It’s a simple story that can be summarised in just two sentences:
Persecution threatened to wipe out Iran’s tiny church. Instead, the church in Iran has become the fastest growing in the world, and it is influencing the region for Christ.
Growth Amid Persecution
The Iranian revolution of 1979 established a hard-line Islamic regime. Over the next two decades, Christians faced increasing opposition and persecution: All missionaries were kicked out, evangelism was outlawed, Bibles in Persian were banned and soon became scarce, and several pastors were killed. The church came under tremendous pressure. Many feared the small Iranian church would soon wither away and die. But the exact opposite has happened. Despite continued hostility from the late 1970s until now, Iranians have become the Muslim people most open to the Gospel in the Middle East. How did this happen?
Two factors have contributed to this openness. First, violence in the name of Islam has caused widespread disillusionment with the regime and led many Iranians to question their beliefs. Second, many Iranian Christians have continued to boldly and faithfully tell others about Christ, in the face of persecution.
As a result, more Iranians have become Christians in the last 20 years than in the previous 13 centuries put together since Islam came to Iran. In 1979, there were an estimated 500 Christians from a Muslim background in Iran. Today, there are hundreds of thousands—some say more than 1 million. Whatever the exact number, many Iranians are turning to Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
In fact, recently the mission organisation Operation World named Iran as one of the fastest-growing evangelical churches in the world. According to the same organisation, growing nearly as fast as the Iranian church is the the church in Afghanistan - and Afghans are being reached in part by Iranians as a result of their languages being similar.
Three Changed Lives
The testimonies of Iranian men and women who’ve come to Christ are powerful.
Hamed, was a smuggler and drug dealer. He was violent and unkind towards his wife, Lydia, for many years. But after reading the New Testament and giving his life to Christ, he began to change. Seeing the transformation in Hamed’s life, Lydia also gave her life to Jesus. Today they are being trained to serve as evangelists.
Mona a middle-aged Iranian woman, wanted meaning for her life. One day, she met a Christian, Reza, who shared the Gospel with her. Afterwards, Mona had a dream about Jesus. She went back to Reza to learn more and gave her life to Christ. She began telling others about Jesus. Since being saved, Mona has seen God save her daughter and youngest son. She continues to witness to her husband and other son. Mona recently attended a conference with Elam. She now courageously distributes New Testaments inside Iran. Through her evangelism, seven women have come to Jesus, and she is discipling them.
Vahid is an Iran refugee living in the UK. He asked us to get a New Testament to his sister, Mina, who still lived in Iran. A few months later he called us excitedly to share that Mina had given her life to Christ. Moreover, Mina had shared the New Testament with three others who had all also come to Christ. A new house church is now forming.
The stories of Hamed, Mona, and Vahid are a few of countless remarkable testimonies of Iranians whose lives are transformed by Christ. Each one is a painful and yet marvellous celebration of the Gospel’s beauty. Each one is a powerful reminder that despite trials and persecution—perhaps because of the suffering—the Gospel of Jesus shines and the church of Jesus grows.
The Story God is Writing
We are living in a time when many Christians are suffering for their faith, particularly in Islamic contexts. People often react by preaching fear and hatred of the Muslim world. Yet the Apostle Paul reminds us that we are to “rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Rom. 12:12). This is our call.
And the story God is writing for Iran reminds us that we have every reason to rejoice and remain confident in our sovereign Lord and the power of his Gospel. Jesus will build his church. It’s a promise (Matt. 16:18).
Please pray for the people and nation of Iran.
Many more Iranians to give their lives to Christ.
Endurance and joy for Iranian Christians suffering in prison for their ministry—many have testified to sensing the prayers of the global church while imprisoned.
More trained leaders to serve as evangelists, church planters, and pastors to disciple the many new Iranian believers.
Persecution threatened to wipe out Iran’s tiny church. Instead, by God’s mighty hand, his church is growing rapidly. Praise him!