An international Christian ministry reported growing success in its effort to reach Muslims living in Iran through television broadcasts.
Until a month ago, the International Antioch Ministries (IAM) broadcasted taped Christian shows through a secular Persian satellite company.
"The satellite company would get calls from people calling about us," explained Maxine Bingham, volunteer for the IAM Public Relations department. Now, she says, IAM maintains a 24-hour airing schedule to the Muslim country with its own live satellite broadcasts for the Farsi-language network, Mohabat TV.
IAM started in humble beginnings with Bible Studies hosted at the home of its CEO, founder and pastor, Hormoz Shariat, in northern California. Calling itself the Iranian Christian Churches, the ministry grew in San Jose, Fremont, Sacramento, Fresno and Los Angles – making it the largest overseas Iranian church.
As quoted from the IAM website, a number of underground house churches associated with the Iranian Christians churches have also taken root in Iran.
The church began the International Antioch Ministries in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist bombings.
IAM, says Bingham, was formed so that broadcasting the gospel into Islamic nations would change the heart and culture of "violence, hate, and revenge" that permeates from the Middle East.
"Secular people were trying to broadcast things that would inspire political change," Bingham said. "What is different is that Christians are not political. We believe that the conversion of the heart will be more likely to change places like Iran."
Bingham said that IAM, which broadcasted since June 2002, hopes to reach Iranians not just in Iran but in North America and Europe.
Mohabat TV, arguably one the most watched Christian television broadcasts in the nation of over 68 million, started as a cooperative effort with Sammy Tippit Ministries, Joyce Meyer Ministries, Voice of Martyrs and Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN).
Both the Sammy Tippit and Joyce Meyer Ministries have their programs broadcasted through the network, which airs on three satellite channels – Hot Bird: 3, Channel: 83, and DW Frequency: 12360.42.
The network also features a pastoral show hosted by Shariat and, IAM-cofounder and pastor, Kamil Navai. Another program shows a model for an "average" house church gathering for Iran’s underground church to follow.
One show that has attracted a great following especially amongst women-viewers is the Joyce Meyer Ministry.
"Many viewers have told us that they appreciate Joyce Meyer’s down-to-earth and practical teachings, as well as her sense of humor. Her programs have caused many oppressed Muslim women to be attracted to the freedom offered to them in Christ," Shariat wrote last year.
"She has also inspired and encouraged many Iranian Christian women toward having a public ministry," Shariat added. "A young lady who recently gave her heart to Jesus told IAM, ‘Joyce Meyer has inspired me grow in my faith and knowledge of Bible. My vision is to be the Joyce Meyer of Iran.’"
Each week, Mohabat TV receives about 200 email responses. Many viewers are simply afraid to answer, said Bingham.
"The Iranian government is cracking down on this. People are being threatened and jailed, just for watching the shows," Bingham explained. Nonetheless, she says, this has not stopped viewers from responding each week.
An Iranian, speaking on conditions of anonymity, wrote to the network:
"Secret believers are everywhere. I take a taxi to work daily. In the period of just one month, I have had two taxi drivers who have started to share the Gospel with me! When I shared with them about my faith in Christ, they were happy to hear it, and shared how they have come to Christ through TV. One of them shared with me how he had been miraculously healed from cancer by the Lord Jesus Christ. He had a cross hanging in his taxi. When I asked him ‘aren’t you afraid to be persecuted?’ he answered, ‘I just share with my passengers how Jesus has healed my cancer. Nobody can argue with that!’"