GIVEN A HEART FOR IRAN’S WOMEN – ROZITA’S TESTIMONY
SAT-7 PARS presenter Rozita Hovsepian comes from a Christian family that has long played a prominent part in the growth of the Iranian Church. She tells us about the family life that shaped her, about the loss of her uncle, and about her calling to share God’s Word with women in Iran through SAT-7 PARS program New Identity.
The fruitful labours of the Hovsepian family have been remarkable and today, Rozita plays a part in it, including as a host of SAT-7 PARS programmes like her latest series, New Identity. The series is mainly aimed at women, sharing the Gospel with them and using biblical teaching and psychological insights to help them discover the fulness of life God wants for them.
An Armenian family called to be God’s Witness to Iranians
Unlike the vast majority of Iranians, growing up in an Armenian Christian family, Rozita was privileged to learn of a loving God as a child.
“I was born into a Christian home and my parents were serving in a church,” she explains. “My father was a pastor, so I grew up in a strongly Christian family that was active in serving the Lord. From the very beginning a Christian understanding of the world took shape in myself and my brothers, which was based on the teaching of God’s Word.”
As an ethnic religious minority group, Armenians are recognized by the Iranian state and have a constitutional right to practice their faith, but only within certain limitations. Armenian Christians can only practice their faith in their own native language and are not allowed to share their faith with others.
Rozita’s parents, however, knew that their calling was not only to Armenians but to Persian speakers. In fact, around 90 per cent of their congregation were people from Muslim backgrounds. “As our parents were so active in the Lord’s service they served as patterns for us, showing us how we should worship and serve God. As I grew older, I became aware of a spiritual burden within me, a desire to prove good Scriptural teaching for young Muslim-background women who had come to faith,” Rozita explains.
The active outreach of her parents’ church to majority Persian speakers however soon attracted government surveillance. As a pastor, her father was often summoned by the security forces and the family received numerous threatening phone calls. “The security apparatus took a lot of interest in our family,” Rozita recalls.
A Family tragedy and Rozita’s personal calling to serve
In January 1994, tragdy struck Rozita’s family. Rozita’s uncle, Bishop Haik Hovsepian, Chairman of the Council of Protestant Ministers in Iran was abducted and murdered for his faith and Christian activities. Recalling the funeral and looking at the open coffin, Rozita shares: “I sensed a calling as God seemed to be saying: ‘I want you to continue your uncle’s work and serve me.’
“There have been few times that I have so tangibly heard the Holy Spirit speak within me, and this was one of those occasions. I sensed that God was putting it on my heart to study God’s Word and theology in order to serve the Lord.”
Following this call, Rozita studied theology, then began working with several Christian organisations dedicated to sharing the Gospel and equipping Persian believers. This became increasingly important, as government pressure on Evangelical Churches in Iran mounted, and most were closed by security services.
Reaching Persian women through media ministry
As the situation for Christians from Muslim backgrounds in Iran became more difficult, Rozita was invited to become a presenter on SAT-7.
SAT-7 PARS, the network’s Persian language channel, has one of its studios in North London. There, Rozita began to play an important role in programmes that focus on family and social issues and others that address theological topics. Her latest series is New Identity, a programme she is particularly passionate about.
“In today’s Persian societies, there are so many instances where a woman’s value and identity has been lost or is undermined,” she says. “Even those who come to Christ do not always grasp that in Christ they are able to have a new identity and a new beginning.
“In Iranian society, the identity of women is tied up in their relationship with their father or husband. When they come to Christ they don’t realise that they can have a new identity that has nothing to do with their relationship with their father, husband or even their children. Coming to Christ means they become daughters of their Heavenly Father.”
New Identity offers viewers the chance to begin this relationship through sharing the Gospel with them and helping them to discover their true identity and worth in Him.
Rozita and her co-host, Mansoureh Eliasi, use the examples of women from the Bible and from the contemporary Persian Church to inspire their viewers. And, recognising the emotional, physical and psychological pain many women in the Persian world have suffered, they draw on biblical teaching and psychology.
The program is having a positive impact on viewers, as God uses Rozita to help change viewers lives. Responding to an episode which tackled abuse and marriage, a viewer messaged to say, “I always felt that I should not have agreed to divorce my husband, and I felt I had gone against God’s command. But thanks to your programme, I am free of this guilt because I was subjected to so much abuse in my marriage by my husband.”
Another episode focused on Christian worship and featured Eugenie, a worship leader. A 25-year-old woman was one of several viewers to stress the importance of worship when we face crises. She said, “Going through the loss of my sister to cancer, my father’s heart attack and other things that I have suffered, I found that the Lord lifted me up through worship. I believe with all my heart and it has been my experience that worshipping the Lord can break the walls of despondency and hopelessness. In worship the Holy Spirit works powerfully and brings comfort.”
The challenges experienced by Persian people are only increasing, as poverty and hardship affects millions and the repression of Christians and other minorities continues.