Category Archives: Iran

Lost As We Once Were And In Need Of A Saviour

The annual Ramadan observance has begun, and Muslims around the globe are fasting during daylight hours. At the same time, our church is participating in the “30 Days of Prayer” worldwide movement that prays “with faith, hope and love for the Muslim world” during this period.

According to the “30 Days of Prayer” booklet, Ramadan is a time when Muslims put a renewed emphasis on prayer, charity and reflection. It is a time when their hearts are open.

And the booklet states that the greatest turning of Muslims to Christ in history has been occurring in the 21st century. It adds: “It is no small coincidence that this great awakening in the Muslim world has coincided with an unprecedented prayer movement.”

Here in Australia we see modest signs of this awakening, with a small but steady stream of Iranian Muslims turning up in church and expressing a desire to learn about the Christian faith.

At a church where I previously worshipped there were even Farsi-language Bibles available for newcomers, and when we went on a church camp all the lecture slides were in both English and Farsi.

Over breakfast at the camp one morning I tried to engage in conversation with some of the Iranians in attendance – mainly young men – asking them questions about their lives. But I found them strangely reticent to talk with me.

Later, the wife of our senior pastor quietly approached and told me that – very sadly – Iranians attending church have learned to be suspicious of questioners. “They don’t know who their real friends are, even in church,” she said. “They never know what will get back to the Iranian authorities. Their new faith could be used against them or their families. There are spies around.”

Still, as I have prayed for – and have come to know – some Iranians in Australia, I have heard a few of their inspiring stories.

One told me how he used to secretly watch Christian sermons on the internet back in his home town. “Christianity is a religion of love,” he said. “That really attracted me.” He is still formally Muslim, but often attends church and a Bible study group.

Another said she had a job in Iran that involved meeting foreign tourists. “I used to ask them questions all the time about Christianity,” she said.

A third was a refugee who came in a leaky boat to Australia. She was detained for a time on Christmas Island, where the Australian government maintains a refugee processing center.

“I met a missionary couple there, and they started to teach me about Jesus and the Bible,” she told me. “I wanted to learn more and more. All the other refugees couldn’t wait to get off Christmas Island, but I loved it there, because of those missionaries.”

She enrolled in art classes, and was so enthusiastic about her new faith that her first major painting was a shimmering image of the cross of Jesus. It was recently displayed in a public exhibition of refugee art. She is donating it to the church that baptised her.

So I have come to appreciate the wise words of the “30 Days of Prayer” booklet: “It is important, when getting to know Muslims, not to make assumptions about their beliefs based on what you may have read on the internet or seen in the news. Every individual Muslim is on their own journey of faith.”

And, more than ever, I have learned the truth of the booklet’s conclusion: “As we pray for Muslims, we find that our heart begins to change. We begin to see them as God sees them. They are not the unknown purveyors of a dangerous and threatening ideology. They are men and women, boys and girls, who are lost – as we once were – and in need of a Saviour.”

Beautiful Soccer Fans – Another Side of Iran

Hundreds of beautiful Iranian women have been turning out to watch their country’s soccer players at the Asian Cup tournament, now under way here in Australia.

It has caused consternation back home in Iran, where women are not allowed to attend men’s sporting events. Here is the Sydney Morning Herald:

Ali Akbar Mohamedzade, head of the moral committee of the Iranian Football Federation, issued [a] warning last week as photos of players with women fans circulated on social media.

“National team players should be aware that they won’t be used as a political tool so that those who take pictures with them don’t use these photos against the players,” Iran’s “Shahrvand” newspaper quoted him as saying. “So according to this they should not take photos with everyone. If the players don’t respect this, we will be obliged to take action.”

It is an indication that Iran is not as monolithic as many Westerners believe. Despite the fierce anti-Americanism of the government, the people are surprisingly Western in their outlook, and in fact very pro-America.

Tens of thousands of Iranians live in Australia. They are showing their support for their former homeland with their enthusiastic support for the Iran soccer team (one of the favorities for the tournament, by the way).

But they are also showing that Iran could one day change in ways that no one expects.

