FREE TO BELIEVE? PERSECUTION AND THE IRANIAN CHURCH
“When God created us, He gave us the right whether or not to choose Him. The right to choose may not be denied by any government, group, or person” said Mansour Borji, human rights advocate and Advocacy Director of Article 18, speaking on SAT-7 PARS’ New Identity program. Nevertheless, persecution for their faith is a reality for SAT-7 PARS’ viewers, and knowledge of their rights and a Biblical perspective on persecution provided by an expert, can help empower the Iranian Church.
“I have recently been asked: if the protests in Iran lead to freedom in society and the church is no longer persecuted, am I concerned that the growth of the Iranian church and its deep and enthusiastic faith may disappear?” Mansour says, referring to the still ongoing protests in Iran for freedom and rights that were sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini in September 2022.
“My answer is that our prayer and desire is for the same thing that God has desired for humans: freedom to believe and choose.
THE IMPACT OF PERSECUTION
According to Mansour, it is important to have a balanced view of the impact of persecution, as excessive focus on the fruits it can produce, or the destruction it brings, is unhelpful to the Church.
“Jesus presented persecution as a blessing from God, which allows a follower of Christ to share in the suffering of his Lord,” explains Mansour, referring to Matthew 5:10-12. “Jesus says, ‘Blessed are you when you suffer, for great is your reward.’”
Indeed, as Mansour continues to explain, through God’s grace the underground church in Iran has grown despite persecution. “In the past, the number of Christians in Iran was under a thousand, but the latest figures suggest there are 800,000 to a million Christians, with some suggesting the figures are even higher.”
As a result of church closures in Iran “fellowships spread to villages and far-flung places that previously the church had no way of reaching… Christians were transformed in their faith and in their gifts of service because of the additional responsibility that they had to take on… They came closer together and cooperated on many things.”
That unity is one of the fruits of the persecution to which the church is subjected,” Mansour explains.
However, alongside these fruits, Mansour also highlights the destructive impact of persecution. “The persistence of extreme persecution can halt the progress of the Church,” he says, adding that persecution brings disunity, suspicion, mistrust, and false teaching. “When there is no oversight, when experienced leaders are not on the scene and there is no access to correct teaching, people adopt their own ideas, and bad teaching is the result.” Under these circumstances, SAT-7 PARS’ theological teaching programs are an invaluable resource for persecuted and isolated Christians.
“We must never glorify persecution and should not pray that God ‘sends persecution’ so that believers may be strengthened in their faith and are drawn away from worldly inclinations,” Mansour warns.
“IN THIS WORLD YOU WILL HAVE TROUBLE”
Watching the program New Identity, and listening to Mansour speak about persecution, one viewer reached out, asking, “Why does the Lord allow difficult situations to arise for believers and for those who are seeking justice? God’s Word says that God does not test us beyond our capacity, and yet sometimes the pressures and the hardships are beyond a person’s ability to endure.”
“I believe the answer to this question has been given by Jesus Christ,” Mansour responds. “Jesus said, “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master.’ He was saying that ‘If they hurt me, the Son of God, they will persecute you also’. So, this is a promise.
“Even Jesus, the Son of God, came and accepted the suffering of the cross in order to bring life to us and glorify God. If I suffer because of my faith, if I know that my suffering will bring life to others and glorify God, then I will see it as a blessing and honour to endure it,” Mansour states.
Engaging with a topic so relevant to their lives, one viewer commented, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” while another viewer added, “Whoever shares in the suffering of Christ will also share in His reign. We honour the memory of Iran’s Christian martyrs whose sacrifice has helped to grow the tree of freedom in Iran.”
IRANIAN CHRISTIANS IMPRISONED TODAY
“The cost [of persecution] is not insignificant” Mansour says, “and for those who do not have a faith, perhaps it is not understandable. But the story of people’s lives and their faithfulness and honour is truly inspiring.”
Please pray for the following Iranian Christians who are in prison today:
Married couple Sara Ahmad and Homayoun Zhayeh, who began serving prison terms this year. Sara was given eight years and Homayoun two years. Homayoun has advanced Parkinson’s disease and stressful situations can have a negative impact on his condition. Yet, despite his condition, he is being held for being a member of a house church. Both were members of an official church and like any Iranian citizen, had the right to take part in its services. After the church was closed down, they were forced to meet at home to study and pray with other believers. They were arrested, endured psychological torture, and were sentenced as a result.
Malihe Nazari, who served a women’s group. She has been sentenced to six years in prison. At her sentencing, Malihe was not present at court and was represented by her lawyer, because at the time she was supporting her son who was undergoing treatment for a chronic condition in hospital. She is now in prison, and her greatest concern is for her son’s health and her husband.
And finally, Armenian brother, Joseph Shahbazian, who as a member of ethnic Christian minority with the right to publicly practise his faith, could have kept silent. Instead, he supported and prayed with those from other religious backgrounds who wanted to hear about the Bible, and did not abandon them, even if they were Persian-speakers and new to the Christian faith. This cost him a 10-year prison term, which he has just started to serve.
Find out more about persecuted Christians in Iran: https://articleeighteen.com/