George O. Wood and others of the Executive Leadership Team at the Assemblies of God national offices in Springfield, Missouri, recently participated in an international conference call with leaders of the Pentecostal movement in Iran.
|Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad|
The subject: the state of Christians who have been imprisoned for their faith, as well as the condition of the Iranian church, which is facing intense persecution nationwide.
U.S. church leaders gleaned information in a 30-minute conference call. No specific names of Christians in the Middle East country are being mentioned in this report.
The day after Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad publically congratulated Christians on the occasion of Christmas, an unprecedented roundup of followers of Christ began.
One leader publically condemned Christianity as an attack on the state religion. Iran’s Sharia law makes it a capital crime for a Muslim to convert to Christianity. Based on the inflammatory rhetoric, Christians anticipated elevated persecution.
And that did indeed result. Many Christians were rounded up and imprisoned in the days following Christmas. Their homes were ransacked and vandalized, computers destroyed, possessions seized and Christian art desecrated. The government is vowing more arrests.
Prisoners are allowed occasional outside contact. Some have said the physical conditions are better than expected, but others tell a different story ‹ one reminiscent of historic totalitarian regimes.
“Intimidation, harassment, accusations and violence” are the weapons of choice. Family members are threatened with violence and rape. Individuals are coerced to sign admissions that they have been deceived and return to Islam.
One Christian has endured three months of pressure to sign papers of confession for various crimes of which he is innocent.
But despite the threats, most followers of Christ are finding cause for rejoicing in the midst of their suffering.
One was told if Christians would simply agree to stop ministering, all the prisoners would be freed. But that clearly will not happen. Church leaders point to this persecution as evidence that they’re “doing a good job” of spreading the gospel.
One imprisoned female Christian, though facing health challenges, says she has had the opportunity to lead three people to the Lord, including a criminal on death row, making her trial worthwhile.
Another woman was arrested and interrogated for several hours. When she returned home, she was rejoicing that, because she had been arrested, she was able to lead someone else to salvation in Jesus.
No churches have been allowed to be built in Iran for decades. But this has caused house churches to proliferate, with hundreds in some cities. There are an estimated 1 million Christians among Iran’s 77 million people. And despite the looming threat, Shi’ite Muslims are turning to Christ in unprecedented numbers. One government official called this “a disaster.”
Thus far, Christians are known to have been arrested in at least 35 cities in Iran. There also are prisoners incarcerated for their faith in locations not made public.
One individual on the conference call asked why the persecution has escalated now.
A Christian in Iran replied that it’s because Christianity has been “discovered to be far more widespread than thought.”
“For the first time the government is telling the truth,” the Iranian Christian reported. “Christianity is widespread, and we thank God for it.” And the Western media has taken a significant interest.
Iranian Christians believe the time is now to do everything they can for Christ. Young men and women are passionate to bring people to Him. They are even enthused about sharing the gospel in their prisons. They are hopeful for a greater impact than ever.
“This year we will print more Scriptures than ever before,” one Iranian Christian said. Television and the Internet are having great impact, with many coming to salvation in Christ through those venues.
This is a crucial harvest hour, Iranian Christians assert. The reaction of the authorities is due to the success of the church. The more persecution there is, the stronger the Christian determination.
They sense “the goal of the government is to frighten [Christians] so that when they are released they will flee Iran,” thus purging the nation of Christianity.
But Christians don’t intend to flee.
“Keep calm and carry on,” they say, borrowing a motto from an earlier world conflict. “‘Keep calm,’” for the government is upon His shoulders. ‘Carry on,’ because He has promised to never leave or forsake us.”
For now, the greatest ways in which Christians elsewhere can help brothers and sisters in Iran include:
* Intercessory prayer.
* Church leaders in other countries to send messages of support for house churches and ask the Iranian regime to release imprisoned Christians and give them freedom of worship.
* Resources to print more Scriptures.
Ken Horn, D.Min., is the editor of the Pentecostal Evangel. Ken is an award-winning journalist who has been a pastor, missionary evangelist, and college professor. He has traveled widely (to more than 70 countries) on assignment and for ministry. Ken’s articles have appeared in dozens of publications. He has also had hundreds of photographs published. Ken has authored or coauthored 12 books.