The Human Cost Of Spreading The Gospel

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Iran is seeing massive church growth, despite severe persecution


Elam, a mission partner of Elim, is making a big impact in a nation that is one of the toughest on Christians.

Ihaven’t seen anywhere else in the world where the Bible is having an impact like it is in Iran,” says Rev Sam Yeghnazar. “Iranians are so hungry for the Word of God. They’ve had 40 years of Islamic revolution and they simply say, ‘If this is Islam, we’re not interested. Is there an alternative?’”

In Iran, a hard-line Islamic regime has been in power since 1979. Fiercely anti- Christian, it bans and burns Persian Bibles, arrests and imprisons church leaders and Muslim converts and aims to terrify Christians into inactivity.

But the brutal strategy has backfired. Banning Bibles and censoring Christian media has made Iranians more eager to access them. Closure of churches has fuelled a flourishing underground house church net- work. And persecution has bred a Spirit-led boldness among believers.

The result is the fastest-growing evangelical church in the world, which Operation World estimates to be growing at 19.6 percent per year. It was this openness and opportunity which led Sam – who is Iranian and a former pastor – to found Elam Ministries in 1990 and dedicate his life to ministry among Iranians. The organisation seeks to reach the Persian-speaking world for Christ. It works to strengthen and expand the Church in Iran by training and equipping Iranian Christians to lead and plant churches, evangelise and disciple others.

It also distributes Scriptures, provides support via Persian-language media, resources, books and specialist women’s and children’s ministries, and advocates for persecuted Iranian believers.

At the heart of Elam’s work is leadership training.

“When the Islamic revolution was ushered in and people suddenly be- came hungry to know God and read the Scriptures, we didn’t have leaders. So the most pressing need was leadership development, and we started the Elam Bible College,” says Sam. “We’ve trained around 1,000 leaders now – and not just people working with Elam. Many of them have grown in amazing ways and brought many to Christ. They have gone all over the world and spread the gospel among seven million Iranians living outside Iran.”

[swpm_protected for="2-3-4" do_not_show_protected_msg="1"] ‘Our people have become emboldened by the Holy Spirit’ [/swpm_protected]

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Elam also places a special emphasis on Scripture distribution. Working with Wycliffe Bible Translators, it published a Persian New Testament in 2003 and has printed more than two million copies to date. The Old Testament and digital versions of the Bible have also been produced, and together, they are a highly effective form of evangelism.

“Sometimes, a New Testament is read by seven or eight people and that many people then come to Christ,” says Sam. But spreading the gospel is not without huge cost. “When you preach a message that is opposite to that of the Iranian leaders, people are attacked,” he says.

"A number of my friends – precious and wonderful people of God who I’d known for 35 years – have been martyred. “They knew the cost and they paid it willingly. Today, the Iranian regime may not kill Christians, but it wants to frighten them. Their method is deception and horror, but even in prison people have come to Christ and been baptised.”

This persecution – where Christian leaders and Muslim-background believers are imprisoned and often subjected to mental or physical torture and solitary confinement – often breeds even stronger faith.

“At one time, the regime put 60 people we’d trained in prison. It was a hard time, but the amazing thing was these folks came out with such determination to continue.

“We are no longer afraid of suffering. Our people have become emboldened by the Holy Spirit. Thousands of people have heard the message in Iranian prisons because of those Christians who were imprisoned.”

Sam believes historic biblical links between Iran and the Jews mean God is blessing the Iranian Church today.

“The Iranian king Cyrus liberated the Jews from Babylonian captivity, and when the temple was rebuilt with Iranian backing, the only request from the king was that prayers would be said for them.

“I believe those prayers which were uttered in Jerusalem for Iran are bearing fruit today. God is doing a wonderful thing to liberate it from the godlessness of the prevailing religion. At Elam, we’re simply saying, ‘We’re available, use us.’ We believe all Iran can be reached with the Word of God.

