something good to eat on their plate.

We need you to join us. Don’t miss this great opportunity.

For more information on how to partner with us or how you can be a part of our 412 School of Ministry, you can contact me at hormoz@IranAliveMinistries.org or (469) 982-0000. Or text “Iran” to 74784 for more information.

 

 

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

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Challenges and Opportunities for the Iranian Church

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.

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

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Understanding the 2018 Iran Uprising

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.

How Will the Iran Demonstrations Affect Christians?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Understanding the 2018 Iran Uprising

In this series, I have been addressing the spontaneous protests that began in Iran on December 28, 2017, in response to rising economic distress and the corrupt government. Since the demonstrations started, we have been broadcasting special live programs every evening at prime time in Iran to comfort the people and share the heart of God with them.

48011682_sThe 2 million or so Christians in Iran now have a chance to be the voice of real hope—hope that only exists in Christ.

Even though at least four thousand are reported arrested and are being tortured in prison, there is a bright spot in what is happening right now in Iran: the uprising creates a window for increased Christian activity and evangelism. Its impact will be in three areas:

1) It reduces persecution of Christians. The uprising alleviates—at least for a while—the focused persecution of Christians. The outbreak of mass dissent in the past two weeks is “one of the most serious crises Iran has faced in the past 25 years.” Right now the government has a more urgent matter than arresting Christians; they must work to bring the current situation under control.

2) It will give Christians greater opportunity to evangelize. The 2 million or so Christians in Iran now have a chance to be the voice of real hope—hope that only exists in Christ—to a hopeless, aimless, and desperate young generation.

Reaching this generation with the gospel will be easier because they have shown that they are desperate enough to take huge risks with their lives to oppose the government. Over 60 percent of the population is under age 30, meaning that at least half the country is now even more open to the good news of Christ.

3) It gives us an opportunity to train fearless young leaders for Christ. The demonstrations give Christian leaders like us at Iran Alive a historic opportunity to train mighty young men and women of God for his service. We have a great opening to bring to faith and train a generation that has no hope for this life so that they can wholeheartedly live for Christ.

These are brave young people who are not afraid of death. As one young Christian told me, “I am not afraid of death because I was dead anyway before I came to Christ.” Another said, “I am not afraid of them [the government]; in fact, they are afraid of me and my message. That is why they want to put me in jail.”

How You Can Help

Would you pray especially for those young people being tortured in prison and their families who are demonstrating outside, hoping to hear news of their loved ones?

Would you also pray for boldness among Christians in Iran, to use this unique opportunity to share Christ with many? As you may know, we have a large number of underground house churches in Iran and many leaders who are serving them. These leaders are already spreading the gospel without fear of what will happen to them. Pray that God would protect them and embolden others to do the same. Pray for open hearts to receive Christ.

My friend Mani Erfan predicted a year ago that Christians would make up 10 percent of Iran’s population by 2020. I believe that is quite possible. This new level of desperation and hopelessness expressed in these demonstrations indicates that millions more are open to the message of the gospel, and the number of Christians in Iran will continue to grow exponentially as it has the past 10 years.

Just imagine what would happen if we join together and equip, encourage, empower, and mobilize 2 million Christians for Christ.

And would you pray about contributing to a training initiative for Iran? We at Iran Alive are beginning a new 412 School, based on Ephesians 4:12, “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” With this school, we can multiply our efforts to reach and disciple millions in Iran for the gospel. Just imagine what would happen if we join together and equip, encourage, empower, and mobilize 2 million Christians for Christ. I believe not only Iran but also the whole Middle East will be impacted by the gospel.


Related articles:

Garcia, Carlos. “The Christian Church Is Exploding Underground in Iran despite Oppression.” TheBlaze, December 1, 2016.

Smith, Alexander. “Iran ‘dodged a Bullet’ over Protests but Danger Lurks for Regime.” NBC News, January 10, 2018.

