Christianity in Iran is a dangerous thing. Bibles and church meetings are only legal for those from specific ethnic minority backgrounds. Ethnic Persians are considered to be Muslim and it is illegal for those from these backgrounds to convert. But, despite the oppressive laws, young Iranians are still from hearing God’s Word.
Recently, a group of new believers secretly met in a Middle Eastern country to take part in discipleship seminars, talk about persecution, and, importantly, worship freely together.
“When we worship together, I really feel like my relationship with the Lord is renewed,” says Mozhgan*.
Seventeen-year-old Iranian worship leader, Kyana*, agrees. “We have to keep our voices down so the neighbours don’t report us to the police,” she says of her church in Iran. Her house church was once supported by a more experienced fellowship, but after a series of arrests, they lost contact with each other. “It didn’t only make me scared, it also made me question God. Why did he leave us on our own?”
To deal with her struggles, Kyana wrote a worship song which she sang to the group. You can listen to her sing it in the video below:
Many of the young believers at this gathering have faced isolation and persecution because of their faith. But through these seminars, they learn how to stand strong. “My spiritual life was going downhill before I came here, but this conference has inspired me to serve the Lord passionately again,” says Nagmeh* (22). “I want to share everything I have learned with the other young people in my network.”
Christians in Iran face extreme persecution. Under the country’s conservative interpretation of Sharia (Islamic law), converts from Islam to Christianity pay the greatest price for their faith.
For ethnic Persians, who are seen as Muslims, the penalty for leaving Islam is death for a man and life imprisonment for a woman – although this has not been carried out for over 20 years. Conducting any Christian activities or having Bibles in Farsi, the Persian language, is forbidden.
For historically Christian peoples, like the Armenians and Assyrians, and for non-traditional Christian denominations, proselytising to historically Muslim peoples is illegal. But despite this, the church in Iran is growing.
Seen as a ‘dangerous’ Western ideology, Christianity is considered a threat to the Islamic identity of the Republic – and the government is arresting more and more believers in response to this.
In 2016, at least 193 Christians were arrested or imprisoned in Iran – a rise of over 90 per cent from the year before (108 recorded arrests). This summer, 12 Christians were sentenced to ten years or more in prison each for crimes ‘against the state’, such as evangelism.
An Open Doors research expert says: “Some of the believers were also charged with ‘promoting Zionist Christianity’, which reveals the connections the Iranian government sees between Christianity, the West and their arch-enemy Israel. Hence why the government views their activities as an attempt to undermine the state.”
Yet many believers think it is worth the risk. And more are coming to Christ.
*Names changed for security reasons
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imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.