God has birthed a unique outreach to Iranian refugees in Luton (pictured above). Yousef and Bev from Luton Christian Fellowship explain how the church has seized the opportunity to nurture and disciple them.
When you pray “God please bring new people to our church” how do you expect him to answer?
For Yousef and his wife Bev and the congregation at Luton Christian Fellowship, God answered with the birth of an enthusiastic and growing fellowship of Iranian refugees. This all began nine months ago, Yousef explains.
“One guy came to the church, then he brought a group, and then another church with no experience of working with Iranians asked if we could take some more people. Now we have 40 people!
“We gather every Sunday after the main service for a Farsi service and have lunch together. We also have Bible studies on Tuesday nights and a friendship group which meets for lunch and games on Fridays too.”
The group was growing, but as refugees are constantly uprooted and moved, how long would they stay in Luton? With this in mind, Yousef and Bev set to work discipling their group.
“Our vision is to equip them and help them their mature in their faith so that when they are moved on they can do this for others too,” says Yousef.
“That’s actually how it worked with me – when I was young someone stood with me and taught me, and now I stand firm in my faith.”
Doing this takes commitment, he says.
“Discipleship isn’t just teaching a course and that’s it. We teach people, meet them one to one, go out for coffee, listen to their struggles and pray with them. We stand with them and cry with them.”
It also means getting to grips with cultural differences.
“Iranian culture differs from Western culture. One big thing for Iranians is generosity, so if you come to a home you don’t just come for teaching then leave.
“It’s more like the culture you see in the Bible where Jesus went from home to home, having meals and sitting with people, listening to them.
“The big thing for us is to receive people, sit with them and honour them. But that is quite natural for us because we worked in Spain for 20 years and a big part of our daily lives was to see people and teach groups in their houses.”
This kind of discipleship needs time and normally, Yousef says, the government moves refugees after a couple of months. He and Bev are thankful that their group has been with them for longer than expected.
“It’s amazing – God has kept them here since last October. He’s done that for a great purpose. I can see him moving by bringing new people to us too. Our group is telling others, from different backgrounds, about LCF and their friends are coming along.”
This extra time has provided a great opportunity for faith to grow. So much so that in May and June 28 refugees were baptised. We prayed that God would send more people to help us and in an amazing way God answered the prayer and sent two Iranians couples who are mature in their faith. They are now leading the group with us.
Yousef says his favourite part of working with this group is seeing the change in people’s lives and watching as their faith grows.
“We’re coming to the point where we want to train some as leaders now – some people are really mature in their faith.”
“People often think of Britain as a Christian country and misunderstand Christianity, so I enjoy it when I see someone becoming really full of Jesus in their heart and their lives being transformed in this way.”
Another exciting part of this work for Yousef and Bev has been sharing their vision for the group with their church and encouraging them to embrace it too.
To help LCF get to grips with different cultures, languages and people, the couple teach the congregation every year how to reach out to and understand others.
One story Yousef shared with them recently, he laughs, was about the time he invited a group out for ice cream. They found the suggestion hilarious, because in their culture ice cream was only for children.
Churches just need to be ready and open for people from other cultures to come in, he says.
“Sometimes as a church you can be praying, ‘Lord we need more people, we want to evangelise’ but God answers in a way you don’t expect and it can be unnerving because you have no experience of working with this group of people.
“Look at what the Lord has done with us and what is going on elsewhere – and make sure you’re ready!”