What Will Result from the Iran Uprising?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Understanding the 2018 Iran Uprising

In this series, I have been addressing the spontaneous protests that began in Iran on December 28, 2017, in response to rising economic distress and the corrupt government. At least 22 people have been killed—likely a higher number is true—and a minimum of 1,000 arrested, most under the age of 25.

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What is the goal of the protestors?

The demonstrators have no clear vision or clear demands. These demonstrations are the groans and pains of society. The people are crying out because they feel pressured economically and see no way out. They see social injustice and oppression and no hope for any better future.

We must remember that this uprising is not like a Western demonstration, where people fill the streets to protest an issue or stand up for a cause—and then go home. These Iranians know that they can be killed for protesting. Several have been killed already; thousands of others are under arrest.

The protestors’ hopelessness and frustration are so deep that they do not care anymore if they die.

Will violence and arrests stifle the uprising?

The demonstrations have no leadership that can guide them toward a common goal; they are just protesting out of pain, hopelessness, and desperation. Therefore, the movement is not coherent yet, and it has no clear direction to keep it going against repressive violence. So it is very likely that it will be stopped through upcoming violence.

When the uprising quiets down, will that be the end of it?

Even if the demonstrations quiet down, the divide between the people and the government will deepen. The movement will continue as an undercurrent that will show its head again later, stronger than before.

One thing is for sure: the people will no longer be deceived by the “moderate clergy candidate” political play by the clergy. This political show has kept the people entertained and busy for the past 20 years. It will not work any longer.

They may, however, be deceived by the offer of a “secular” or “nonreligious” candidate. This type of candidate will be a deception once again because the government always creates an illusion of change on the surface while doing nothing to change a system where the clergy and the Revolutionary Guards maintain the main economic, military, and political power. As an Iranian proverb says, “It is the same donkey, but the saddle is changed.”

What will result from the uprising, in the near future?

We will most likely see a surge of violence. Plainclothes mercenaries from Syria will shoot and kill hundreds on the streets just as they did in the 2009 uprising. Many young people will be arrested, tortured, or simply disappear. The University of Tehran is already trying to track some of its students who have disappeared.

The Supreme Leader, to appease the people, may blame the situation on a few people in government positions, order their arrest, put them on trial, and execute them. This way, he can show the people that he has heard them, cares for them, and is taking care of the problems of corruption and social injustice.

By eliminating these few, Khamenei will both appease the people and at the same time remove some of those who are causing him trouble. One of these potential figures is the ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He has lately been causing some trouble for the power structure. His life may be in danger in the next few weeks and months. The government may blame this mess and corruption on him, arrest him, and put him on trial.

What is Iran Alive Doing?

Since the beginning of the protests, we have been broadcasting a special live program at noon CST (prime time in Iran) every day, even on Saturdays and Sundays. Our goals are to show that

  • God knows their pains, and so do we;
  • God cares about what they are going through, and so do we;
  • God has a plan for Iran and is active in the midst of this chaos and suffering, and we all need to align what we do with what he intends to do in Iran.

We teach them that to do the will of God, we need first to have the mind of God and the heart of God.

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Iranian family watches the Network 7 broadcast.

We know that Iran will be saved according to Jeremiah 49:38, and this is just another step towards that end.

Every day in our live program, we look at the events of the day from a biblical point of view.

  • We evangelize by telling people that they will be again disappointed if they put their hope once again in men.
  • We tell them that if they do not change, then even if the government changes, they will still be miserable.
  • We point out that if they have personal struggles, if they have marriage problems, and if they have an addiction, a change of government will not solve that. Their only hope is Jesus Christ, who can make a true and eternal change both in their lives and also in the society.
  • We also teach Christians to be salt and light in the midst of this darkness. They must be active in helping people who are suffering and at the same time share the gospel by telling others that only Jesus is the true solution to the problems in Iran.

How should we pray?

