Despite Iran’s heavy-handed crackdown, the Christian population in Iran is flourishing and growing rapidly.
The country has a population of about 78 million. The official religion is Muslim, and on paper it allows other religions including Christianity. However, it is illegal for a Muslim and even members of other religions to convert to Christianity.
Iran is an Islamic Republic and though there is an elected president, according to Iran’s constitution he is subject to the country’s “Supreme Leader” who is the highest ranking religious leader in the country — currently Ali Khomenei.
Iran is made up primarily of Shia Muslim, the smaller of the two main branches of Islam, the larger being Sunni — ISIS comes out of this latter group.
It is dangerous for a Muslim to convert to Christianity in Iran and aside from societal/family pressure can lead to imprisonment, torture and even death.
As a result, most Iranian Muslims convert secretly, keeping it hidden from their family.
One of those Muslims who converted to Christianity in Iran but didn’t keep it quiet was Pastor Saeed Abedini. He was arrested and held in an Iranian prison for several years.
But world pressure on his plight finally resulted in his release just over a month ago.
In a post on Facebook, Saeed said,”We do not know how strong our faith really is until it is tested.”
He along with other Christians were repeatedly tortured or beaten to coerce them deny their faith and revert back to Islam. Saeed many stood their ground including people he led to the Lord while in prison.
However, he also heard one Christian man repeating the “Namaz Islamic prayer” which is the conversion prayer to Islam.
BosNewsLife reported that the Iranian government has charged four men — Pastor Amin Khaki, Daniel (Hossein) Barounzadeh, Mohammad Bahrami and Rahman Bahmani — with apostasy and evangelizing, serious charges that could result in long prison sentences or even death.
The Iranian secret police arrested the four in 2014 while on a picnic. They were initially convicted and are now appealing their conviction. During the trial the four men repeatedly testified why they converted to Christ.
According to legal documents, Rahman Bahmani told the court:
“I was converted four years ago and attended church services in Karaj, Shoush, Ahvaz and Turkey. I changed a lot. I wasn’t a good man before, and when my wife saw the changes in me, she also converted to Christianity. When people ask me how my life has changed, I tell them that Jesus healed me.”
Hossein Barounzadeh testified to the court:
“I was born in a Muslim family and believed in Islam as I practiced it and converted to Christianity in 2005. I did it for my own salvation… I don’t believe that Christ is merely a prophet, He is my Savior….’”
It is difficult to nail down how many Christians there are in Iran. In 2006, the Iranian government stated there were 109,000 Christians in the country. However, since it is illegal for a Muslim to convert to Christianity those type of converts are not included in official numbers.
Unofficially, Open Doors USA says at a least there are 450,000 Christians in Iran while others put the number higher perhaps even a million.
Most of the Christians are found in the underground church. From time to time photos emerge of secret mass baptisms taking place that can number in the dozens.
In order to stay out of sight of Islam, the underground churches follows three basic principles when holding meetings:
- Groups are limited in size to four or five people;
- They regularly change their meeting places; and
- When they do meet, they worship quietly to avoid drawing attention.
Christian Post recently did an article on Pars Theological Center based in England. One of the goals of this group is to raise up and train the next generation of Church leaders in Iran. They are in the process of training about 200 Iranians — 140 of them are still living in Iran who Pars trains via the internet and video.