Christians in Iran are regularly targeted and imprisoned for worshipping and praying in their own homes behind closed doors and windows. Despite ongoing targeted persecution, the mission group Elam Ministries recently revealed that more people in Iran are becoming Christians. Compared to roughly 500 known Christians in 1979 there are approximately 360,000.
In 2014 Christians and Muslims protested against Iran’s persecution of Christians.
— Meet Iran (@MeetIran) August 7, 2014
Despite their efforts, millions of dollars has been spent on Islamic propaganda cracking down on finding newly converted Christians, and imprisoning them. Enforcement also resulted in permanently closing previously allowed public Farsi church services nationwide. Likewise, all Christian materials and books are prohibited and confiscated. Publishing and producing anything related to Christianity results in imprisonment, and more likely, death.
Amidst ongoing persecution, however, is a significant truth. More Iranians are becoming Christians. Elam Ministries recently told BosNewsLife that,
Church leaders believe that millions can be added to the church in the next few years — such is the spiritual hunger that exists and the disillusionment with the Islamic regime.
If we remain faithful to our calling, our conviction is that it is possible to see the nation transformed within our lifetime. Because Iran is a strategic gateway nation, the growing church in Iran will impact Muslim nations across the Islamic world.
One key member of the Elam team who is training Iranian believers for ministry, is Behrang Masoumi. He came to Christ after being invited to a Christmas party at a house church. When he arrived, he learned that one of his relatives had been going to that church for five years and was a Christian. He said, “I was shocked. I was even more shocked to discover that she had been secretly following Jesus for five years. And she had been praying for me all that time.”
Attending a Christmas Eve service is a costly choice. Last Christmas Eve, Iranian security forces raided a house and arrested five Christian men. Mohabat News, an Iranian Christian news agency, and the NCRI, a Foreign Affairs Committee of Human Rights, reported that Mr. Hosseini, Ahmad Bazyar, Faegheh Nasrollahi, Mastaneh Rastegari, and Amir-Hossein Ne’matollahi were arrested. No one knows where these men are or if they are alive.
Worshipping Jesus, if caught, results in imprisonment and likely, death. Yet enough people are becoming Christians to worry Islamic leaders. According Mohabat News, Islamic clerics are expressing serious concern about many young people converting to Christianity. One Islamic seminary leader, Ayatollah Alavi Boroujerdi, remarked that “accurate reports indicate that the youth are becoming Christians in Qom and attending house churches.” Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi also expressed his concern about the popularity of Christianity in Mashhad-area suburbs.
After ayatollahs publicly express their concerns, political enforcement officials are sent to Islamic centers to aid teachers and preachers to reach suburban youth. Increased persecution and rounds of arrests usually follows. And they are not solely focused on youth. One recent arrest was of an Iranian pastor’s wife who was charged with “acting against national security.” She denied all of the charges and was sentenced to five years in prison, according to Article 18, a UK-based organization that focuses on Christians in Iran and the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
Iranians becoming Christians is not a phenomenon limited solely to Iran. In 2016 The Independent noted that Iranian asylum seekers were attending churches in Germany and viewed Christianity as “a new chance at freedom.” One priest from the Evangelical-Freikirchlichen Gemeinde in Berlin, explained,
A lot of them come to Germany and think, here I can choose my religion and I want to choose a religion of freedom. For many Iranians that I’ve baptized, Christianity is the religion of freedom.
More recent news reports noted that 80 Muslims from Afghanistan and Iran converted to Christianity in Hamburg, Germany. Those who are baptized tell how their lives have changed because of Christ. One pastor explained,
Because the Christian faith changed the way of thinking, the world view. If someone told me that at night he can sleep again or an old enemy could forgive, then I know that in his heart he is a Christian.
The good news for Iranians is that despite the government’s concerted efforts to the contrary, Christianity continues to grow. And, even under the most oppressive conditions Christianity is still viewed by many as “the religion of freedom,” and love. Why? Because of what Christian converts repeatedly claim: “In Islam, we always lived in fear. Fear God, fear of sin, fear of punishment. However, Christ is a God of love.”