Stories of Hope: The Vulnerable Church at Work in Iran

The photo above is an actual house church in Iran, gathered around a laptop watching the show that is depicted in the photo below.

Taping a house church program in the US for broadcast in Iran.

Last fall, we shared a story about the vulnerable church around the world and how God uses these brothers and sisters to do His kingdom work. The vulnerable church has much to teach us here in the West. These believers are living out stories that need to be told and retold, stories of hope in Jesus Christ. In this article, we share about how God is using the vulnerable church in Iran and a remarkable story of forgiveness and redemption.

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 Centre 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.

Teaching Iranian house church leaders in a secret location outside of Iran.

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.

Outreach Foundation“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

 To learn more about Pars and other Iranian ministries, contact The Outreach Foundation at [email protected], call 615/778-8881, or go to the website at


Read more

5 Ways Persecution in Iran Has Backfired

By David Yeghnazer, The Gospel Coalition.

The Bible is full of stories reminding us that, whatever the opposition, God is always victorious.

It’s the story of Joseph before Potiphar’s wife, of Moses before Pharaoh, of Daniel before the lions, of Esther before King Ahasuerus, of Peter and John before the Council. Supremely, it’s the story of the Lord Jesus, who was crucified and rose for our salvation.

It’s also the story of the Iranian church in my lifetime. When I was a child, persecution threatened to wipe it out. Instead, the church in Iran has become the fastest-growing evangelical church in the world today—and it’s affecting the region for Christ.

Scripture is clear that God often uses his people’s suffering to advance his kingdom. In his providence, the Islamic regime’s strategies to stamp out the Persian-speaking church in Iran have backfired—resulting in further church growth. Here are five examples.

1. Banning the Bible has backfired.

In addition to banning the printing of the Bible in Persian, closing down the Bible society, and burning Bibles, Iranian government officials have warned citizens against reading the Bible. Apparently, this warning has caused many Iranians, already disillusioned with their government, to become all the more eager to obtain a copy of the Bible. And many have put their faith in Christ after finding and reading one.

A few years ago, a government official waved one of the New Testaments printed by our ministry (Elam) on national television and warned the population to avoid it. Demand for the New Testament soared as a result. Many who receive a copy through our street evangelism efforts say they’ve been searching for a copy. Some say they’ve been searching for years.

2. Closing church buildings has backfired.

The Iranian government’s closure of churches over the past few years has forced Christians of Muslim background to meet in underground house churches.


Read more

The Story of Iran’s Church in Two Sentences

Persecution threatened to wipe out Iran’s tiny church. Instead, the church in Iran has become the fastest growing in the world, and it is influencing the region for Christ.

By Mark Howard, The Gospel Coalition.

iran-1151139_960_720Everyone loves a good story. As Christians, we especially love stories that tell us how, when all seems lost, God makes a way.

One such story is about the church in Iran—and it’s one of the greatest stories in the world today.

It’s a simple story that can be summarized in just two sentences: Persecution threatened to wipe out Iran’s tiny church. Instead, the church in Iran has become the fastest growing in the world, and it is influencing the region for Christ.

As simple as it is, such an amazing story is worth examining deeper.

Growth Amid Persecution

The Iranian revolution of 1979 established a hard-line Islamic regime. Over the next two decades, Christians faced increasing opposition and persecution: All missionaries were kicked out, evangelism was outlawed, Bibles in Persian were banned and soon became scarce, and several pastors were killed. The church came under tremendous pressure. Many feared the small Iranian church would soon wither away and die.

But the exact opposite has happened. Despite continued hostility from the late 1970s until now, Iranians have become the Muslim people most open to the gospel in the Middle East.


Related article: Prayer for the persecuted church: Iran

Read more

Christian pastor freed from Iranian prison opens up about his time in captivity

From Fox News.

Saeed AbediniGreta Van Susteren sat down with Saeed Abedini, the Christian pastor who was freed from Iran, for his first and only interview.

Abedini opened up about his ordeal in an Iranian prison, from torture behind bars to his release and return to America.