Iran – Persecution Getting Worse

By Martin Roth

Paul Marshall of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom reports that “Iran is widening its persecution of minorities.” He adds that “minorities are growing because many Muslims reject their rulers’ version of Islam.”

I have already linked to an article, “Freedom under threat: Christians in Iran continue to be persecuted by the regime” by British Member of Parliament Stephen Timms. He says that “Iran has a population of 74 million. Nobody knows how many are Christians, but the number appears to be growing fast. Some think it could be as high as 1.5 million.”

These are some of the most persecuted Christians on earth. Late last year a British parliamentary group published a report on the persecution of Christians in Iran. Here are a few of the brief testimonies contained in this chilling document.

* On one occasion Farshid [Farshid Fathi, an Iranian church leader who has been imprisoned since December 2010] was told to pack his few belongings and was led out to the prison gate, where he could see other inmates being released. However, on approaching the gate Farshid was suddenly stopped and returned to his cell. Such forms of psychological torture are used routinely within Iran’s prison system.

Sometimes the daily interrogation sessions would run from 8am until 11pm. They had a strategy: there were always two people who came to interrogate me; one was tough and harsh and the other was reasonable and trying to reason with me about my faith. They wanted the identities of the members of my churches. They would threaten me by saying things like “we have your wife captive” and then telling me that if I cooperated with them, they would help me.

The house churches, they have to be hidden from the Government. If the Government finds out, or any neighbour informs the Government, they will definitely, immediately attack and arrest all of them. Last Christmas they attacked many of these house groups and arrested over 100 people who were praying and having fellowship and worshipping God. Some of them even now are there in prison.

I said that these are some of the most persecuted Christians on earth. Yet Iran only makes it to No. 8 on the Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 countries where Christians are most persecuted for their faith. Tragically, conditions are even worse for many, many more of our brothers and sisters.

Iran – Testimonies Of Faith And Heroism

By Martin Roth

Stephen Timms, a British Labour Party Member of Parliament has written of his experiences in Turkey, investigating the persecution of Christians in Iran. He reports that Turkey has many churches for Iranian exiles, and he writes about some Iranian Christians:

* Natan became a Christian because he read a New Testament given to him by a young woman who lived next door.

I asked if he had discussed it with her. He pointed out he couldn’t – as a bachelor, it would have been improper for him to have long conversations with her. One day in 2011, Farhad [Natan’s brother] and Natan went by motorbike to give out New Testaments in a village. A police car gave chase, the officers drawing a gun at one point. Trying to escape on their motorbike, they crashed and were injured. They were taken into police custody, and had no medical treatment at all for a week. They were in prison for six weeks, part in solitary confinement, then released on bail. Natan decided to flee the country.

* Matthew was arrested for his faith, along with his wife, and imprisoned for three months, including a month in solitary confinement.

He was in a cell with ten others, including a journalist, an academic and other professionals, who shared a shower and toilet between them. On release, he fled to Turkey. His mother in law, who put up her house deeds as bail for him, was going to have to return to the police station shortly and was expected to have to forfeit her home.

* In Istanbul, Timms heard from an Iranian Christian of a small village where all the residents had become Christians – probably through watching a satellite TV broadcast.

[This Iranian Christian] met a nomadic family of seven people there who told him that, not long previously, as they did every year, they arrived at the village to rent a field and farm their animals for a season. They soon noticed something had changed. For a start, they were charged much less rent than usual, and for the first time they were given access to the landowner’s well. They found out these changes were because the landowner had become a Christian. The upshot was this family came to faith too. Only one of the seven, a young girl, can read. So, every night, when they strike camp, she reads the Bible to them and the family prays together.

Timms adds that the number of Christians in Iran appears to be growing fast:

We met many who had suffered for their faith in Iran – in some cases suffered terribly – but they hadn’t given up. Instead, they appeared to be even more determined to tell their fellow countrymen what they believed. [His emphasis.]

It is stories such as these, from a possibly unexpected source – Stephen Timms is also Chair of the Christian Socialist Movement – that should spur all Christians in the West too, to do all we can to retell these moving and heroic testimonies.