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.
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.