Abedini revealed that he was interrogated and tortured after he refused to sign documents implicating him in crimes that he did not commit.

In addition to being physically and psychologically abused, Abedini said he saw terrible things happen to other prisoners, such as Sunni Muslims being publicly executed.

Despite those trials and tribulations, Abedini said the most difficult part of being in jail was finding how to pass the countless hours.



Read more

The Presbyterian Mission Yearbook & Noushin Framke on Iran: Forgetting the lost

By Viola Larson, Naming His Grace blog.

christian martyrs last prayerNoushin Darya Framke, Armenian/Iranian-American, Presbyterian Church (USA) elder and activist, has written a pleasant and informative article about returning to Iran to commemorate the anniversary of her mother’s death. But in the article, “Burning Frankincense in Iran,” found in the Presbyterian internet magazine, Unbound, Framke, writing about religious freedom in Iran, repeats her too often defense of Iran. Writing of her mother’s faith, she insists:

“Being a member of the ancient Christian community, Janet was part of a protected and well-respected religious minority. (On the other hand, converts from Islam to Christianity are not protected, as Islam considers them apostate, but that’s another story).”

This is a statement that Framke also made in a comment to an article published by the Presbyterian Outlook. I searched for it as I was preparing my material for this posting but could not find it. However Framke enlarges on this idea in her report in the Presbyterian Mission Yearbook. First she explains that the Christian groups who areindigenous to Persia (Iran) are respected and allowed freedom of worship by their Muslim rulers. Of the others Framke writes:

“But evangelical Christians—Protestants who converted, most from Islam, when Presbyterian missionaries began proselytizing in Iran in the mid-19th century—are indeed persecuted. Because they are converts “out of Islam,” these Christians are considered apostates—people who have abandoned their original faith. They are for this reason treated very differently from Christians whose roots are pre-Islamic and are honored by Islam. …”


Related articles: 

Burning Frankincense in Iran

Presbyterian Mission Yearbook article “Iran continued.”


Read more

Iran views Christianity as direct threat

From Mission Network News.

iran-MMAP-md Iran’s harsh and unjustifiable courts have no limits when it comes to sentencing religious minorities like Christians.

But The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) shares that this is a mix between a good news/bad news story.

Current Persecution

Recently, 18 Christian converts were sentenced to prison for practicing their faith,according to Fox News.

They were arrested–some as early as 2013–for breaking Article 500 of the Islamic Penal Code, which states, “Anyone who engages in any type of propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran or in support of opposition groups and associations, shall be sentenced to three months to one year of imprisonment.”

Their total sentences came out to nearly 24 years.

They’re not the only Christians who have been suffering from unfair arrests and sentences in the nation.

Pastor Saeed Abedini was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2013. Christian Today says he was found guilty for creating a network of Christian house churches and “attempting to sway Iranian youth away from Islam.”

His wife has been traveling the world since 2012 to campaign for his release, getting attention from President Barak Obama and many American Christians.

According to VOM’s website, since 2010, 400 Christians have been arbitrarily arrested by Iranian authorities. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released in their annual report that persecution of religious minorities has increased since President Hassan Rouhani was elected.


Voiced of the Martyrs prayer map

Read more

What we call fellowship others call felonious

Tip of the Icebergwalk into the coffee shop on the corner of Main Street and there is almost always someone reading a Bible, devotional or the latest Christian best-selling book. This week it’s the Benham brothers, next week I’m betting it will be Chelsen Vicari. The point is that we talk about religion freely, openly, and honestly because we live in a nation where freedom of religion is real and realized. We pray over meals in public, we attend our churches without fear of being arrested, we invite others to join us in studying the Bible and we share our faith freely.

But what we call fellowship others in the world call felonious.

The stories coming out of Iran and other despotic regimes should drive us to our knees in prayer for our Christian brothers and sisters. The “offenses” with which they are charged, tried, convicted and imprisoned (for up to six years) include:

  • attending a house church
  • spreading Christianity
  • having contact with foreign ministries
  • propaganda against the regime and
  • disrupting national security.

