The title on the front cover of the newsletter caught my attention: “Christian revolution in Iran.” It was superimposed on a picture of Iranians in a living room kneeling around a white coffee table, their heads bowed, holding up small communion glasses. The words “Christian” and “Iran” are not usually linked together in the same sentence, so I was intrigued.
This Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) publication (November 2008) has an extensive article on what is happening in Iran. The newsletter shows pictures of believers being baptized and others distributing Farsi New Testaments and Bibles to new Iranian Christians. One picture showed Iranian women watching a Christian satellite TV broadcast. I also saw several pictures showing the effects of beatings some of these new Christians have endured as a result of their faith.
According to this article, persecution of Christians is alive and well in Iran. Arrests, torture, imprisonment and death threats are common. Sometimes these beatings lead to death. Ever since the 1979 revolution, Iran has been under Sharia Law. It has laws against evangelism, leaving Islam and large assemblies by Christians. A new law proposed in February 2008 sets the death penalty as the only punishment for a Muslim male who leaves his religion.
In spite of all this, Christianity is spreading significantly around the country. New believers, knowing the possible consequences of their conversions, are still accepting Christ and spreading the Word to others. Since 2004 Iranian Christians have distributed more than 46,000 VOM evangelism videotapes. It is estimated that at least 500 Iranian Muslims are converting to Christianity every month.
Christian satellite TV programming is a big factor in this evangelism effort. Christians invite their Muslim friends for dinner and afterward gather around the TV to watch some of these programs. VOM says that many Iranians are coming to Christ as a result, but there are also risks for those who produce these TV programs. Even if they don’t live in Iran, they have also been threatened with injury, disfigurement and even death. In spite of these threats, TV evangelism goes on.
One story is told of a Christian taxicab driver who has a wooden cross hanging from his rearview mirror and who plays Christian music on his car’s cassette player. He greets his passengers with “Hello” and “God bless you.” In the car trunk he carries a box of Bibles and is not afraid to hand these out to passengers interested in learning more about Isa (Jesus). There are dozens of these drivers in various cities who spread the Gospel through their work. They say the thirst for Christ is incredible in Iran.
One house church leader and his wife have traveled by bus all over Iran to spread the gospel. They go to a city, find a place to stay and then visit coffee houses, city parks and college campuses looking for people to talk with. The VOM newsletter states: “Sometimes in as little as a week, they have a nucleus of new believers in a city and a house church is born. Their single network of house churches has grown from one city to more than 50 cities.” Wow!
What amazes me is that these young Christians are so strong in their beliefs that they are willing to face the incredible threats thrown at them. One woman who endured serious torture said of her tormentors: “We pray for them, that God will guide them. We just believe that they will believe in Jesus one day. We just pray for them that God will guard them and help them…that maybe these things won’t happen to other Christians.” These Christians have biblical precedent for this attitude. Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44).
When I read of the persecution in the early church, I see Saul (later called Paul) guarding the clothes of the men stoning Stephen and giving approval to his death. On the day that Stephen was stoned, “a great persecution broke out against the church…and all except the apostles were scattered…. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:1,4).
Persecution increased evangelism efforts in the early church. It still does today. Even Saul, one of the persecutors, had his own dramatic encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus and became a messenger for the gospel. Later during his own missionary journeys he endured many episodes of persecution himself.
We need to pray for the people of Iran, for the new Christians, for those who are being persecuted and even for those in government. Can you imagine what would happen to President Ahmadinejad, members of his government and others in leadership if ten thousand Christians prayed for them every day?