By Mark Ellis
More than 200 Iranians and Afghans were baptized in mid-September at a jubilant, pool-side service near Iran. People from eight different Persian-speaking churches gathered together to share the story of how Jesus transformed their lives, according to a report by Elam Ministries.
The theme for the day was “Jesus changes lives,” and this powerful truth was underscored by many testimonies. One man had been suicidal, but Jesus intervened and brought new hope. One was searching for the truth and found it after he read Romans chapter three.
Another shared: “I never thought I would find freedom from my past, but Jesus has set me free.”
Growth in the Iranian church has been spectacular, with several statisticians noting it may be the fastest growing church in the world. “Twenty years ago, everyone thought there were 2000-5000 believers in Iran,” says Mark Howard, with Elam.
“The conservative estimate today is 300,000 to 400,000. Others think there may be up to one million Muslim background believers in Iran,” he says.
“The word that a lot of our senior leadership team has been using recently is momentum, the Lord is really doing something,” he reports.
“We see incredible opportunity,” Howard says, “reaching Persian speaking refugees in Europe, planting churches in Iran — people are so open right now.”
“Every day we have many coming to the Lord. If you give a starving person food and water they will want to share it. That’s what they find in Jesus. They are so hungry and thirsty for the truth. They are experiencing it in a powerful way. When they do they want to share it with others.”
God’s hand in growing the Persian church is a beautiful story, with several factors contributing to the growth, he says. “There is disillusionment with the Iranian regime and with Islam,” Howard notes. “Life has not improved in the last few years, particularly with the sanctions. People are also disillusioned by violence carried out in the name of Islam.”
Some will be surprised to learn that Iranians have a warmth for Jesus – they view Him is a revered prophet. “Some of the poets they love wrote about Jesus,” Howard says. “They are spiritual people. As many search for truth and hunger for the truth, it is natural to look for that in Jesus. When someone tells them about Jesus they are eager.”
Elam has been distributing Bibles in key areas where Iranian tourists travel in the region. They also smuggle Bibles directly into Iran and use trained leaders to get them into the right hands.
Most Christians in Iran have been forced underground due to the restrictions and persecution of the above-ground church.
In partnership with Wycliffe, Elam started a modern translation of the Bible into Persian in 1994. “The old version was difficult to read,” Howard notes. “In 1994 there weren’t a lot of believers at the time. Some asked why are you doing this — creating a Bible for a church that doesn’t exist?”
Elam finished the New Testament in 2003. Since then they have given out 1.5 million New Testaments.
The entire Bible was finished in 2014, and they have printed over 100,000. Their goal is to print 200,000 New Testaments in 2016 and 100,000 complete Bibles.
The New Testaments are used for evangelism and the complete Bible is used to train believers.
It costs Elam $6 to print and get a New Testament into the hands of a believer. A complete Bible costs $12.50 to print and get into their hands.
For more about Elam Ministries, go here