Consider that list.

These are not people who are proselytizing in the streets or forcing their religious convictions upon others. These are people gathering in homes. Accepting the gifts of tracks and CDs and MP3′s that well-meaning Western ministries send to them.

Christians who fellowship with one another and communicate with other Christians outside of Iran are considered threats to national security and they are sent away as felons to do hard time.

tip of the spearAt issue is what we casually refer to as the freedom of religion or religious liberty. It is precious and it is under serious threat.

In America, we have a model of religious liberty that takes a positive view of public and private religious practice. That means that we not only protect the right of individuals and groups to practice their religion in private settings – like home and church – but also to live out their religion in public, engaging their faith with the world.

Because we are like fish who have been living in the water of this kind of religious liberty for so long that we can’t even imagine what life is like in another environment, Americans often fail to appreciate just how unique a brand of religious liberty we enjoy.

In just one month (February 2015) The Heritage Foundation Religion and Civil Society” page identified a litany of religious liberty related stories:

This is both the tip of the iceberg and the tip of the spear.  These stories rise to the level of public awareness but simmering just beneath the surface of our desire driven secularism are a mountain of threats to the everyday religious expression of countless Americans. Those are the stories we don’t read but they are being lived out everyday in classrooms and cubicles and court rooms – places where people of convictional faith are told to shut up and keep their religion to themselves. And then the very Constitution that guarantees the right of free speech to both the bully and the bullied is used to browbeat the religious person into the closet because of the mis-application of the so-called “separation of church and state.”

This is a fight for which every person of convictional faith must be equipped lest we find our own fellowship felonized in the future.

Read more

Religious liberty prayer bulletin: September 2014 update, Remembering the persecuted

By Elizabeth Kendal, Assist News

prayer bulletinKeep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who do me violence, my deadly enemies who surround me. (Psalm 17:8-9 ESV)

September 2014 UPDATE — During September we prayed concerning …

* INDIA, where Hindu nationalist agitators are inciting persecution of Christians and where those who do persecute Christians are guaranteed impunity. This is an extremely dangerous situation. Pray for the Church in India.

Read more from the prayer bulletin …

Read more

Condoleezza Rice: Doing what must be done in a world of critics

rice-condiPresbyterian layperson and former Secretary of State, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, recently addressed the AIG ConnectEd event in Nashville. She told the thousands of financial advisors that the world is experiencing “techtonic shifts” the likes of which we have not experienced since the end of World War II.

“We are responding globally to three great shocks,” referring to the post 9/11 reality of global terrorism, the upheavals in the Middle East and what she called “big nations behaving badly.”

Shock 1: Terrorism

Rice spoke in deeply personal terms about September 11, 2001. Then Secretary of State Rice responded to the news of the first plane crashing into the Twin Towers thinking to herself, “that was a very strange accident.”

She recalled saying to the President who was at an event at a school in Florida, “The United States of America is under attack,” and adding her recommendation that he not return to Washington, “Sir, it’s not safe here.”

Rice acknowledged that many things changed that day and “from that day on we would worry more about ungoverned places.”

She then turned her attention to one such place: the territory between Iraq and Syria where, as Rice put it, “a terrorist group so brutal that Al Qaida expelled them,” is establishing a safe haven.  She was referring to ISIL, or ISIS, the Islamic State.


Shock 2: Twin revolutions in the Middle East

“On the one hand,” Rice noted, “we have witnessed the rise of popular pressures to get rid of authoritarian dynastic governments that have not delivered.”

“We were at first exhilarated and then we became a little bit terrified,” Rice said. “But the seizure of rights is almost always a terrifying moment.”

Sharing personally about her own experience of seeing and reading the Declaration of Independence of the United States, Rice acknowledged that “about half way down it turns into a fist-shaking list. I found myself asking, ‘who were these people?’ And then I remembered, they were revolutionaries.”

The Stanford professor then adopted a very direct tone, saying, “Democracy is not only where rights are seized – but where rights find expression in a rule of law and then those laws are institutionalized – and that’s a very, very long struggle.”