Many families have been torn apart. Many reports tell of people congregating around Evin Prison in Tehran, hoping to secure the release of family members. Some young people have been killed, and many have disappeared. Please pray for these young people and their families.

People are also suffering economic hardship, no longer able to buy milk, cheese, or eggs. Pray that they would come to know that God loves them and cares about their situation. Pray that the leaders in Iran will have compassion on their people and instead of treating them as thugs, accusing them of being CIA agents, and heartlessly killing them, that they would care for their felt needs.

This is a great time for Christians to shine. Pray that the 2 million Christians in Iran will reflect Christ’s character by their love and actions. Also pray they will bring true hope and lasting change to the lives of millions by sharing the gospel.

And finally, please pray for Iran Alive. God has graciously positioned us to have a tangible impact on at least 6 million people according to a recent poll. This is the number who watch us regularly and for whom we are their favorite channel. Pray that the Lord will give us wisdom and provide for us financially so that we can have maximum impact during this historic time in Iran.

Look for parts 4 and 5 of this series later this week.


Related Articles:

CNN, Laura Smith-Spark. “Iran Protests: University Tracks Detained Students.” CNN. Accessed January 9, 2018.

What Started the 2018 Demonstrations in Iran?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Understanding the 2018 Iran Uprising

In the final days of December, Iranians took to the streets in protest against the government and shouted, “Death to the dictator” (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) and “Death to Rouhani” (the president). Through this first week of 2018, demonstrations have erupted in nearly every province in Iran.

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The main cause for these demonstrations? The economic pain and desperation of the people. In the past six months, about 30 percent of our incoming prayer requests from Iran have been related to the economic situation. One of our viewers shared last week that she and her husband are so financially desperate that they were considering selling their three-month-old baby to human traffickers!

Basic Goods out of Reach for the People

In recent months, the price of some basic goods like dairy products, meat, eggs, and gas has risen sharply. For the past two years, many families in Iran had to cut their consumption of meat to once per month. Now they cannot even afford that. Forget meat; now they cannot afford milk, cheese, or eggs.

While the Corrupt Elite Enriches Itself

What makes the people’s pain worse and makes them even more angry and frustrated are the following realities:

The religious elite controls the economy. More than 85 percent of the economy is controlled by those in power (the clergy and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard). The people see this as the elite taking advantage of the common people so even though they are rich, they can be richer.

Corruption within the government continues freely. Every month the people hear news of large embezzlement by those within the government—but no arrests or accountability. While common people continue to suffer, those in power steal the oil income and store it in foreign banks. They steal instead of investing that money in the country’s economy because maybe they also see that their end is near.

The powerful live in luxurious abundance. Daily, the people see the elite living in luxury homes and driving luxury cars—more Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and Maserati’s travel the streets in Tehran than in Beverly Hills.

More than a quarter of the country is unemployed. The unemployment stated by the government is 12 percent, but in reality, more than 25 percent are unemployed. Unemployment among young adults is as high as 40 percent. Noticeable segments of society in their 30s and even 40s are educated (often highly) but have no jobs—not even low-level jobs such as driving taxis. They still live with their parents, cannot find jobs, and cannot get married. They battle a hopelessness with deep depression that they often relieve temporarily with some addiction. Most families in Iran are impacted by addiction because at least one close family member (father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister) is addicted. Unemployment and addiction are prime causes for people being on the streets, the majority of these people being under 30 years old.

The children of the elite “inherit” the best paying jobs. The people have seen that those in power have the best paying jobs—and now the elite are passing on these jobs to their kids, a generation of spoiled children with no education. Children of the powerful receive a job without earning it while millions with education cannot make a living.

The Islamic government cares more for supporting regional allies than its own people. The people now see that the Islamic government has no heart for the suffering of its own but spends millions of dollars monthly to help Hezbollah in Lebanon and President Assad in Syria. They know that the government is spending large sums of money to take control of Yemen and Iraq. They were hoping that the $150 billion that Obama administration gave Iran’s government would benefit them, but as I predicted in 2015 and again in 2016, the windfall did not benefit them but was used instead to oppress them and persecute Christians even more.

