God is doing amazing things in places like Iran:
While Christianity in the West seems to be on its last legs, God is not yet finished with planet earth. He is still at work, including in places that we might least expect it. Not only has the spiritual centre of gravity shifted remarkably, with places like Asia, Africa and Latin America now the new home for a growing and vibrant Christianity, but even Muslim-majority nations are seeing the hand of God at work.
Iran is certainly an example of a nation where God is doing mighty things in very hostile places. Much has been reported of late of all the amazing activities that are occurring there. There are many ways this story can be told. Let me offer a few of these, beginning with a recent article. The headline alone is fascinating enough: “Iran has world’s ‘fastest-growing church,’ despite no buildings – and it’s mostly led by women: documentary”. The piece begins:
A new film tells the story of the “fastest-growing church” in the world, an underground, persecuted Christian movement in a country known for exporting radical Islamic terrorism — Iran. People in Iran, a Muslim-majority nation, are fleeing Islam in droves as believers bow their knee to Jesus and become aggressively pro-Israel, according to the documentary “Sheep Among Wolves Volume II.” “What if I told you Islam is dead?” one unidentified Iranian church leader says in the film, which was directed by Dalton Thomas and produced by Frontier Alliance International Studios.
“What if I told you the mosques are empty inside Iran?” he continues. “What if I told you no one follows Islam inside of Iran? Would you believe me? This is exactly what is happening inside of Iran. God is moving powerfully inside of Iran.” The pastor adds: “What if I told you the best evangelist for Jesus was the Ayatollah Khomeini? The ayatollahs brought the true face of Islam to light and people discovered it was a lie…After 40 years under Islamic law — a utopia according to them — they’ve had the worst devastation in the 5,000-year history of Iran.” www.foxnews.com/faith-values/worlds-fastest-growing-church-women-documentary-film
But don’t be misled into thinking that everything is therefore sweetness and light for Christians in Iran today. Although great revival is happening there, it is still very dangerous to be a Christian in Iran. As a recent article reminds us, “In Iran, It Is a Crime to Be a Christian”. The piece begins:
-Three of the Islamist judges known to preside over the trials of Christians are Mashallah Ahmadzadeh, Mohammed Moghiseh, and Ahmad Zargar. The international community needs to consider imposing sanctions on them.
-Converts to Christianity from Islam, according the Iran’s Islamic law, can face the death penalty. The Iranian Islamist judges generally resort to verses from the Quran and Hadith (Muhammad’s sayings and acts) to justify their verdicts.
-Iran systematically violates the U.S. International Religious Freedom Act and this is why, since 1999, the U.S. has designated the Islamic Republic as a “Country of Concern.”
-Under international law, the Iranian government has an obligation to respect freedom of religion. Yet, while Christians are being increasingly persecuted and their rights are violated in Iran at an unprecedented level, the international community still remains silent.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is unleashing a sweeping crackdown on Christians, particularly those who have dared to convert from Islam to Christianity. Most recently, nine Christians in Iran, possibly converts, have been convicted by the Islamic court, and each sentenced to five years in prison. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) arrested them for attending church services at a private house. www.gatestoneinstitute.org/15229/iran-christians-persecution
There are so many stories that can be told here, but a very famous one involves two brave Christian women who were imprisoned there for their faith. Their inspiring and incredible story is told in Captive in Iran (Tyndale, 2013). In it Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh discuss why they were willing to put Christ first, and face the terrible consequences.
Their story I now well known, but for those who do not know them, the book publisher offers this brief biographical sketch:
Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh were born into Muslim families in Iran. They met while studying Christian theology in Turkey in 2005, and realized they had become Christians at about the same time six years earlier. Deciding to join forces, they returned to Iran and began a program of mission outreach. Over the next two years, they handed out twenty thousand New Testaments in Tehran and other cities. They started two house churches in their apartment, one for young people and another for prostitutes. They extended their ministry with mission trips to India, South Korea, and Turkey. In 2009, Maryam and Marziyeh were arrested in Tehran for promoting Christianity—a capital crime in Iran—and imprisoned for 259 days in the city’s notorious Evin Prison. The official charges they received were apostasy, anti-government activity, and blasphemy for which they were sentenced to execution by hanging. As many around the world prayed for their freedom, and as a result of international lobbying, Maryam and Marziyeh were released in 2009 and cleared of all charges the following year. They consider it an honor to have experienced a little of Christ’s suffering by being imprisoned in His name. After their release, they emigrated to the United States.
Let me offer just two quotes from the book. The first describes something of what they did while imprisoned:
Now, as we entered each cell, we prayed for all the people who had been locked up there. We hoped they now had their freedom, that we had been faithful witnesses to them, and that they would continue to listen for the spirit of Christ moving in their hearts. Then we started thinking about the women who would be locked up there after we were gone. How could we reach out to them? There were damp places on the walls where little chunks of plaster had fallen off. Using these pieces of plaster as chalk, we wrote Bible verses and Christian messages all over the walls, and on the ceilings where prisoners could read them as they fell asleep. We prayed aloud and sang songs until late in the night. All alone in an underground prison cell, we shared a joyous celebration of faith.
And my second quote is the final paragraph of the book:
If anyone had told us five years ago that by now we would have spent more than nine months in an Iranian prison, been threatened with death, had our story told around the world, written a book (in English, no less), and moved to Atlanta, Georgia, we would have said they were crazy. But we had no idea what the Lord had in mind for us. For all the heartache we have experienced on this journey, we wouldn’t have missed it for anything. It has been our honor to serve Christ in this way, to take up our cross and follow Him faithfully anywhere He leads us. And it has been our honor to share this story with you.
I encourage all of you to get the book, read it, and share it around. It is an amazing story of God’s amazing grace, and of what true Christianity (in an age of cheap grace and easy-believism in the West) is really all about. But for those who want a short version of their story, see this article for example: english.alarabiya.net/en/features/2020/02/11/Meet-the-two-women-who-spread-Christianity-to-hundreds-in-Iran-s-Evin-prison.html
God is at work in Iran – and in so many other parts of the world. The stores of these great saints should spur us Western believers on to leave our lukewarm and apathetic faith, and to start seeking to be genuine disciples of our crucified and risen Lord.
(Australians will find Captive in Iran at Koorong: www.koorong.com/product/captive-in-iran-maryam-rostampour-marziyeh-amirizadeh_9781414371207?ref=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.koorong.com%2F )