Exclusive Interview: What Life Is Like For A Persecuted Christian In Iran
It is the land where Daniel refused to stop praying to his God, was thrown into the Lion’s Den and later rescued because of his faith. It was under the same empire that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to the idol of King Nebuchadnezzar, were thrown into the furnace and whose lives were spared because of their faith. It is the same place where Esther, by faith, saved her people.
One could argue that men and women of God have always dealt with persecution in this land, even during Old Testament times. However, along with that persecution, there have been multiple accounts of miracles and heavenly intervention for those who stood strong in their faith.
Iran, the 8th country on the Open Doors World Watch List, is a country rich with history, culture and mystery. However, due to the repressive regime, little is known to the outside world about daily life in this country, and even less in known about the ever-growing underground church.
The following is an interview with a Christian who has spent a great deal of time in this complex country and with the brave Christians who reside within its borders.
What are the three most important things for us to know about Iran and what life is like for Christians there?
First, it is important to know that prayer is the number one thing that Christians in Iran ask for. Sometimes, in the West, we will flippantly say ‘I will pray’ and won’t actually pray. Christians in Iran take prayer very seriously, because they know the power of prayer… they have seen the power of prayer and know the amazing influence it can have on their lives.
Next, it is important to know that fellowship is extremely difficult to come by. Christians in Iran have dealt with it all; people pretending to be Christians to spy on them, being fired from their jobs because of their faith, being attacked by family members because of their conversion, prosecution from the government and many more unspeakable acts. Christian fellowship and community is desperately needed, but difficult to find.
Finally, Christians in Iran want to obey the command to share their faith, but it is illegal. Some believe the cost is too high, but there are others who are willing to and do risk it all to share their faith.
Even though these Christians are faithful to share their faith with others (and more and more people are coming to Christ), there is still a great need for Bibles and for Christian training. The church is about a mile wide, but an inch deep. Many are coming to Christ, but are not being trained in the word because they do not have Bibles or proper theological training. Sometimes, new Christians are swayed into believing things that are not theological sound, simply because they do not know better. Due to the limitations within the country, there are very few discipleship programs available to help train these new Christians.
How do Christians in Iran deal with persecution? How do they get around the restrictions that they encounter?
Christians have to be creative with how they ‘do church’ in Iran. Church can be two people walking down the street, Christians chatting with other believers online or it can be a few friends meeting together in a home. However, Christians still need to be very cautious. The government will hire people as monitors living in apartment buildings, to report whenever they believe Christians are meeting together. The government also monitors Christian internet activity.
In the past, some groups of Christians in Iran (like Assyrians and Armenians) have not had as many restrictions, and were even able to meet in the open. However, the government has been cracking down on these groups as well in recent years.
Many people are familiar with the speech that a political leader gave a few years ago, when he said he would ‘wipe Israel off the map,’ but many people do not know that in that same speech, he also said that he intended to completely eradicate Christianity in Iran. Since that time, the government has taken numerous steps to ensure this. At first, the churches which were allowed to meet openly were told they were no longer allowed to meet in Farsi, but could only meet in their native language. Soon after that, the government said that churches could not meet on Fridays (the day of worship in Iran), but had to meet on Sundays. This was problematic, since Sunday is a ‘workday’ in Iran and many Christians could not meet because they had to work. Then, the government demanded that all church leaders turn in the names of those who were in their congregations. Some refused, since they knew that it would bring harm to those in their congregation and began to face more trouble from the government. Though Christians strive to find ways to meet together, they are constantly met with numerous governmental roadblocks.
Are there any signs of positive change in Iran?
From the government? No… and it is unlikely that there will be any positive change. Ahmadinejad believes that he will usher in the 12th Imam (part of the Islamic apocalyptic story) and believes that he will die a martyr. Christians in Iran ask us to pray, because it is unknown what steps he will take to try to ensure this.
However, there are positive signs of change from the younger generation in Iran. Iran has the youngest population in the world; the majority of Iran’s population was born after 1979 (after the Islamic Revolution). Most young people do not agree with the current regime and do not have the same hatred towards the West. Time changes things; young people will grow and mature and will eventually become leaders, old leaders will eventually pass away. The young people could eventually be change agents to help redevelop the government, if a war doesn’t break out beforehand. A great deal is unknown, but God knows what lies ahead for His church in Iran.
What are the greatest prayer requests from Christians in Iran?
Christian workers in Iran have asked us to pray for wisdom and direction. They need God to help them come up with more creative ways in overcoming the obstacles that they face. Outside Christians have helped set up Christian TV programs and websites, but the government continually tries to block these programs. Now Christian workers are praying for more creative ideas for outreach, training and teaching in Iran.
Iran is a country with an amazing underground church, which desperately needs our prayers. To learn more about Iran and to get involved in praying for and helping Christians in this country, go to http://www.prayirannow.com, a partner ministry of Open Doors.