I recently wrote on these pages about the conviction by an Iranian court of naturalized American citizen Pastor Saeed Abedini, who was sentenced to eight years in prison in the infamous Evin prison for his Christian faith.  I have a great deal of affection for the wonderful people of Iran.  If you have been privileged to know Iranians, you will recognize that they are a warm, friendly, and kind people.  My affection for Iran began when I was in high school, as one of my best friends and classmates was Iranian, who often shared with me about Iranian culture and traditions.  After university, I even contemplated moving to Iran to study and work during the last years of Reza Shah Pahlavi.  Even today, I get occasional emails from his son, Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi.  After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini sought to create the world’s first modern state governed solely by Islamic law.  He believed that a more prosperous society could be created if the Iranian people and their government adhered to the Koran.  But 34 years later, the Islamic revolution has proven to be a terrible failure, and many Iranians are deeply disillusioned.  The growing poverty of the people, the brutal repression, the high level of inflation and chronic shortages of basic foods resulting from the mullahs’ mismanagement of the economy, the deep and pervasive corruption, the siphoning off of the nation’s great wealth for the Iranian nuclear program (why does a nation so rich with oil and natural gas even need a “peaceful” nuclear program?), and the growing threat of war, pains me deeply with the suffering of the Iranian people under the mullahs.  Further, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has fostered unrelenting opposition to the state of Israel.  (Last Sunday, Ahmadinejad marked International Holocaust Memorial Day by calling on his fellow Moslems to band together to destroy Israel.  “Under circumstances that the corrupt, uncultured and murderous Zionists are occupying and killing oppressed people, we should not sit idly by,” Ahmadinejad said to the attendees at the 26th International Islamic Unity Conference in Tehran.)  Although practically unnoticed, in the recent vote for statehood at the United Nations by the Palestinians, Iran joined the United States and Israel as one of the few countries to oppose Palestinian statehood.  Presumably, Iranian opposition to Palestinian statehood arose because it would lead to the recognition of Israel remaining in the Middle East, even while Iran arms and funds Hamas, Hezbollah, and other militant groups violently opposed to Israel.

Foreign visitors to Iran regularly report that almost every person they encounter is against the Iranian government and Islam.  A number of years ago, I mentored a young woman from Iran.  As a child, she, her siblings, and her mother moved to one of the Scandinavian nations, where they became Christian believers.  Ultimately, this young woman came to study in the United States.  During the summers, she would return to Iran to visit her family.  She told me her younger friends were so fed up with the mullahs that if they had a chance at some freedom, more than one-half of them would become Christians.

But what is mostly unknown is that today, Christianity is experiencing explosive growth in Iran.  Christianity in Iran long predates the rise of Islam (See, e.g., Acts 2:9).  But despite the severe persecution of Christian believers in Iran, the crisis is creating a great spiritual vacuum and deep hunger, and many Iranians are becoming Christ-followers.  Although there are hundreds of officially recognized churches in Iran, most Christians today worship in secret house churches.  President Ahmadinejad was so concerned about the growing house church movement in Iran that, at a meeting with 30 provincial governors in 2007, he declared that “I will stop Christianity in this country.”  However, the government crackdown has caused Christians to grow stronger in their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and bolder in sharing their faith.  One house church leader said, “God is testing our faith because He wants us to become more like Jesus.”  As a result of persecution, house churches now meet in smaller groups, and the government crackdown is actually having an opposite effect as Christians are traveling to other parts of Iran planting many more house churches throughout the country.  In fact, as one recent example, The Barnabas Fund, which supports Christians in Islamic nations, disclosed that approximately 50 Iranian Christians were arrested by police and national security agents who raided a house church meeting in Tehran on December 27th.  Most were later released, but Pastor Vruir Avanessian was kept in custody, while his home was searched (and ransacked) by authorities.  Pastor Avanessian is an elderly man, and reportedly has kidney disease and requires dialysis every two days.  Reports indicate that since his arrest, Pastor Avanessian has been taken to the hospital only once.  So please pray for Pastor Avanessian that he either will be released or at least permitted to receive necessary medical care.

What can we do for our fellow Christian believers in Iran?  Please pray for them that they will be faithful notwithstanding the fierce persecution they face.  And for my readers who have a gift for intercessory prayer, I would encourage you to also pray for the Iranian government.  Even though President Ahmadinejad is in the final months of his presidency, please pray that he has a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ.  Just imagine how that would change that country, and our world.  Jeremiah 49: 37-39 is an interesting prophecy in which the God of Israel promises to establish His throne in Iran.  This is astonishing because Iran is the only nation, other than Israel, where God states He is going to set His throne.  That would certainly look like a miracle, wouldn’t it?  But unimaginable, amazing miracles have happened before.