|Since the establishment of Iranian Christians International, Inc. (ICI) in 1980, until recently both the secular and
Christian worlds frequently questioned the term "Iranian Christian." Many people
regarded this term as an oxymoron. To them, the typical Iranian was a Shi'ah Muslim who
shouted, "Down with America" in the streets of Tehran and other cities around
the world. They asked, "How could someone from this background choose to follow
Christ as his Savior and Lord?"
Even the author who is a Muslim convert to Christ,
did not meet another Iranian Christian convert until four years after his conversion. But,
those were the 1960's and 1970's when Iranians relied on their material prosperity and
Islam to avoid the question of man's sinfulness and the claims of Jesus Christ.
Then, only 200-300 Muslim converts lived in Iran, in a nation of 45 million people. The
personality differences among the Christian leaders and missionaries and the forces of
denominationalism in Iran kept the church from growing. This led to a spiritually dwarfed
Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979, produced several spiritually significant phenomena:
- People became more intimately acquainted with Islam;
- The material prosperity slowly disappeared;
- The Government expelled Western missionaries;
- The Church of Iran, in an Islamic environment, suffered increasing persecution.
The persecution purified the church. If an Iranian called himself a Christian, he now
had to be willing to pay a high price for his faith. At the same time, the disappearing
prosperity and introduction of fundamentalist Islam pressured Iranians into searching for
real answers to their lives' problems.
Throughout the 1980's, an increasing number of Iranians, mostly Muslims (rather than
Iranians from nominal Christian backgrounds), began to turn to Christ. Iranians both in
Iran and abroad observed this development. The Church of Iran grew numerically while it
also grew stronger in faith, and commitment to Christ.
By 1990, ICI estimated the number of Iranian
Christians worldwide to be 16,000 (1994 36,000 and 1999 55,000), half being Muslim
converts and the other half from various religious minorities. Two attitudes prevailed
toward these kinds of reports:
- There was skepticism that the numbers were exaggerated. Christians, strangely enough,
thought like the Muslim clergy - that few Muslims, except perhaps a few alienated or
emotionally unstable persons, would turn from Islam to Christianity.
- Likewise, there was alarm, that publicity of these reports could endanger the Church in
Of course, the Muslim clergy in Iran were already aware of this phenomenal growth.
Accordingly, they increased their persecution of the Church in 1983 when they imprisoned
Rev Mehdi Dibaj, a Muslim convert.
In late 1992, ICI developed an informal "Preliminary Proposal for Leadership
Training for Christians Ministering among Muslims." In this proposal, which received
little support in Christian circles, we reported the number of Iranian Muslim converts
worldwide as 13,300 (with half or 6,700 living in Iran). Christians generally ignored
these reports. Clearly, many still questioned not only the identity but the very existence
of Iranian Christians. Then in 1993, Patrick Johnston published Operation World. His report
on Iran asserted, "there are possibly 6000 (Muslim converts) in Iran today with about
the same number among Iranian refugees (Diaspora)." He added, "Many more
Iranians have become secret believers." Suddenly, it no longer seemed unwise to talk
about the number of Iranian Muslim converts. Almost overnight, people began to accept the
identity of Iranian Christians and Muslim converts. On the other front, the depth of
Iranian Christians' commitment to Christ came to the forefront when both the secular and
Christian news media published Rev. Mehdi Dubai's written defense in
early 1994. Christian leaders have since recognized it as one of the most important
documents ever produced by the Church. Then during the same year, Bishop Haik
Hovsepian-Mehr, Rev. Mehdi Dibaj and Rev. Tateos Mikaelian were martyred in Iran. A
secular newspaper in Atlanta, Georgia (USA) wrote an article about the reality of Iranian
Christians and their persecution in Iran. It added that Pat Robertson's "belly
aching" about the persecution of Christians in the U.S. sounded hollow in comparison
to the "real" persecution that Christians in Iran suffer.
ICI has helped the suffering Iranian Christian refugees around the world since the
early 1980's. This ministry has greatly expanded since 1994. ICI carries on this part of
ministry with very little financial and personnel resources.
What can we in the West learn from these persecuted believers? Could it be that the
Lord will use these believers, who have suffered in so many incredible ways, to wake up
the sleeping Church of the West? Could it be that the Lord is using the dispersion of
Iranian Christians to the uttermost parts of the world, as Jeremiah 49:36 prophesied, to
not only build His glorious church among the Iranian Diaspora but to build His church,
What does the Lord want us to do in response to the legitimate needs of Iranian
Christian refugees? Can they count on us - 20,000 Evangelical Iranian Christians residing
outside Iran and millions of devout Christians worldwide - in this hour of need?
The steadfast church of Iran is not frail. It has given seven known martyrs.* Those who
leave Iran do so reluctantly and only because they and their families are in danger of
losing their lives. One thing is clear, as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, we cannot
be apathetic, we must respond.
*Chronologically, these martyrs are: Rev. Arastoo Sayah, Muslim convert (1979); Brother
Muslim convert (1980); Brother Manuchehr Afghani, Muslim convert (1988 - ICI only learned
of this martyrdom in 1995); Rev. Hossein Soodmand, Muslim convert (1990) [Pastor of Church of Mashhad;
Hovsepian-Mehr, Evangelical Armenian (1994);
Rev. Mehdi Dibaj, Muslim convert (1994); and
Rev. Tateos Mikaelian, Evangelical Armenian (1994).