“But we need the support of the Church. God touches people, they support us, and we are so grateful. The Great Commission is cross- cultural – it’s working together to bring the gospel to the world.” [/swpm_protected]

[swpm_protected for="2-3-4" do_not_show_protected_msg="1"] What can you do? [/swpm_protected]

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How you can help Elam:

PRAY

Order a copy of Elam’s ‘Iran 30’ prayer guide or sign up for email prayer updates

GIVE

It costs around £4.50 to give an Iranian Christian a New Testament

VISIT

www.elam.com for more information and to learn more [/swpm_protected]

[swpm_protected for="2-3-4" do_not_show_protected_msg="1"] How Elam equips the church in Iran [/swpm_protected]

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Elam's mission is to strengthen and expand the Church in Iran and beyond. To do this, it trains and equips the Persian Church and sends the gospel into Iran via evangelists, church planters and Christian media. Its main projects include: [/swpm_protected]

[swpm_protected for="2-3-4" do_not_show_protected_msg="1"] Training Leaders [/swpm_protected]

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With the Iranian Church growing rapidly, training of Christian leaders to evangelise, disciple, plant and pastor churches is a huge priority. Elam provides discipleship and Bible courses, conferences and distance-learning programmes in Persian. [/swpm_protected]

[swpm_protected for="2-3-4" do_not_show_protected_msg="1"] Church Planting [/swpm_protected]

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Church leaders in Iran must be courageous, prayerful and persistent to ensure church plants attract new members while remaining undetected. To help church planters, Elam offers training, Bibles, resources, pastoral care and financial support. [/swpm_protected]

[swpm_protected for="2-3-4" do_not_show_protected_msg="1"] SCRIPTURE PRINTING AND DISTRIBUTION [/swpm_protected]

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Iran has banned Christian Scriptures, but this has fuelled curiosity about the Bible. Elam translated the New Testament into Persian in 2003, the Old Testament in 2014, and also offers a digital version. Distributing these is a very effective form of evangelism. [/swpm_protected]

[swpm_protected for="2-3-4" do_not_show_protected_msg="1"] MEDIA MINISTRY [/swpm_protected]

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Persian Christian satellite TV is behind much of the recent rapid church growth in Iran, despite satellite TV being illegal. Via TV, social media, smartphones and computers Elam evangelises and disciples with worship, Bible readings and teaching. Ministry and resources are also available via websites and phone hotlines. [/swpm_protected]

[swpm_protected for="2-3-4" do_not_show_protected_msg="1"] DISCIPLESHIP [/swpm_protected]

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To facilitate large-scale discipleship of new Christians in Iran, Elam launched its Safar initiative. This one-to-one programme encourages believers to deepen their faith, participate in corporate worship, focus on Christian living and be equipped to disciple others. [/swpm_protected]

[swpm_protected for="2-3-4" do_not_show_protected_msg="1"] WOMEN’S MINISTRY [/swpm_protected]

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Iranian women are viewed as second-class citizens, and physical, sexual or emotional abuse is common. Elam hosts conferences to restore people’s self-worth and address issues such as abortion. It also equips them for key roles in evangelism and church planting. [/swpm_protected]

[swpm_protected for="2-3-4" do_not_show_protected_msg="1"] CHILDREN AND YOUTH [/swpm_protected]

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Elam believes the next generation is called to do greater things than the courageous generations that have gone before. Therefore it invests in children and young people, providing ministry for children, leaders and parents, and resources for Persian-speaking children. [/swpm_protected]

[swpm_protected for="2-3-4" do_not_show_protected_msg="1"] RESOURCES [/swpm_protected]

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To answer new Iranian Christians’ questions about the Bible, their life and faith, Elam has published more than 200 Christian books in Persian, and hosts an information website. [/swpm_protected]

This article was taken from the December 2019 issue of Direction Magazine.

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This article is from the December 2019 issue of Direction Magazine. Click below to view the latest issue of Direction Magazine.


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