What Can You Do?

Throughout this time of unrest, we have broadcast live every evening during prime time to share God’s heart and mind with the people. They are crying out in pain and looking for answers. Would you pray that millions will hear and receive God’s love and concern for their suffering?

In the next few days, I will be posting more on this issue. I will let you know what I expect will be the outcome of this mass demonstration, what the differences are between this uprising and the Green Movement of 2009, and yes, how this uprising will help Christians and the cause of Christ in Iran—at least for the short term.

If you wish to read more stories and stay up to date on issues in Iran and with our ministry at Iran Alive, please text “Iran” to 74784.


Related articles:

Erdbrink, Thomas. “Hard-Liners and Reformers Tapped Iranians’ Ire. Now, Both Are Protest Targets.” The New York Times, January 2, 2018, sec. Middle East.

Lister, Tim. “Protests Die down, but the Anger in Iran Won’t Go Away.” CNN. Accessed January 5, 2018.

Shariat, Hormoz. “Lifeline from Nuclear Deal Helps Iran Oppress Its Own People.” June 2, 2016.

Shariat, Hormoz. “The Nuclear Agreement with Iran: Is It a Good or a Bad Deal? (Part 2).” September 22, 2015.

Urgent! Iran Needs Your Prayers

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Understanding the 2018 Iran Uprising

I’m sure you have heard by now of the daily protests across Iran. The people are demonstrating against the government because they feel utterly hopeless that life in Iran can get any better.

This is a critical time not only for Iran but for the Gospel. Please watch my short video message and stand with us for Iran in prayer.

Would you specifically pray that we can communicate God’s heart and mind to the millions of Christians and Muslims watching our daily, live prime-time broadcasts during this time of unrest?

Thank you for standing with us.

To receive more stories and information about what is happening in Iran, text “Iran” to 74784.

3 Reasons the Magi Were Persian

In the story of Christ’s birth there are many familiar characters: Joseph, Mary, Herod, the Jewish leaders, and shepherds. But there are also several (at least three) strange foreigners called “Magi” who unexpectedly come out of nowhere. Even more shocking is that they are more alert, more knowledgeable, and have deeper spiritual understanding of the meaning of the birth of Jesus than most of Jesus’s ethnic relations.

Hossein-Behzah-Birth of Jesus-Magi

But who are these Magi who mysteriously appear around the time of Jesus’s birth and who are prepared to worship him and give him gifts? Where are they from? How do they know so much about his birth and who he is?

People from many nations—places such as Pakistan, India, and even China—claim that these Magi were from their lands. But I say they were from Iran. I say this not because I am from Iran and want to force Iran into the Bible—the Bible already has a lot to say about Persia (Iran)—but I say this because of the evidence.

May I present to you three reasons that support the fact that the Magi were from Iran?

1) The word “Magi” is a Persian word.

The Magi were not kings but were dignitaries and advisors in the court of Persian kings. They were high priests of the Zoroastrian religion. The Persian kings respected them, valued them, and sought their advice in their decisions.

2) Images in the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem depict the Magi as Persians.

The Church of Nativity was erected in AD 329 by Empress Helena, Constantine’s mother, in the area believed to be where Jesus was born. In AD 614, a mosaic of the Magi on the floor of the church saved it from destruction by a Persian rampage. The mosaic depicts the Magi in Persian clothing. (A ninth-century synod in Jerusalem quoted this example to show the utility of religious images.) This early image does not prove the identity of the Magi, but it shows an early, widespread understanding of who they were.

3) The Magi were familiar with the prophecies of the Old Testament.

As we can see in Matthew 2, the Magi were not just following a star out of curiosity; they had great preknowledge about this birth and the identity of Christ. They knew who they were seeking, and what to do when they found him: worship.

