Christians under ‘the squeeze’ in Iran, but creative partnerships advance Christ

Iran (MNN) — Iran continues to pop up in the headlines often, and not for great reasons. An Iranian female chess player had to switch to the U.S. national team after being banned by Iran for refusing to wear a hijab. Iran’s breach of human rights has been challenged by Amir Hekmati, a U.S. marine corps veteran. Hekmati was in Iran visiting family when he was imprisoned and tortured by the Iranian government on espionage charges.

The U.S. State Department has categorized Iran as a Country of Particular Concern since 1999 under the International Religious Freedom Act. An annual report released by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom earlier this year stated, “During the past year, the government of Iran engaged in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including prolonged detention, torture, and executions based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused.”

USCIRF’s report also revealed in Iran, “As of December 2016, approximately 90 Christians were in prison, detained, or awaiting trial because of their religious beliefs and activities.”
Being an Iranian Christian
Levi MacGregor with Voice of the Martyrs Canada says the violations of religious freedom and human rights are especially stringent on the Iranian Christian population.

“We call what’s happening in Iran ‘the squeeze’, and the squeeze is when persecution is at such a rate that Christians are really just feeling pressured all the time and they’re living in an environment that is hostile to them, so their day-to-day living is very difficult. They can’t express their Christianity in any public way. Even in private, they have to be careful about what they say, how they act.”

Yet, MacGregor points out, “On the other hand, there is a great openness towards the Gospel in Iran right now. The people of Iran have discovered that Islam is not the solution to their problems. Islam is the problem. So right now, Iran is experiencing a great time of openness to the Gospel, especially among the younger generations which are unafraid to admit that there are issues with the government and are unafraid to pursue other alternatives to Islam.

“We want to be there to help them find that alternative, and there really is only one alternative that is going to bring them the peace and the joy that they’re looking for, and that comes from the Gospel.”

But spreading the Gospel is, understandably, much more difficult in a country like Iran. In order to empower the indigenous Church in Iran, it requires partnerships — lots and lots of partnerships.
Partnerships for the Gospel in Iran
Several of the organizations that Voice of the Martyrs Canada partners with have satellite television and internet initiatives to connect the Underground Church in Iran with the global Body of Christ. For example, their ministry partner Hovsepian Ministries runs a Facebook page with Gospel-centered content for Iranian readers and is proving effective among millennials.

“We’re also excited to be partnering with Iran Alive Ministries in doing their Church 7 program which brings church to Iran every single Friday, which is their Sabbath. And through that particular broadcast, we’re letting the Iranian Church know that they are the Church. They are not just watching another church service happen. They are part of the Church, they are experiencing church, they are worshipping together live.”

MacGregor adds, “And we’re excited to partner with Heart for Iran which is also doing similar projects and they’re building discipleship networks online and through satellite. [They are] connecting with brothers and sisters in Iran, discipling them and making sure that they are not just evangelized, but that they are discipled well and are able to spread and evangelize.”
‘Send Me Out’
One project in particular that demonstrates the heart of the Iranian Church is a new music video Voice of the Martyrs Canada is doing with Hovsepian Ministries. The song is called ‘Send Me Out’, written by Gilbert Hovsepian.

MacGregor shares, “I’m really excited about this music video because of the message, which is ‘send me out to the world and I will go.’ It’s really based off of that experience and example in Isaiah 6 in which the Lord asks, ‘Who will go for us? Who will we send?’ and Isaiah says, ‘Here am I. I will go.’

“The thing that strikes me about this music video is that Gilbert, the singer who stars in this music video, is the son of a Christian martyr. And instead of persecution crushing him and crushing his desire to share the Gospel, it explodes it and it encourages the rest of the Christian world to go out and share the Gospel as well.”

‘Send Me Out’ is an English song and the music video has Farsi subtitles. Click here to watch the newly-released ‘Send Me Out’ music video!

“It’s a call out of Iran, from Iranian people to the rest of the world, to the American Church, to the Canadian Church, to the Western civilization that says you are called to go as well, that we have freedoms here in our own nations that we can use to share the Gospel while we can and to take every opportunity.”
Three Prayers for Iran
So how then can we pray for and with our Christian brothers and sisters in the Underground Church in Iran? MacGregor shares three key things we can lift to the Lord:

“One prayer requests that Iranian Christian brothers and sisters have told me is that they are in desperate need for Persian theologians, Iranian believers who understand the Bible and are able to contextualize it and give it an Iranian cultural perspective.

“A second prayer request would be for the Iranian Church as a whole. Christianity is spreading very quickly in the country, but with any Christian culture that is spread quickly, it runs the risk of being very shallow. So we have to pray that there would be discipleship that comes alongside the evangelism, that takes these young believers and grows them into mature believers who then are willing to share the Gospel and disciple [others].”

And finally, he says, “The third prayer request would be for those brothers and sisters who find themselves at their wits’ end. It’s a very stressful situation that they live in, and I would ask you to pray for our brothers and sisters that when they run out of the strength to hold onto God, they would rest in the fact that God is holding onto them.”