Are we willing to pay a price?
From a podcast by Release International
Across the world today, millions of Christians are persecuted. They face oppression, imprisonment, displacement, and even death simply because of their faith in Jesus Christ.
David Garrison from his book, A Wind in the House of Islam says at the start of his chapter on Iran, that in the time of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, there were likely no more than 500 Muslim background followers of Jesus. And today there are hundreds of thousands of Iranian Muslims who have given their life to Jesus. And that is just a remarkable statistic. How does one explain that kind of growth in a context of a 40 year long Islamic republic, which has continually persecuted the church, imprisoned, and even killed church leaders and can't tolerate the idea of someone being able to change their faith?
Lazarus Yeghnazar from 222 Ministries shares an update. 222 Ministries, named after 2nd Timothy 2v2, "Find reliable people, who can train others.", is not only focusing on Iran but also the Farsi speaking world. The Farsi speaking world has 85 million Iranians, over 30 million Afghans, and over 10 million Tajiks so about 120 to 130 million people in-country and also in diaspora.
Before the Islamic Revolution and after Islamic Revolution, my father worked in the Bible Society for 49 years. So, I grew in the cellars of Bible Society and the stores of Bible Society, putting some tracts together. We put them in a plastic bag and went to sell it in the streets, but nobody in the pre-Islamic period was interested today to gospel. Even if you distribute it freely, people were just simply not interested.
Iran was just a booming society, people were making money, every other company was there. And if you went out to street to evangelise, and we're free to do so, nobody was curious for the gospel. So I remember as a young teenager, I cried out to God, "Faith comes from hearing your word and nobody is taking this word. Nobody has time to listen to this because; they're making money, they're buying new cars, building new apartments.".
As a teenager, I witnessed many missionaries from England, Germany, United States coming to Iran as young people. They got engaged in the society. They married there. They had children there. They built hospitals and schools in many cities in; Tehran, Tabriz, Isfahan, Mashhad but they didn't see anybody coming to Christ.
All in all, about 100 years of mission activity there were probably 300 believers in Iran. So, of course we were praying and fasting and we were concerned, what is going to happen? How is God going to crack this? Isaiah 65:1, the word of God says, "A nation which didn't seek me, I stretched my arm." That's all I can say.
It is God's timing, God's desire to save nations, and it's not only Iran. I think there is timings in the biblical history and I think the time of Iran has come. So in 42 years, a very dark time of Iran's history, after the Islamic Revolution, the poverty, the destitution, the prostitution, plunder of national wealth, eight years war with Iraq, a million people killed and maimed, all of that going on, over a million people have turned to Christ.
No organisation can take credit. All credit goes to Jesus, my Lord and Saviour. And I can tell you so many stories. Stories in abundance of miracles happening which just baffles the mind, and this is God. This is God changing the landscape of Iran. I would say, "God is about not only bringing people to Christ, but changing the spiritual landscape of Iran."
Persecution is currently increasing in Iran. And that's partly because the authorities are aware of this growth and they seem to be determined to stop it. We are the Apple of God's eye. But the point is from the birth of the church, and the day of Pentecost, Acts Chapter 2 until now, persecution has gone hand in hand with the church.
There is a price to be paid. Jesus knew that when he came down and mingled with us, he had to pay a price to save us. I believe persecution purifies the church. I wish there was a simpler way. Why is God allowing persecution? Because, I believe for Iran, they're coming out of 1,400 years, 14 centuries of Islam. They're coming out of that but they want to prove like Job proved to Satan, they are ready to pay a price for this faith. Jesus says, "Is it worth? I have died for you?"
And now I think with pride, and joy, and humility, I can say the Iranians are paying a price. And yes, there is a persecution but there is no other way. There is no other way to tell Satan, "I am ready to suffer and lose everything, and carry my cross forward."
And this is what baffles Muslims, authorities, those who persecute, those who make them suffer. Why are these idiots suffering for something like this? So to God be the glory. There is a price being paid.
The price that my wife and I have paid, and close friends, and families are very small. They confiscated our ancestral house. They've taken our money. They killed my sister who I insisted on staying in Iran. There is a price being paid right now as well. And there are many stories; people being burned, people being mocked, people being destitute. There is a lot to sacrifice. So, this is a sacrificing church which is growing in Iran, which knows how much Jesus has loved and sacrificed, and they want to reciprocate this.
In this kind of setting, how is it that people are actually hearing the gospel? Coming to hear about Jesus in the first place? Technology - zoom, digital devices, etc. There is an abundance of ways to get the message across. For example, we preach in Farsi on a Zoom video conference call. A few thousand people are live connecting every Sunday; Muslims and Christians all across the world. That then goes on a satellite - prime time to Iran and millions watch it.
I think Paul the apostle, in heaven. he's just pulling his hair out. He's just, "Jesus, this is not fair. It took me six months to get to Ephesus, another three months to get to these places. These guys are preaching, sitting from the comfort of their office in London, and then connecting to satellite, and a million people watch, and thousands are impacted. This is unfair."
I think Church has to wake up. God has given us a golden tool and opportunity. Let's consider what would Paul do if he was alive now? He wouldn't sleep. He would preach every day. He would record messages. He would go to friends and family, go on the social media, tell, "Jesus is alive." What are you doing for goodness sake? This technology is finding its way in Iran.
The biggest issue is not Muslims coming to Christ. The biggest issue is are they going deep in their faith? So discipleship comes in. So our ethos is to disciple, and train, and equip, and release. Some churches are holding onto the baton. The guy says, "I'm ready. Pastor, I'm ready to run.". Their answer is "No, no, no. You have to go to Bible college. Do you have a Doctorate in Theology? You're not qualified yet." The guy says, "I'm ready to run. I love Jesus. I want to tell my friends and family." Their answer is "No, no, no. You don't know how to witness." Release the baton my dear leader. Let people run with the good message of Jesus Christ. People are hearing the gospel, lives are being transformed, and impacted. The light cannot be hushed and shunned away, but we need to disciple this newcomers. This is why discipleship comes into this.
There is discipleship from distance. We have a follow-up team of about 18 full-time and part-time people, the rest are volunteers. Day in, day out they handle calls. People calling through online tools. First of all, you need listen to people. The majority of people that we have encountered, they said, "We are blessed because you are listening. Nobody listens to us."
We direct people for discipleship to prayer, the Holy Spirit, the Bible - the word of God in their language. Online teaching, online conferences all of that play a role. But I think the most important thing is we have to allow them to be a friend with the Holy Spirit immediately. We shouldn't come between ourselves and the Holy Spirit.
The reason the church in the West is in decline is because hierarchial religion has come in. Instead of telling people, "Hey, joy is contagious. We have found the joy, go and give joy." We say, "Listen, sit down on the pew and listen to my message. Come back next Sunday for another morsel."
People ask me, "How long does it take for you to train someone?" I say, "Uh, long one is six hours, the short one is four hours." And they say, "You're kidding.". The issue is having a deep encounter with Jesus Christ. The Samaritan woman, I calculate spent less than four hours with Jesus, maybe only an hour. She went and brought the whole village to Christ. You're asking me, "How long does it take to become an evangelist?" I say, "As long as you have a deep encounter with Christ.". That is as long.
We have a distant memory of revival. let's make revival a reality today. And this is what happening in Iran. We don't handcuff people. We don't muzzle people. The Holy Spirit has set them free and the Church should not allow them not to be free. Make them free, and also give them equipping and encouragement to go cast out demons, heal the sick, raise people from the dead, and then it's unstoppable. I'm sorry, I can get carried away. As you know, this is my favourite subject.
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