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.

Trump’s Nuclear Ultimatum: Now What?

My Expectations for the Next 120 Days and Beyond

Trump’s speech on the nuclear deal with Iran on January 12, 2018, has caused a jolt around the world. His ultimatum giving 120 days to fix “disastrous flaws” in the Obama-led nuclear deal has created shock waves not just in Iran but Europe and other countries as well. The reason is that the continuation, cancellation, or even modification of this deal will impact many countries in several tangible ways.

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Below, I give a summary of the reactions, the reasons behind them, and what I think various sides of this agreement will do. I hope this will benefit your thinking through the different opinions on this hot-button issue.

 

The Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI)

For the IRI, there is panic and fear. They know that if sanctions are restarted, it will put much pressure on both the government and the people of Iran. The government will become weaker, and the people, who are already fed up with the situation, may develop a more effective uprising that threatens even the IRI’s existence. It is a known fact that the previous set of sanctions imposed from 2012 to 2015 was bringing the government of Iran to its knees. The nuclear deal and the resulting $150 billion given to Iran was truly a lifeline to them, enabling them not only to survive but to thrive.

Secretary-General of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Hassan Rohani speaks to the media in Tehran.

The previous set of sanctions imposed from 2012 to 2015 was bringing the government of Iran to its knees.

Nevertheless, the IRI has several ways to stop America from imposing new sanctions. How? Many European countries have made lucrative financial deals with Iran since the removal of previous sanctions, and they receive a substantial portion of their oil from Iran. Therefore, new sanctions will not only damage Iran but will also damage these countries. Russia and China will also join the pack supporting the IRI, not because of financial gain—they benefit either way because they will continue a financial relationship with Iran secretly even with sanctions—but because they do not agree with US policy.

So, it is very possible that the IRI will persuade the other countries to stand up to any U.S. demands to negotiate a new deal and impose new sanctions.

 

The People of Iran

Surprisingly, most Iranians support Trump’s policy towards Iran. It is interesting to note that the U.S. mainstream media covers the reaction of the IRI to Trump’s remarks regarding rewriting the nuclear deal, but they do not cover what the people of Iran say about it. Why? Because contrary to the mainstream media, the Iranian people are mostly pro-Trump on this issue.

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Surprisingly, most Iranians support Trump’s policy towards Iran.

Here are the reasons:

  1. In 2012 when the previous sanctions were imposed, the people of Iran stood behind their government and blamed the American-led sanctions for their bad economy and hard life. But now they have seen that even when the sanctions were lifted and the Obama administration gave the IRI $150 billion, the people’s situation remained the same. They are desperate and know that with or without sanctions, they will have a hard time earning a living, they will be oppressed, and they will be killed if they protest. They feel they have nothing to lose. They are so utterly hopeless that Trump’s standing up to IRI and trying to restore sanctions gives them some hope that they desperately need. It gives them a faint hope that maybe the future could get better.

 

  1. Trump is addressing the human rights issue in Iran. President Obama never did that. Even during the uprising of 2009, he was silent and gave not even a word of encouragement or support to the Iranian people. Trump, in contrast, has put 14 Iranian individuals on the blacklist. One is Mr. Larijani, who is the head of judiciary in Iran and has been directly involved in the arrest and execution of the young people in 2009 and 2018. This gesture by Trump gives Iranians a feeling that finally somebody is caring and talking about the human rights violations in Iran and doing something about it.

 

  1. Trump’s tough stand against the IRI gives the people of Iran hope that maybe this administration somehow will remove the brutal dictatorship from Iran. They deeply desire this and will support Trump even if it means they will have to suffer through another set of sanctions. Through eight years of Obama’s foreign policy that appeased the IRI, the people of Iran lost hope that the U.S. would ever do anything to help them and even doubted that the U.S. cared at all. Do not forget that the Iranian people love and admire the U.S. If they were given a choice, they would choose to have an American-style democracy established in Iran. They even desire that Iranian society would adopt American social norms and lifestyles.

 

The European Governments

They will not support Trump’s call to renegotiate the nuclear deal and impose new sanctions. Why?

  1. They have much to lose. Just as Trump’s “America First” financial policy puts America’s financial interests above the interests of other countries, the European countries will also put their financial gain above Trump’s foreign policy toward Iran. Currently, Iran is sending 40 percent of its oil export to Europe, and these countries are dependent on that oil for their economy. Many have made lucrative long-term deals with Iran in the past two years. For example, the French energy giant Total has closed a deal with Iran to invest US$4.8 billion there.

 

  1. In general, these countries do not care about U.S. foreign policy, and they may even be against it. It is not an issue for them when Iran stands up to the U.S. in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. They are not alarmed when the IRI threatens to wipe Israel off the map—and for certain they are not ready to pay a price just to diminish that threat to Israel.

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European countries will put their financial gain above Trump’s foreign policy toward Iran.

Russia and China

They most likely will side with the European countries and stand up to Trump trying to renegotiate the nuclear deal.

  1. Russia and the IRI both have similar goals for the Middle East and in many cases are working together to accomplish those goals (such as in Syria). A weak Iran could mean that the U.S. gains the upper hand in the areas where the IRI has been effectively meddling.
  1. By supporting Iran against U.S. demands, they will improve their relationship with the IRI even more both politically and economically. Iran needs them to help stop new sanctions and will probably offer them new trade deals if they help defend against Trump’s ultimatum.

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Iran will probably offer Russia new trade deals if they help defend against Trump’s ultimatum.

Summary

It looks as though Trump does not have enough support or leverage with the world powers and European countries to renegotiate the nuclear deal and muster up new sanctions. Of course, the U.S. could put sanctions on Iran unilaterally, but that would not be effective. Canceling any American financial dealings would create a vacuum that would be gladly filled by offers from Russia, China, and European countries.

As a result, Iranians will continue to be oppressed by a dictatorship that has shown that its main goal is survival and not caring for its own people.

There remains one possible hope for Iranians: the Revolutionary Guards, with or without direct help from America, could topple the rule of the clergy and establish a secular government. For the foreseeable future, that seems like the only way the government in Iran might—and probably will—change.

Meanwhile, Christianity is fast growing in Iran. The current events are the perfect storm through which the Lord is weaning Iran from Islam and attracting them with his love. Through all the bad news in Iran, he remains as the only good news.

Unfortunately, if the government of Iran changes to a secular democracy, the spiritual hunger of the people will die down very rapidly. So the time is short for Christians to work in Iran while this supernatural spiritual hunger exists.

We must work together to establish a strong church now. If we wait for Iran’s government to change, it will be too late.

The time is short for Christians to work in Iran while this supernatural spiritual hunger exists—so we are starting an equipping school called the “412 School.”

In 2018, we at Iran Alive are focusing on strengthening the underground church in Iran through equipping each Christian to be an agent of transformation. We are starting an equipping school called the “412 School” based on Ephesians 4:12—equipping the saints for the work of the ministry.

Would you join us to make this happen this year? Without friends like you, we are not able to do what we are called to do. We are issuing a “Macedonian call” to come and help us. Please contact me if you feel led to answer this call.

To express interest, you may send an email to info@IranAliveMinistries.org, which I check daily, or call (469) 982-0000. We will contact you to explore possibilities for partnership.