Open Doors International (www.opendoors.org), like Voice of the Martyrs, serves persecuted Christians around the world. One of the many places they work is Iran, a nation extremely hostile to any kind of Christian presence. As in many Muslim nations, conversion from Islam to Christianity is illegal in Iran, and even talking about the Christian faith can lead to prison. Yet, many Iranian Muslims are coming to believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. They then meet secretly in house churches to grow in their new faith.
In the United States we take for granted unlimited possibilities for Christian fellowship and growth—churches with trained leadership, Christian schools, books, music, radio stations, periodicals, and seminars for everyone. Christians gathering secretly in Iran have to depend on whatever leadership is available, as in the following testimony of a 23 year old ‘leader’ who is himself a fairly new believer. Discipleship training of such leaders is a significant part of the ministry of Open Doors International. They are providing materials and assistance to this young man, and many more like him. It is impossible to know how many Christians are worshiping in Iran, but it has been estimated that there are more Muslims coming to Christ in Iran than in any other nation.
I am proud to be an Iranian, but I have to say that daily life has not been easy. Three weeks ago I had a small talk with a Muslim in a park near a main street. We talked in veiled terms about religion and politics. At the end, the Muslim told me, ‘It feels like a big prison, to be living here.’ I agreed, but didn’t dare to say so. I glanced away, thinking of my Christian friend arrested in December 2010 who is still in prison.
I realized that I have more freedom than many of my Christian brothers and sisters who are in jail. But after talking with this Muslim, I also realized that since I became Christian, I have even more freedom than he does! Even the Christians in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison have more freedom than Muslims do. It filled me with a feeling of sympathy and I thought about the lessons we had been learning. It’s part of our discipleship training about our spiritual freedom in Christ Jesus.
That training really helped our house group. Together with my wife, we are the leaders of this house church, and every week we get together for at least one meeting. We rotate places and days but it is always in the evening. We study parts of the Bible, talk about the paragraphs that we like or don’t understand, and then we try to apply this to our daily life.
This sounds good maybe, but I often wonder if this is the right way to do it. How should I know? I became a believer six years ago, when I was seventeen. I don’t feel qualified to call myself a leader. What do I know about the role of the Holy Spirit, about a Christian marriage, about explaining the Bible or studying the Bible in the right way? But others came to faith later, so I am the most ‘experienced’ of our group.
The training helps us enormously to grow in our own leadership roles, but also motivates us to hand down the important things we learned to others. Now we know we have to stay close to the Word of God. Because it is easy to ascribe our own thoughts to the Holy Spirit, we learned how to test them against the Bible. The training also helped us open up and discuss untouched topics, like relationships in marriage and being a servant leader like Jesus was.
Through this discipleship training, we’ve been so encouraged to know that people all over the world know about us and pray for us. This helps groups like ours to stay spiritually healthy, and grow in numbers, too.
Even though believers in house groups like ours have to stay hidden and face a lot of difficulties, I think the church of Iran is like a colony of ants: most of them you don’t see!
–From Standing Strong Through The Storm, a daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks, broadcast by Open Doors International (2011).
John 8:36 — If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
I Timothy 4:8 — Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.
I Timothy 4:10-12 — That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.
Almighty God, you have taught us through your Son Jesus Christ that those who follow Him may be persecuted. Strengthen, comfort, and encourage all those who suffer harassment, violence, imprisonment, and even death for being followers of Jesus. We pray also for those who persecute your people. May their hearts be turned towards you through the faithful witness of those they persecute. Protect members of the families and church communities of those who are persecuted, and bless the work and ministry of the organizations that support them. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.