An Iranian evangelist says a spiritual awakening of unprecedented magnitude is occurring behind the scenes in a nation known for its terrorism.
Most Americans have put Iran on a blacklist. We're concerned about Shiite militants who spread terrorism around the world, we don't trust Iran's nuclear weapons plans and we can't stomach Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's human rights record or his maniac ways.
But my friend Lazarus Yeghnazar, an Iranian evangelist based in England, hopes you will develop some compassion for this part of the world. Most of us associate the Bible with Israel, but did you know that Esther, Daniel, Nehemiah, Ezra and Habakkuk all walked on Persian land that is now called Iran? In fact, the tombs of Esther, Daniel, Habakkuk, Cyrus and Darius are in Iran.
|""Yeghnazar says the churches are growing so fast in Iran that some leaders have wondered if they should stop evangelizing. ‘One church leader told me they have stopped sharing their faith because every Iranian they witness to comes to Christ.' "|
Yeghnazar points out that Iranians were among the first Christian converts. The people known as Parthians, Medes and Elamites, who were in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:9,11), were from what is now Iran. Jeremiah prophesied that God would "restore the fortunes of Elam" in the last days (see Jer. 49:39). Elam is modern-day Iran.
This promise of spiritual restoration is no longer a far-off dream. A vibrant New Testament church is thriving in Iran, in spite of brutal persecution under Ahmadinejad's regime. And this growing spiritual awakening in Iran could play a significant role in end-time events.
"In this repressive atmosphere many Iranians are coming to Christ," says Yeghnazar, whose 222 Ministries is reaching millions through television and Internet broadcasts. Currently more than 3,000 Iranians are converted each month through 222's work, even though the Iranian government has cracked down on satellite television and smashed satellite dishes in Tehran and other cities.
"The need is so great," says Yeghnazar's wife, Maggie, who does special gospel broadcasts for Iranian women. She says the women respond to Christ faster than men because they tend to stay at home.
Yeghnazar and his wife fled Iran in 1988 to base their operations in the U.K. Their Farsi-language programs not only bring Iranians to faith in Christ but also serve to strengthen the underground house church movement. Yeghnazar says the churches are growing so fast in Iran that some leaders have wondered if they should stop evangelizing.
Says Yeghnazar: "One church leader told me they have stopped sharing their faith because every Iranian they witness to comes to Christ. [The leader] told me, ‘We don't have enough New Testaments to handle the growth.' There is a huge need for discipleship!"
The challenges in Iran are huge. The country has an extremely high rate of drug addiction, and at least one-fourth of the people are depressed. About 60 percent of the nation's 71 million people are under age 26—and many of these are university students who are growing increasingly restless under Ahmadinejad's dictatorship. Police brutality is common—and it is often aimed at Christians who gather in groups smaller than 20 to worship.
"Believers in Iran are not praying for persecution," Yeghnazar told me, "but they know it is helping fuel the growth of their churches."
Yeghnazar is aware of the danger lurking inside Iran. The country has exported trained terrorists for 30 years and has fueled the growth of Hezbollah, the Palestinian Intifada and suicide bombers in Iraq as well as radical Islamic movements in North Africa and the Philippines. Yet he believes there has never been such a huge open door for the gospel in Iran.
The evangelist quotes from Isaiah 65:1 to describe what is happening in his homeland. "God said, ‘I permitted myself to be found by those who did not seek Me. I said, "Here am I, here I am," to a nation which did not call My name.'" Today Iranians are not only coming to Christ in record numbers but they are downloading Farsi New Testaments on MP3 players, receiving smuggled Bibles and training young pastors to start new churches.
"In this repressive atmosphere people are coming to the Lord in record numbers," Yeghnazar says, noting that almost 200,000 unique visitors come to 222's Farsi gospel site each month. Many of them are seeking discipleship because they just gave their hearts to Christ.
I've been shocked to hear some sword-rattling Christians say they hope someone drops a nuclear bomb on Iran to stop Ahmadinejad. Let's put aside hate and open our eyes to what God is doing behind the scenes. The next time you hear bad news coming out of that country, remember that a growing underground church full of new converts is spreading from Tabriz in the north to the southern city of Shiraz, where Esther prayed and stopped a genocide.