When they saw the star, they knew instantly that it was pointing to the Christ child. They told Herod, “We saw his star” (Mt 2:2, emphasis added). They knew that a child would be born around that time and were expecting it. They knew Jesus was a King, asking Herod, “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews?” They also knew that the child was not only a King but was God. They proclaimed, “[We] have come to worship him.”

Zoroastrians believe there is only one God, and he alone must be worshiped. The name of God in Zoroastrian books is “Ahura Mazda” (meaning “the good Lord”). Incidentally, the short form of this word is “Hormoz”—yes, the Zoroastrian name for the One God is where I get my name.

But how did these men know about the coming King? The answer is easy: Daniel. Daniel was (and is even now) respected in Persia as a prophet from God. His book, written in Iran, was available and revered by Persians. Not many people know that for centuries, many who lived in Iran were true believers in the God of the Bible. This was not just because of Daniel, but also because of Nehemiah, Habakkuk, and Esther. At the end of the book of Esther, we read that many Persians came to know the God of Israel.

The Bible also says that when Persian King Cyrus set the captive Jews free, only a small number went back to their land. They returned at several stages, and the total number of those who returned are estimated to be only around 50,000 people. Therefore, millions of Jews stayed in Persia and lived there for centuries.

It is probable that the high priests of the Persian kings were required to know the Old Testament and especially the prophecies of Daniel. That is the reason these Magi were so knowledgeable about who Jesus was and the timing of his birth.

Conclusion: What Can We Learn?

It is not really important to prove where these Magi were from. What is important is that “non-Jews” found the Christ child and worshiped him long before hardly any Jews even knew he existed. This teaches us that God’s great desire is for people from all nations to know him and worship him.

We also learn that giving is an inseparable part of worship. Yes, we should worship God with praises on our lips, but that alone is not enough and might even be considered as an empty worship—just lip service.

Giving is an integral part of worship. We should worship God with our gold (possessions), our myrrh (willingness to suffer for him, to deny ourselves, to carry our cross, and to participate in his work), and our frankincense (becoming the fragrance of Christ to this world, as in 2 Cor. 2:15, by reflecting his character and loving the lost).

Worshiping God in this manner is exactly what you are doing by standing by us, loving the Muslims enough to share the gospel with them. Persia once worshiped the God of the Bible and Jesus, his Son. Many Persians are seeking him once again. Thank you for showing them the light of God’s star, that they might follow him.

Shiite Christianity in Iran

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Challenges and Opportunities for the Iranian Church

A vibrant church in Iran has the potential to change the face of the entire Middle East. But the church in Iran has unique challenges that we must address. Indeed, three current challenges are creating a crisis for the Iranian church. Yes, a crisis!

Of course, these three challenges mean that there are also three opportunities for responding and correcting the problems. I want to visit the first of these crises and opportunities today, a crisis that is a bigger threat to the future of church in Iran than even the Islamic government.


Crisis 1: Shiite Christianity 


The Church is growing, numerically, very fast in Iran. Operation World lists the annual growth rate at one new believer for every five existing. But the growth of leadership, training, and teaching is not keeping up.

Ninety-five percent of believers in Iran are isolated Christians. So out of an estimated 2 million Christians, only 50,000–100,000 are connected to a church of any kind, such as underground, online, or above the ground.

Many individuals are coming to Christ—evangelism is relatively easy—but congregations are few and weak. Don’t get me wrong—the Christians in Iran, as individuals, are strong. They are dedicated and hungry to know Jesus and walk with the Holy Spirit. But when they gather, they do not automatically form healthy congregations.

medium_do-christians-and-muslims-worship-the-same-deity“Three current challenges are creating a crisis for the Iranian church.”

Iranians have no model for healthy, biblical community. They know how to relate to the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, but they do not know how to relate to each other. With so many new believers and very few mature believers, there is nobody to teach and model such biblical relationships.

As a result, Iranian cultural values define their relationships instead—this is what I call “Shiite Christianity.” Shiite Christianity is a bigger threat to the future of church in Iran than even the Islamic government of Iran.

