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Responding to Growing Spiritual Hunger in Iran

By Birgit Billau
Afghanistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkey, C Asia, CE Europe, CAMENA, Global, Middle East

The fascinating complexity of the history and associated cultures and religions of Iran, as well as the entire Persian-speaking world, can be aptly summarized in the words used by Daniel,* the Farsi Ministry director for TWR, to describe the background of his own religious affiliation: He is a Jewish, ex-Muslim Christian. These words reflect the historically prominent religions in the entire region – Judaism, Islam and recently an ever-growing segment of Christianity.

As author Joel C. Rosenberg writes in his bestselling book Epicenter: Why the Current Rumblings in the Middle East Will Change Your Future, “Perhaps the most dramatic story unfolding in the Middle East is the explosion of Christianity inside Iran.” He quotes an Iranian-born evangelist as saying, “In the last 20 years, more Iranians have come to Christ than in the last 14 centuries. Radio and satellite television evangelism ministries are big factors in getting the Gospel to millions of Iranians who would otherwise have no access to the truth. ... These resources are vitally important.”

In this regard TWR serves as a strong voice for the gospel in the Persian-speaking world. Persian is the first or second language of more than 100 million people and is divided into three main varieties: Farsi in Iran, Dari in Afghanistan and Tajik in Tajikistan. There are also many Farsi speakers in Turkey, the U.S. and Canada, and other countries worldwide. The primary purpose of Persian World Radio, which is to be launched in early 2022, is to share the hope of Christ with Farsi speakers and encourage Persian believers in their faith.

Discovering a New Definition of Love

The family history of the TWR Farsi Ministry director exemplifies the religious spectrum found in the Persian-speaking world. His great-grandfather converted from Judaism to Islam to fit in to Iranian society at the time.

Daniel himself spent several years in his youth searching for God. At about age 17, he became convinced that God does in fact exist. Despite his intense research into Islam and teaching the Quran to other young people, he grew increasingly disappointed and disillusioned.

While he was attending an Armenian-run Christian school, his mother began reading a Bible she received from a girl at the school. Daniel noticed his mother becoming far more loving.

“The definition of love in the Bible, as in 1 Corinthians 13, is totally wonderful,” he says with a smile.

When he had to join the military at age 18, Daniel deepened his research into Christianity and discovered that, at the cross, “Jesus Christ is the creator of forgiveness,” he recalls with excitement. At around this time, his father also accepted Christ and was healed of severe diabetes. The family, after experiencing such changed lives, moved to Western Europe.

“TWR broadcasts also played a vital role in our growing faith, both in Iran and in Europe,” says Daniel.

After many years of involvement in church planting, both inside and outside Iran and in Christian media ministry,  Daniel joined the ministry of TWR.  He says God put it on his heart to become active in this ministry, which proclaims the gospel over radio and other media platforms, because “sometimes they can close the internet, but they can´t close radio signals!”

He also shares, “We reach the unreached people through our high-quality radio programs, train people to bring about change in their country and engage in outreach and follow-up."

A Voice and Identity for Christians

There is great spiritual hunger in the Persian-speaking world. The vision of TWR for Farsi speakers is to share the hope of Christ with them and to give a voice to local Christians through the media platform of Persian World Radio. This voice, or sense of identity, for Persian-speaking Christians is a vitally important function, Daniel says, “because their governments often simply pretend they don't exist and reject them, along with their faith.”

In general, there are often only three options for Christians living in these regions: face severe discrimination and persecution; leave their country; or, at the very least, never openly speak of or practice their faith inside the country. In any case, the authorities will impose restrictions on them and withhold certain rights – for example, the ability to rent homes or obtain employment. Even children at school may face discrimination in various ways, Daniel says.

Believers in Iran are often from Armenian or Assyrian backgrounds, which are recognized Christian minorities in Iran. However, believers from a Muslim background (MBBs) have no right to exist among other Muslims, according to the Islamic laws. Christians do have certain liberties, provided that their church services are in Assyrian or a language other than Farsi and that they do not accept Persians in their fellowship. MBBs still face a grave risk of being labeled as an apostate. Under Islamic law, known as Shariah, apostasy is one of several “crimes” punishable by death, although Islamic court judges are not required to hand down such a sentence.

Publication, printing and distributing the Bible in the Persian language within Iran is forbidden. It is also forbidden to bring a Persian Bible into Iran from other countries, with severe punishment for violators.  These restrictions contribute to the efficacy of the oral presentation of biblical truths, as offered by TWR´s radio programs, also in consideration of the fact that Persian people prefer listening to reading and thus generally tend to prefer an oral learning style.

Thirsty for Truth and Freedom

According to Farsi Ministry Director Daniel, many in the Persian-speaking world are questioning their traditional beliefs and are looking for something that will satisfy and provide real hope.

“They are thirsty for truth and freedom, as well as a relationship with God, as opposed to simply following a religion,” as he puts it. This is where Christianity offers an alternative. “Through the Word of God, they can discover that God loves them, has a plan for their lives and wants to set them free.” As a result, many have become interested in the Christian faith rooted in the Bible. These young believers need to be discipled in their native language to help them grow in their Christian faith.   

Daniel enthusiastically states, "We believe God has a strategic role for TWR, through Persian World Radio and together with partnering ministries, to play in reaching and encouraging Persian speakers, and this fuels our passion to get his Word to these people so they can know him!"

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