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Iran, called Persia until 1935, has a very deep history as it sits on the doorstep of human civilization. It’s cultural and political significance throughout history goes far beyond today’s national borders. All surrounding countries have been deeply influenced by its presence. In fact, at one time some 40% of the world’s population were under ancient Persian Imperial control and influence.
It is mentioned many times in the Bible, beginning with the events of King Xerxes and Esther. Many other Persians leaders are mentioned in the Bible such as Cyrus the Great who freed the Jews from captivity in Babylon, helped them to go back to the Jerusalem and rebuild their temple. Some historians believe that one or all of the three wise men who brought gifts to Jesus at the time of his birth were Persian. They are referred to as Magi and a magus, the singular of magi, was a Zoroastrian priest. Finally, Persians were some of the first people to convert to Christianity (Acts 2:9).
The Imperial Persian cult of Zoroastrianism persecuted the new Christian faith mercilessly until the sixth century because it saw Christians as agents of their arch enemy, Pagan Rome and then the Catholic Byzantines. But by the Sixth Century many leading Persians had become Nestorian Christians and the church was well organised, had sent missionaries to all of Central Asia and even all the way to China in one of the great missionary movements in the history of the world that is now largely forgotten. When the Persian Empire finally fell to the Byzantines in 622 AD (curiously the same year Islam chose to start its calendar) a new era of Arab control slowly developed in the Middle East, emerging from the Byzantine and Persian proxy armies, the Ghassanids and the Lakhmids.
In time Persia regained its cultural and military hegemony over the region as the centre of Islamic law, history and culture from 750 AD until 1220. This is considered Islam’s Golden Age. But then 90% of Persia’s people were horrifically slaughtered at the hands of the Mongols in 1219! Persia took many centuries to recover from this devastation and limped into modern history as a much reduced shadow of its former self.
Iran, like most of the Middle East, was deeply humiliated by Western “Christian colonialism” but always retained certain freedoms. The 20th Century saw Iran ruled by a shah until Western powers discovered oil and started meddling in internal affairs. This resulted in a CIA sponsored coup in 1941, which then inspired an Islamic counter-revolution in 1980. Iran has been a hard line Shia Islamic theocratic state ever since.
With Islamic theocracy has come government control of all aspects of society, and economic disaster. The government controls 80% of the economy, most of which is oil related, and the army controls the majority of that share. Corruption is rife, unemployment peaked at 30% and average incomes are now just 10% of the USA.
With the revolution came a call to have sons for the revolution, and the population doubled in short order. Some 60% of the population is now under 30 years of age. This is now a huge headache for the old guard who control society. The youth hate their government, and because the government rules in the name of Shia Islam, they hate Islam as well. Many have turned to drugs imported from Afghanistan and are dropping out of society. They feel hopeless. This predicament is common to the youth of most Islamic countries that adopt hard line Islamist policies, howbeit after a decade or two of disillusion.
3. Evangelistic Highlights
Iran has the oldest of these Islamist governments. Consequently, the second generation is turning away from its ideas. In percentage terms Iran now has the fastest growing Christian population on the planet at around 20% a year. The church is doubling every 4 years and it is mostly young people. Dreams and visions are commonly involved in peoples journeys to faith.
In 1980 there were fewer than 500 known evangelical believers in a country of 40 million. Now there are close to 400,000 out of 80 million and the numbers are forecast to reach 3-5 million by 2030, 10-15 million by 2050 and…drumroll…Iran is on track at current growth rates to become the first ex-Muslim country to come back to Christianity since the Arab invasions 1,400 years ago. All this in a country that has the death penalty for apostasy!
If Iran is a template for other radical Muslim Islamist countries, then we will see a rapid acceleration in Christianity in many other countries in the decade ahead!
Almost half of those Iranians who have fled the country are also now evangelical Christians. The Iranian Christians, both internal and externally, are seeding many countries around it with the gospel, not least of which is Afghanistan. Farsi language satellite Christian TV and web-based ministries are now reaching into millions of Iranian homes. I personally know one Iranian refugee in Brisbane who has led 50 others to Jesus and started a church.
4. Prayer Points
- Praise God for the harvest, the speed of which we have never seen before in a Muslim country
- pray for strength in the face of strong government persecution
- Pray for more souls to be saved via satellite TV and online ministries
- Pray for more expatiate believers among those who have fled to Europe in recent years
- Pray for female believers, they face great pressure from government religious police
- Pray for the less evangelized people groups such as:
the Zoroastrian Parsees
the Persian Jewish communities
the semi-Nomadic Luri peoples
the restive Kurds