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Iranian Christians suffering for Christ

January 24, 2011 2 Comments

Christians in Iran face ongoing persecution (AP Photo)

Mass arrests, physical abuse, death and rape threats are part of the defensive armoury unleashed by the Islamic Republic of Iran against a growing Christian church.

Official government statements as well as local church leaders suggest there are now more than one million Christians in Iran meeting in house churches spread out throughout the country. According to government statements, there are 200 house churches in the Islamic holy city of Mashad alone.

Hamid Moslehi, Iranian Information Minister, has said that Christianity and Baha’ism have spread in Iran to the point where they threaten even devout Shiites and clergy novices in religious schools.

The Iranian government’s Office of Sects and New Religions is worried that foreign religions will weaken the faith of its people and is training 3,500 students to counter the threat from new religions, the BBC Persian (Farsi) language service reports.

Since Christmas, officials have arrested 70 Christians in 17 cities and there were arrests in another 17 cities before Christmas, according to Sam Yeghnazar, director of Elam Ministries, a group that reaches the Iran region with the Gospel of Christ (www.elam.com).

Many of the Christians were released after interrogation, but at least 13 are still in custody. There is no news from those still being held.

“The Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has acknowledged the growth of Christianity,” Mr. Yeghnazar said in a recent private interview. “President Ahmadinejad has said that he wants to destroy the root of Christianity in Iran and the government is determined to persecute Christianity.”

In October, the BBC’s Persian news service reported that Ayatollah Khamenei had called Iranian Christians “germs.”

“The reason for the concern of the Islamic republic is the huge growth of Christianity in Iran,” Mr. Yeghnazar said.

“Official figures as well as direct reports from the Iranian church suggest that there are now over one million Christians in Iran. This compares to a Christian-born population of 350,000 Assyrians and Armenians and 500 Christians from a Farsi-speaking (Islamic) background just 31 years ago.”

Iranian law does not permit non-Christians to enter officially-approved (Armenian and Assyrian) churches and the Iranian government has not permitted the construction of churches since it came to power in 1979, so believers have no choice but to meet in private house churches. The government also prevents the sale of Farsi Bibles in Iran.

Apart from banning the sale of Bibles, it has unleashed a wave of arrests against Christians that it calls evangelists. Prisoners are kept handcuffed and blindfolded and face interrogation, insults and intimidation for weeks.

One prisoner was told that if he refused to sign a paper recanting his religion, he and his family would be tortured and harmed.

“What is remarkable about this wave of arrests is that believers are staying in Iran and facing their persecutors,” Mr. Yeghnazar  observed. He reported one leader, who had just dropped his daughter off at school, went home to find six men waiting to arrest him. “When Christians are arrested, their homes are ransacked and their Christian literature and computers confiscated” he explained.

“This leader could have run away, but he stopped just long enough to call Christian friends and ask for prayer before returning home to be arrested.”

It was 20 days before this Christian leader was allowed to make a call to his family.

Mr. Yeghnazar challenges Christians around the world saying that this is not a time to retreat. “It is a time to share the Gospel and to declare Christ. Prayer can achieve great things. Even Muslim clerics are speaking up against the persecution of Christians in Iran.”

He suggests reading Daniel 6, as it speaks of a believer (Daniel in the lion’s den) who faced persecution in Iran, yet, through the Lord’s help, was able to overcome.

From a report from Elam.com


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