PERSIAN SONGWRITING BORNE OF SUFFERING
A SAT-7 series is producing new worship songs for the suffering Iranian Church, written by a martyr’s son in collaboration with Iranian Christian refugees in Turkey.
“When we talked about topics to write a song about, all were related to hardship and troubles,” explains presenter Gilbert Hovsepian, whose latest program for SAT-7 is called Songwriting with Gilbert. “Thirteen beautiful songs were written, highlighting how there are troubles in the world but we fix our eyes upon Jesus and worship Him regardless of our circumstances.”
Gilbert has presented several SAT-7 programs, and Songwriting with Gilbert is now in a second series. During each half-hour episode Gilbert joins Iranian musician co-writers to discuss the theme of a new worship song and develop it together. Over the two series, around 30 Iranian Christians have joined him in the creative process of writing new songs.
All of Gilbert’s collaborators in the second series have fled their homeland recently and are living as refugees in Turkey. Many have undergone powerful transformations in their lives. Five or six were “fanatical” in their previous faith, Gilbert says. One had been a sorcerer for ten years, and another had to leave Iran or be killed. He bears the scars of severe beating by his father-in-law because of his new faith and has not seen his daughter for six years. The two co-writers in another episode are children of Pastor Hossein Soodmand, who in 1990 was the last church leader to be executed for “apostasy” in Iran.
Meeting an important need
The Iranian Church is desperate for more songs, Gilbert says. “Songs that are their own and not borrowed or copied.” Its historic songbook is limited to translations of Western songs introduced before the 1979 Iranian revolution, and those written by the first generation of Iranian church leaders, including Gilbert’s father.
Gilbert was only 17 when his father, Revd Haik Hovsepian Mehr, the President of the Council of Protestant Churches in Iran and a courageous spokesman for freedom of religion, was kidnapped and murdered in 1994. Five years later, the family left Iran and found refuge in the West, with Gilbert’s family settling in the USA.
The family have never faltered in their continuation of Gilbert’s father’s ministry. Gilbert is a musician, Bible teacher, and author of over 100 Persian worship songs. For 20 years he has been writing songs that reflect the style of traditional Persian music, with its minor keys, as well as the experience of Iranian believers.
The starting point for the songs in the series are personal experience seen through the lens of Scripture. Gilbert describes them as “melodised teachings for church”, and says that in a Christian community that has been largely forced underground by the authorities, many find them better than sermons as a source of learning and encouragement.
Christian converts in Iran are forbidden to meet, and the few authorised Armenian and Assyrian Christian congregations are barred from worshipping in the Persian language. Christians who meet or share their faith face losing their jobs, punitive fines, jail sentences, and exile. The Iranian Church truly knows what it is to participate in Christ’s sufferings (Philippians 3:10).
Gilbert said, “These songs will minister to Iranians in a very deep way, as most Iranian Christians live in such circumstances in Iran, or abroad in Turkey, or even parts of Europe or Australia. For some the hardship abroad is financial, and for others it’s being far from family.”