Iran, officially the Islamic Republic of Iran, is a country in Western Asia. The 18th largest country in the world in terms of area at 1,648,195 km², Iran has a population of over seventy million. It is bordered on the north by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, on the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan, on the south by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, on the west by Iraq, and on the northwest by Turkey. Tehran is the capital, the country's largest city and the political, cultural, commercial, and industrial center of the nation. Iran is a regional power, and holds an important position in international energy security and world economy as a result of its large reserves of petroleum and natural gas. The political system of Iran, based on the 1979 Constitution, comprises several intricately connected governing bodies. The highest state authority is the Supreme Leader. Shia Islam is the official religion and Persian is the official language.
For over ten years, MERF and Words of Hope have partnered in a growing indigenous ministry in Iran. The missionary efforts include nightly radio broadcasts in the Farsi language, training and supporting workers inside the country, Bible distribution, and publishing solid Farsi literature. From Tehran:"As mentioned before in my emails, a few years ago I became a believer through your radio programs. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your programs that have built my faith and most importantly have brought me closer to the true living God. This is the God of love, who has revealed himself through Jesus Christ."
Each year arrangements are made to bring believers together out of the country for periods of training and spiritual nourishment. These conferences result in detailed Farsi transcripts of lectures that have been printed and distributed within Iran. Back home, such activities are unavailable. Even those Muslim converts who reside near an open church cannot safely attend. Most have come to faith within the past few years. They have experienced firsthand the fulfillment of Jesus' promise "I will not leave you desolate, I will come to you!" (John 14:18).
MERF supports workers in Iran to visit Christians and teach new believers. All evangelistic activity is very risky. Believers are regularly called into the secret police, and some have been jailed for their faith, being intimidated to recant the name of Christ while in prison. Bibles are in short supply because importing them is restricted. In response to this need, MERF distributed 4,000 Gospels in the last few months of last year, leading to growing fellowship groups. The great demand for God's Word indicates the advance of the Gospel.
The indisputable fact is that many millions of Iranians (some say as many as 60 percent) are disenchanted with Islam and strongly prefer Western secularism. The Iranian authorities are fully aware of that, and thus no longer use Islamic slogans to stir public loyalty. Instead, they use nationalistic slogans such as "preserving" or "restoring" the "greatness of Persia."
Yes, many do not mind "corrupt Western" ways of life. This includes some politicians and government officials! But also, growing numbers long for a satisfying spiritual alternative to the religion they no longer desire to follow. This explains why, despite threats and difficulties, the church in Iran continues to grow very rapidly, especially among young people.
In Iran the growing underground church hungers for sound biblical literature. Thus, MERF has worked to provide Farsi (Persian) language translation of several Reformed works over the past few years. Additionally, MERF operates a Farsi ministry website, reaching out to Iranians, Afghans, and Tajikistanis with hope and truth. This website is updated regularly with articles expounding selections of the Scriptures. Audio files of our Farsi radio broadcasts are also available for Farsi speakers to listen to or download.
In recent months, a few Iranian leaders seem to have yielded slightly to these trends. It has been reported that several key Iranian Muslim clergyman have publicly commended aspects of Christianity in their Friday sermons. Former president Ayatollah Mohammed Khatimi has repeatedly said that he has no problem with Iranian Christians as long as they remain loyal to their families and nation. He described them as "honest and hard-working Iranians."
These are wonderful Gospel days for Iranians. Training and supporting qualified Iranian converts for gospel work is one of MERF's top priorities. Radio broadcasting and Internet-based ministries are a major part of MERF's strategy with its main Persian ministry partner, Words of Hope. This is reaping much fruit among the many Iranians who are disenchanted with Islam.
In September of 2010, Iran's Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi publicly acknowledged the Christian movement's growing impact in the Islamic republic. Speaking on September 23, 2010, in Qom, Moslehi conceded, "House churches draw thousands of Iranians to Christianity each year. Hundreds of people are being baptized at will." He also noted that the Christian converts include many clerics at the Islamic seminary in Qom as well as numerous officials in Iran's foreign service. Despite official opposition and widespread persecution, Christ is building His church inside the Islamic Republic of Iran. By His gracious provision, ongoing indigenous missions are bearing tangible and enduring fruit!