14 January 2009

The Challenges of Islamic Repression for Iranian Believers

After meeting with our repressed Iranian Christian brothers and sisters, I can’t help but compare their condition to us Christians in the West. I think formerly I have been too critical of way too many things. It seems to me now that the evangelistic and missions activities of our Western churches are just teeming with life. I find it delightful, even magnificent, that in our increasingly self-absorbed Western culture the churches of the BMA of America still care deeply about the Great Commission. We are still moved by the song, “Send the Light”. When it comes to laying it on the line for missions we are still stepping up to the plate. Every year the “50 Days of Prayer and Giving” are a springboard to 315 more days of continued joy and excitement about all God is doing. Our VBS teams of young people are traveling all over the world on summer mission trips, and God is using them to touch many hearts for Christ. They cannot conceal their excitement in the emails they send us. Our national missionaries are as active as ever in the face of so many challenges, starting new churches in many nations across the globe. I believe this is exactly what Paul was talking about in Philippians 2:15 when he said that God’s children truly shine as lights in the midst of a perverse generation. Praise the Lord, indeed!

Now to help you better identify with our Iranian brothers and sisters, try for a moment to imagine what would happen if suddenly our freedom to pursue these many Holy Spirit-inspired goals were abruptly curtailed. Imagine that public preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ were seen widely as a “hate crime” leading to prompt arrests and punishment. Imagine that government monitors were present in every church service to observe and record all that is said and done, coldly insuring compliance with the anti-Christian statutes. Some of you are saying, “Well, that time is not so very far away.” That may be true and I think you are right. Iran is just a case in point. The time for Christian missions in Iran came to an abrupt halt during the Islamic Revolution of 1979, forcing many western missions to flee the country. Since then, local Christians have been forced to abandon public evangelism and many other benevolent works, such as orphanages, especially those which were done in cooperation with Western churches.

Islamic state repression has created daunting challenges for us in helping believers from the underground churches of Iran. How can believers in the local church grow into devoted disciples of Christ without solid Bible teaching? How does the lack of good teaching affect evangelism, ministry, and worship? How do they answer the questions and challenges of their Islamic friends and family? What happens when hungry Iranian believers go to radio or satellite TV for Bible teaching and hear only the popular western “health-and-wealth” gospel? What do they make of hysterical laughing and people lining up on stage to be “slain in the spirit”?

Because of these issues, in the past I have taken one book of the New Testament as our subject for each Bible conference. This year I wanted to teach them the book of Romans in three seminars. However, after teaching Romans part 1, an outbreak of state persecution made it impossible to continue with the same group. Many believers were arrested in their city, and house church pastors were imprisoned.

What could we do in the remaining two conferences with two entirely new groups? Through prayer and wise counselors, God impressed me that they needed inductive Bible study methods, to observe, interpret, and apply the Word themselves. We chose several of Jesus’ parables as our text and I rejoiced as I saw them understanding and applying scripture for themselves. They were becoming self-feeders of the Word of God! In first of these two conferences, three seekers attended, and all three made joyful professions of faith in Jesus Christ before returning to their homes in Iran. So powerful is the Scripture to bring new life and faith!

Because of your faithfulness and giving we have planned three more such conferences in 2009. It is a great privilege, but only a drop in a great bucket of need. A great prayer need is to provide systematic seminary training to a few key individuals. Can I count on you to make this a priority in your prayer circles?

Please remember those who are imprisoned for their faith in our Lord and hold up their loved ones in prayer. Others are harassed by police observation, searches, and interrogations. Five of our former students are in prison as I write. Their only crime is sharing the gospel of freedom from sin and the life-giving love of Christ.

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