Iran's Christian Community Flourishes in the Face of Persecution

( [email protected] ) Jul 01, 2004 08:31 PM EDT

Despite being driven underground by intense persecution, the Iranian Christian community continues to grow daily in the Muslim-dominant nation of Iran. According to most sources, the number of Iranian Christians residing in Iran stands at 20,000 to 30,000.

Still, other sources have produced higher figures, indicating that many Iranian Christians worship in secret due to relentless persecution. According to a report released by Voice of Martyrs director Tim White, no less than 30,000 individuals meet privately in their homes—often changing meeting locations for cautionary reasons. “They are hungry to learn, eager to discuss the Bible, and, in particular, Jesus. They're searching for the Truth,” White later commented. “In the past eight years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of converts from Islam.” The Voice of Martyrs organization is an Oklahoma-based ministry dedicated to monitoring and reporting persecution of Christians from all over the world.

For many of these new converts, the price of following Christ is high. Many new converts have been reportedly beaten, tortured, and even murdered by neighbors and relatives. Although the Iranian constitution clearly sanctions religious freedom and tolerance, the government continues to closely monitor religious activities, especially those of Iranian Christians. According to a substantial number of sources, much of the government-sanctioned persecutions have been largely centered on former-Muslims converting to the Christian faith. In the past few years, the Iranian secret police has routinely monitored the few state-sanctioned churches in order to route out what the government refers to as “Muslim apostates.” Consequently most Christians formerly of the Muslim faith have avoided going to government churches—instead opting to worship secretly in underground home-churches. Many newly converted Iranian Christians have reportedly been taken to prison by government officials.

Besides stories of adverse persecution, however, there are many touching testimonies of a few courageous individuals who boldly and openly hold onto their faith. In a few cases, congregations have boldly worshipped publicly, even going as far as planting crosses near the entrances of their churches.

Though presently, the number of Christians is relatively small, given that Iran’s population stands at about 70 million, there are signs that Christianity has become more widespread than in previous decades. In the June issue of “Charisma” magazine, Iranian-born evangelist Lazarus Yeghnazar commented that, “In the last 20 years, more Iranians have come to Christ compared to the last 14 centuries.” Currently, Mr. Yeghnazar resides in the United Kingdom.