Three weeks ago, I spoke with over 100 key Iranian pastors and leaders on a secure, online conference call about how we can continue to strengthen and expand the church in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.
Circumstances have long forced the church in Iran to exist and grow outside the walls of a building. In fact, it was when Iranian Christians were told they are not allowed to meet in buildings that the church began to experience rapid growth in Iran – so much so that it is now reportedly the fastest growing church in the world.
In recent history, Iranian Christians have experienced the living God at work in dark and hostile situations, and so we had a collective conviction that He will be at work again in this crisis.
So instead of pause, we say it is time to fast-forward.
Fast-forward on prayer
We started a 40-day Persian-language prayer campaign through various social media channels. Every day we post prayer requests, short (2 or 3 minute) videos about prayer, worship songs, and testimonies of answered prayer. Next week there will be a 24-hour webinar prayer meeting – hosted at different times by our people on the ground.
Thousands of Iranian believers have joined and are praying with passion. By God’s grace we’ve already seen some astonishing answers to prayer.
One was a miraculous healing of Haleh in a hospital ward in Tehran. A non-believing relative of a church member, Haleh, was suffering from all the symptoms related to a severe case of the virus. The house church prayed, and the next day she woke up completely better – no trace of illness. A test was done, and she was all clear. As you can imagine, it caused a stir with the Iranian doctors and other patients. “What happened?” they asked her.
“Christians prayed for me,” she answered. A number of people have come to Jesus.
Fast-forward on sharing Jesus
Iranians were already open to the Gospel, but grave fears surrounding COVID-19 have made them even hungrier for spiritual truth.
House church leaders decided to encourage every believer to be an evangelist. Believers have responded with courage – even very new believers. They call family and friends and tell them of the hope they have in Jesus and offer to pray for them. They boldly post Bible verses and share beautiful worship songs on social media.
The result is that many more Iranians are coming to Christ.
One family in Shiraz saw the new Instagram posts from a distant friend. They direct-messaged her a few days later: “We’re stuck at home. Every night we read the verses you share from your Bible. Your God is so loving and kind. Can we talk?” Today, that family are new believers.
Courageous Christians are also still distributing Scripture – but they are having to be creative. Two young men recently went to a neighbourhood that was badly affected by the virus. Rather than giving New Testaments away face-to-face, they were placing them in peoples’ letterboxes.
Fast-forward on discipleship
Since January 2018, we have mobilised over 2,000 people to do one-to-one discipleship through the new Safar discipleship journey. (Learn more about Safar by watching this 2-minute video.)
While Safar is best face-to-face, it is still extremely effective when done through Skype and similar apps. Hundreds have already been discipled in this way. So, now that people have more free time for discipleship due to COVID-19, we are committed to accelerating the reach of Safar as much as we can in these days.
And it is already happening.
Hamid is a new believer in Iran being discipled online by Adel. Hamid’s next-door neighbours got the coronavirus, and the mother deteriorated rapidly. Hamid called Adel and shared the situation. Adel saw this as a discipleship opportunity. “As Christians, we don’t fear. It’s good to pray for them.” So, Hamid told his neighbours he is a believer and prayed for them in Jesus’ name. The whole family was deeply moved and wanted to know more. Adel came online and shared the Gospel in more detail. They gave their lives to Christ, and are now also being discipled through Safar.
Providentially, Safar will be available online at Safar.org
– globally and free of charge – from 25th March 2020. The good news is that it is also available in English and can be used by any church to disciple new believers who want to go further and deeper in discipleship – even during this crisis.
Fast-forward on church planting
The increase in one-to-one discipleship through Safar has meant that small groups of new believers have been forming all over Iran as new believers have been witnessing to family and friends. But these small groups have no trained pastors and they started asking for help. So, we created a new resource we now call ‘Weekly Fellowship’.
‘Weekly Fellowship’ provides a structured, weekly church fellowship guide that includes time for welcome and testimonies, worship (with songs provided), fresh weekly Bible teaching (from Elam’s experienced and gifted Iranian Bible teachers and pastors), discussion questions, and time for intercession.
70 new house fellowships formed within 6 months.
In the coming weeks, 'Weekly Fellowship' will be freely available on Kalameh.com
. We are praying that thousands more small groups in Iran will begin using it. In a country that neighbours Iran, more than 200 small groups will begin doing the same, as larger gatherings are halted. And churches across the West with Iranian refugees can also make it part of how they serve Persian-speakers in their communities.
Yes, these are difficult days. Many are suffering and experiencing loss. But this is the environment in which the Church should excel. It is now we should shine brighter than ever. It’s happened in the past and it can happen again.
Thank you all for standing with us. We stand with you too.