Open Hearts in a Closed Land
Authentic, 2007, 114 pp., ISBN 978-1-85078-770-9
Mark Bradley gives a very concise and readable overview of the historical and current reasons Iran is so closed to the Gospel and why the hearts of the people are so open to Jesus. The author also recommends a very attractive 30-day prayer guide for Iran. See it at www.iran30.org.
The Iranian government is hostile to the Christian gospel. Evangelism, the printing of Scriptures, and home Bible studies are illegal. The law of apostasy demands execution of any Iranian born a Muslim who changes their religion. Yet "more Iranian Muslims have become Christian in the last twenty-five years than at any other time in the history of the country since the coming of Islam to Iran in the mid seventh century." (Introduction)
The majority of people in Iran are not fierce fundamentalists. But a minority support the ayatollahs who control all government and own all the guns. The rule of the ayatollahs came with the 1979 revolution against the U.S. supported Shah. Ayatollah Khomeini (whom the people expected to bring freedom from the Shah's control and corruption), developed a radical new Islamic political doctrine that an Islamic Republic should be ruled by a supreme spiritual leader. He rejected any role for secular politicians in a pure Islamic state. So the elected government can be overruled at any time by the Supreme Leader.
The government barely tolerates Christians as long as they stay quiet and just exist. If they speak out they get in trouble. Evangelism is completely illegal as it dishonors Islam. A new convert in a church is an apostate from Islam, a dishonor for Islam. Islam truly does call on the devout to kill apostates. Most Iranians are very uncomfortable with the law of apostasy, but there are enough in government committed to enforcing it that Iran is a very closed country.
Shi'as believe that the leaders of the Muslim community have to be from Mohammad's family. These are the Imams. The Shi'a faith was adopted nationally by the Iranians at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Iran is the only Shi'a nation. Ahmadinejad and his spiritual advisor, Mesbah-Yazdi, are guided in all policy by bringing back Mahdi, the 12th and final Imam, who is believed to be alive and will return. This return will be accompanied by worldwide catastrophe and turmoil. So creating such turmoil is not seen as negative. The tone of the government is clear: this nation is only for Muslims.
The Iranian government hates and fears the West. Iranians as individuals are among the most hospitable and polite people in the West. They have a great respect for Westerners on a personal level. But they are angry towards Western governments. They are fixed on the belief (not without reason) that the West has interfered with Iran to exploit her oil reserves. They are also angry about oppression of the Muslim Palestinians by Israel.
There are two main types of above ground churches, the historical churches of the Assyrians and the Armenians and the churches founded by 19th century missions (Presbytierans and Anglicans). An above ground Assemblies of God church was started in the 1950s from a Bible Study. The policy of the government is to recognize the Armenian and Assyrian churches. They are allowed to print Bibles and literature and follow their own rules for marriage and church life. They even have 3 representatives in Parliament. However, they are kept under tight control. Assyrians and Armenians struggle financially and in other ways. They have massively emigrated to the West. There are fewer than 10,000 remaining. Although tolerated, they are intimidated.
Menacing intimidation and harassment is government policy toward the newer Protestant churches because their members all used to be Muslims. It is forbidden to print any Christian literature in Persian. Anything printed in Persian is for Muslims, because there are no historic Persian-speaking Christians in Iran. Conferences, Bible camps, etc. are banned. The government insists that only Christians be allowed in their services and constantly gathers information on them and holds people for questioning. If a Muslim becomes a Christian, he may not be turned in to the government but he will surely be fired from his job and his children may be expelled from school.
The underground church is very active and growing. Iranians are open to Jesus because they are deeply disillusioned with their Islamic government, they have a strong awareness of their identity beyond Islam, and they are attracted by what they learn about Jesus and by the witness of the church.
Clergymen have arrested and executed thousands of young people, whereas Jesus told his followers to pray for their enemies and he forgave those who tortured and killed him. There is a widespread view that the mullahs are corrupt and this spreads to disillusionment with Islam. Under the Islamic regime they have experienced war, economic chaos, and interference in their private lives.
They are very proud of their heritage that existed long before Islam came. Being Iranian does not depend on Islam. Their happiest time is a festival that precedes the Islamic Republic. Every schoolchild knows that Iran was the leading civilization of the ancient world and it was not created by Muslims. Iranians are not Arab, but Indo-European, and their mother tongue is not Arabic but Persian. All Iranians are aware that their country was Zoroastrian before it was Muslim. Even the Shi'a faith is very Iranian. And in the Shi'a faith there are a number of clear links to central truths in the Christian faith.
They have an instinctive respect for those willing to die for their cause, so they respect Christians who have paid the ultimate price. Whenever disaster has struck, Iranian Christians have always been on the scene giving help. They notice the amount of time Christians give to fasting and prayer.
While the Iranian government is actively strangling the established churches, the underground churches are growing. Its continued growth is likely for three reasons. One, it is very secretive and hidden from authorities. Two, the churches are very active and vibrant. Most have never been in a church building, so Christianity grows up around the Scripture, spreads by relationships, and takes on natural cultural forms. Three, new members recognize the urgency of telling others and take on a sense of ownership very quickly.
Outreach to Iranians in expatriate communities can have an important impact on Iran because new Christians want to see their family members saved. Advocacy from outside the country can be very important to protect those who are known to be arrested. They are very encouraged to know that the worldwide family cares and will speak out.
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