How Christianity in Iran Becomes “Shiite Christianity”

When Islam invaded Iran, it was Sunni Islam. But Sunni Islam did not suit Persians well, a people long known for their emotional poetry; it lacked any emphasis on emotional experience. So they adapted Islam to fit their culture. They invented what is now known as Shiite Islam.

“Shiite Christianity is a bigger threat to the future of church in Iran than even the Islamic government of Iran.”

Iranians are doing the same thing, unconsciously, with Christianity. Here are some of the symptoms of the influence of the Iranian culture on the church:

  1. Overdependent on emotions. The good news is that Shiite Muslims already value emotional experience, and so they crave experience with God—a relationship. Praise God! Allah does not give them this, but Jesus does. Lives are often changed in dramatic ways for individuals and families.But Iranian Christians can become too dependent on emotions and experience, and this overdependence can be very dangerous. Without Bible knowledge, these Christians can be easily deceived since they don’t know how to discern between the Holy Spirit and a demonic spirit.
  2. Dictator Leadership. For Iranians, Allah is a dictator. The government is a dictator. Even family structures are authoritarian. So when Iranians form a congregation, they know no other form of leadership. Dictator leadership seems normal and feels natural to not only the leaders but also most of the people in the congregation. Servant-leadership, on the other hand, is a mystery to them. Most Iranians view servant-leadership as “weak leadership” and do not heed to it.When dictator leadership combines with a lack of Bible knowledge, all sorts of heresy can slip in. The result is often a cult rather than Christianity. There are many cults in Iran—some are imported and some are homegrown—but they are growing fast.
  3. Reactionary Individualism. After lifetimes of submitting to authority—often cruel authority—some Iranians become reactionary to any authority. Instead of submitting to one another in the Spirit (Eph. 5:21), they claim the presence of the Holy Spirit means they have no need to submit to or respect the teaching of pastors and leaders. This individualism makes leading and fostering unity even more difficult. There are many divisions among the believers in the few congregations that exist.

Opportunity 1: Using Media to Help Grow a Healthy Iranian Church 


While a vibrant church in Iran has the potential to change the entire Middle East, a poorly trained church might end up creating more lasting damage for spreading the gospel in the region than no church at all.

This is why I have been working many years now not just to spread the gospel but to grow healthy Christian communities and transformed, mature believers.

The good thing about the media is that you don’t just tell but you can also show. The opportunity here is for us to model Christ-like community and servant-leadership while providing sound biblical teaching.

The Islamic government of Iran has outlawed any gathering of Christians and sentences those who gather in homes to long jail sentences. Under these circumstances, there is no other way to enter the homes of Christians and help them except through media.

Here are just some of the benefits of using media:

  • Media gives isolated Christians continuous access to comprehensive, sound Bible teaching.
  • Media makes available the virtual modeling of Christian community and servant-leadership in places where the infant church has been driven underground.
  • Media has the power to touch and change culture—for better or worse.

Four years ago I started a global church called “Church 7” as a response to Shiite Christianity. By connecting believers across the globe and modeling what a community of Christians should look like through weekly worship services and live programs, Church 7 goes beyond teaching individuals. It helps point to the kind of loving community that Jesus meant His Church to be.

Join Me to Make Lasting Change for a Healthy Church in Iran

The challenge of Shiite culture changing the Iranian church is a huge one, but the opportunity for the Iranian church to change Shiite culture is just as big.

The time is now to make a lasting difference for the growing Church in Iran. I hope you will join me in praying and working for the expansion of God’s Kingdom in Iran and the whole Middle East “…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13, NIV).

If you want to know more about how Church 7 is changing lives, text “IRAN” to 74784 to receive more information and video links.

 

The Pain beneath the Veil.

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. _71130188_hijabSharia 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.

Related Articles:

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)

“When Home Is a Prison,” December 22, 2015.