Pointing again to the nascent democracies around the world, Rice said, “Democracy takes time. We’re going to have to be more patient with the people now seeking it.”

She then marveled at the “evergreen” nature of the U.S. Constitution. Rice said, “Our constitution is amazing but it’s a constitution that started out counting my ancestors as three fifths of a man. It is the same constitution that guaranteed the right of Martin Luther King to preach and speak freely and resist until freedom became a reality for every American and it is that same constitution to which I would take the oath of office as the 66th Secretary of State – what a constitution.”

Rice then described the second revolution underway in the Middle East. “There are really only three state systems in the Middle East: Egypt, Iran and Turkey.” All the rest, Rice said, were basically made up by outsiders who “paid no attention to the very deep internal divisions among the peoples in those places.”

This is what Rice sees as what is “coming to a head in Syria,” a place she describes as “flying apart.”


Shock 3: Big states behaving badly

Rice said, “When big powers get involved, bad things happen.”

She used Russia as an example. “Vladimir Putin never accepted the outcome of the collapse of the Soviet Union.  It is his conviction that Russian populations have been orphaned in other states.  He intends to reunite them,” Rice said.

Rice said that Putin “has taken upon himself the mantle of reuniting the Russian people.” And she believes that he sees himself as the next “Great” after Catherine and Peter.

Rice then turned her attention to the role America must play.

“There is a vacuum now in the international system – and nature abhors a vacuum – it will not be filled with the so-called ‘international community.’  The United States of America is the only country in the world that can do what must now be done.”

She then acknowledged, “I know that Americans are tired – I’ve heard that. We’re tired of war, terrorism, vigilance – people are tired.  But great powers can’t get tired. Putin is not tired, China is not tired, the Islamic State is not tired – and allowing them to dominate will be bad for our interests.”

Rice said, “We need to refocus on who we are. We are not just ‘some other country’ – we are exceptional because of who we are and what we have done.”

She imagined a “little green man from Mars arriving in America and saying, ‘This shouldn’t work! They come from every ethnic background imaginable. They don’t have the same religion. Some of them are nothing at all, and yet they have a sense of being American.'”

Rice said that as Americans “we share an aspirational narrative – it’s not about where you came from but where we’re going.”

She then gave a withering critique of the current state of education in America and concluded that “our poor education system may be our greatest national security threat.”

As Americans, Rice said, “our view is that history should unfold toward freedom, free people and free markets.  It is in freedom that people find their greatest potential.”

Climbing the rhetorical ladder as her Presbyterian minister father might have done, Rice declared,

  • “No ordinary country would have sent young men to storm the beaches of Normandy.
  • “No ordinary country would have stood vigilant in Asia…
  • “No ordinary country would have sent volunteers to the front lines of places like Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Concluding, she said, “It is hard sometimes in a world that criticizes and calls us names and then steps back and won’t do the hard work that just has to be done.  But part of the responsibility of power is endurance in doing what is right and good. And remember, the freest and most generous nation in the world will also be the most powerful.”


Related article: Bypassed for PCUSA honors, Rice is new secretary of state

Read more

Pastor Saeed Abedini facing ISIS death threats in prison, fears for his life


Saeed Abedini

By Stoyan Zaimov

U.S. Pastor Saeed Abedini is reportedly receiving death threats from ISIS jihadists at the Iranian prison where he is being held.

The militants have said that they will kill him because of his Christian faith, the American Center for Law and Justice reported in a press release. Abedini, who is being held at Rajai Shahr prison, spoke of the death threats with family members earlier this week.

While the ISIS militants are apparently being held in a separate section of the prison ward, they have managed on several occasions to make their way to the pastor’s section on their way back from the prison yard, forcing Abedini to hide.

Abedini is serving an eight year sentence in Iran. The ACLJ, which represents Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh, and their two young children in the U.S., has said that the pastor is being punished for his Christian faith.



Related article:

‘Why does our daddy need to be in prison for loving Jesus?’ asks children of Pastor Saeed Abedini in heartbreaking plea to Obama

Read more