Stories of Hope: The Vulnerable Church at Work in Iran
by Tom Widmer
Iran is a unique place in the Muslim world. Why? Because it’s on fire for Christ. This may sound antithetical, but the Holy Spirit is doing a mighty work there. In fact, more people have come to Christ in Iran in the last 14 years than in the previous 1,400 years combined!
God is working through Iranian men and women to share the Good News of Jesus in many unique ways. House churches have been springing up in unthinkable numbers with hundreds of thousands worshipping secretly. A vast array of internet and satellite programming is available – in a country where satellite dishes are illegal! The programming includes leadership training, theological training, model church services and much more. And Iranian ministries outside of Iran are providing leadership training to church leaders inside Iran.
One such organization is Pars Theological Center in London. Started by an Iranian Christian in 2010, Pars’ mission is to strengthen the Iranian church by training a new generation of biblically grounded servant leaders who will lead the church into loving God and one-another, transforming Iran for the glory of God. They offer a “virtual” seminary to train leaders both in Iran and in the Diaspora (outside of Iran). Building upon their online studies, students meet with pastors, trainers and instructors in secret locations in other countries for the courses and workshops. Curricula is also provided via other “non-traditional” techniques such as flash drives that are brought into the country and shared between leaders.
The new breed of Iranian church leaders is making an impact. Here’s a story of how one Iranian Christian made a difference, and saved lives – both physically and spiritually:
One day, while she was in law school in Tehran, Narineh came across a disturbing case in her research. Two years earlier, there was a fight between two Muslim 17-year-olds, Afshin and Feridoon, in a nearby town. In the altercation, Feridoon hit Afshin on the head with a broken piece of glass. Afshin died from the injuries. Feridoon was arrested, sent to the local prison and sentenced to death. However, because he had not reached legal age, the court postponed his execution until a later date.
Feridoon’s family was not well off. His mother had died young and his elderly father, a builder, had great difficulty providing for his family. Given the family’s limited income, the court appointed a lawyer to help appeal Feridoon’s sentence. The defense was unsuccessful and Feridoon’s death sentence was upheld.
Narineh, having read through the file two years after it was written, realized that Feridoon was soon to be executed. She was eager to meet with him and thus made arrangements to visit him in prison. When they met, Feridoon began to cry, begging Narineh to find some way to save him. She spoke to him about Christ, telling him to put his trust in Jesus. The next day, Narineh went to meet with Afshin’s family. She spoke to them about the love and grace of Christ, as she had done with Feridoon. Given their anger, hatred and pain, they paid little attention to Narineh’s words, insisting that Feridoon should be executed. Narineh read the Sermon on the Mount to them and spoke to them about forgiveness, but with no effect. She gave them her telephone number offering to assist with any legal problems but also encouraging them to understand the significance of Christ’s forgiveness before it was too late.
A week later, Afshin’s mother phoned Narineh saying that for several nights she had dreamt of Christ being crucified. In these dreams she saw Christ on the cross, without hatred, and with eyes full of love, praying for the forgiveness of others. Afshin’s mother asked Narineh to visit them again. This time, Afshin’s family listened to her every word. Narineh gave them a video of the “Jesus” film, once again encouraging them to understand the importance of forgiveness.
Narineh was given permission to visit Feridoon once more before his execution. She encouraged him again to pray in the name of Jesus, reassuring him that the Lord loved him and had not left him alone. He was to be executed in five days.
Two days prior to the execution, Afshin’s family experienced a radical change of heart. Through Narineh’s witness and their watching the "Jesus" film, the Holy Spirit touched their hearts. They decided to visit Feridoon in prison. There, they told Feridoon that they forgave him. Then they went to the prison office and requested that Feridoon be set free and not executed. There were no dry eyes in the room. No one could understand the grace Afshin’s family showed toward Feridoon.
The next day, Feridoon was released. He immediately went to Afshin’s family to thank them. In response they said, “Thanks be to Christ! He is the one who helped us show mercy and it was Christ who wanted us to find new life.” Narineh was invited to join them along with Feridoon’s family. “New life” truly flowed into Afshin’s house that afternoon. At Narineh’s invitation, all those present committed themselves to Christ. Hatred melted away, replaced by love, grace and forgiveness. Today, both families lead house churches.
“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.” 2 Corinthians 2:14
Click HERE to learn more about Pars Theological Center.
Director of Development