God is at work and building His Church in Iran

Too Many to Jail – The Story of Iran’s Christians by Mark Bradley (2014)

One of my daily rituals is to check out the day’s Facebook entry for the Barnabas Fund, which usually concerns needs in some country in the world where the church is or has been undergoing some form of persecution, and is intended to encourage readers to pray (and I do). The entry for 18 December 2021 was about the Church in Iran and it reads: “Many Muslims in Iran are coming to Christ, but the typical lifespan of a house church in Iran – a group of Muslim-background believers – is only six months to a year. New converts are quickly put under pressure by the authorities, often being arrested and imprisoned, whether for days, months or even years. Sometimes they are released only if they sign a document promising not to meet with other Christians. Worn down by all this, many converts leave Iran, which may indeed be the aim of the harassment applied to them. Humanly speaking the situation of Christians is likely to deteriorate still further, given that President Ibrahim Raisi, who assumed office on 3 August, is an extremist. Pray that each new believer subjected to this pressure will be strong in the Lord and will hear His voice of guidance clearly”.

I have just finished reading a book titled “Too Many to Jail – The Story of Iran’s Christians” by Mark Bradley. While published in 2014, in the light of the Barnabas diary entry that offers confirmation, the points raised in the book are as pertinent as ever, not least that there has been and continues to be a turning to God by the Iranian people, including among many of those deemed as Muslim and thereby committing the “crime” of apostacy, through His Son, Jesus, despite official opposition and outright persecution. I have long been interested in what is going on in Iran, beginning when in 1970, as a student, I was told about some of what was going on then, through Operation Mobilisation.

Before we get to God moving, building His Church, in Iran, let us consider Iran in a wider context. Firstly, geo-political – while mainstream media can not be trusted to offer a balanced picture, if we delved deep enough it admits to Iran being a major player in the Middle East, noting the mutual antipathy between it and Israel and also it and Saudi Arabia when it comes to regional dominance and their different takes on Islam (Shi’ite, Sunni etc.). We can also find out about the different approaches toward dealing with Iran by the USA, when comparing the rhetoric and actions of the Trump and Obama / Biden administrations. There is little doubt as events unfold in the Middle East, while Israel will be of major significance, one can’t help thinking Iran won’t be far behind. Four years ago, I wrote a blog titled Understanding Iran, which is still pertinent when trying to figure out Iran as a geo-political entity.

Secondly, we turn to the historical. Three years ago, I blogged “The Kings of Persia in the Bible” (check out image above for a brief summary), where I delved in that very subject, which I saw as important to our better understanding the Bible. Later, I elaborated in my “Prophets of the Biblebook. Currently, I am working on its sequel: “Kings and priests of the Bible”. Besides playing a significant part in the history of Israel (post-Exile), Persia is touched on in several Bible books. Persia (Iran) was a sophisticated ancient civilisation (and along with Babylon, Greece and Rome (ref. Daniel 2)) was dominant in the BCE era, but also one that did promote religious tolerance, starting with Cyrus the Great, which was also apparent in subsequent history. What is also significant is Iran / Persia history and tradition is often a lot different to its Middle East neighbors and in order to know truly what is going on in the region, including in religious matters, more understanding is needed.   

So back to the book. A number of things (all positive) spring out … it is very readable; it is well researched and it is inspirational. While touching on matters discussed in my previous two paragraphs, particularly the current political situation, and filling in historical gaps, the emphasis is on the Iran church and specifically the “house” church movement, which is quite diverse. It is a thrilling and moving account that includes suffering and martyrdom and a Holy Spirit inspired reaction to the spiritual emptiness and dissatisfaction new converts had earlier experienced. It covers the part various ethnic groups played, the character of the Iranian people, the different Christian groupings, notably the Pentecostals, the relationship to be had with Islam, the frowned upon matter by the authorities of folk converting from Islam and how old and new manifestations of Christian experience merged. What became apparent was the important part played by prayer, in discipling new Christians and personal evangelism and the steadfastness of Christians when being put under pressure to comply, in a way (this writer) doesn’t see in UK Christianity but believes will do when the “Great Reset” truly bites, as is looking as being the case.

Mark Bradley (the author) and his behind-the-scenes crew are to be congratulated for producing what one commentator described as “a precise, honest and informative account of the ordeals of a growing (Muslim-background) Christian population inside Iran. This affirming message of perseverance, hope and faith will excite and challenge the reader … a must read.” It certainly did that for me and has quickened me to want to know more, pray for my Iranian brethren and find ways I can better support them.

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