SANTA ANA, Calif. (March 22, 2012) – The number of Muslims coming to Christ from Islam – often called Muslim Background Believers (MBBs) or Secret Believers – is growing faster and faster in Iran. In fact, according to Open Doors’ Middle East workers, the growth is “explosive.” They even speak of a revival inside Iran, especially among young people.
Forty years ago an estimated 200 Muslim Background Believers were living in Iran. Today the estimation is 370,000 MBBs. According to Open Doors, the house church movement has triggered many secret meetings. The growth is happening in all regions, but mostly in the larger cities.
Besides these new believers, Iran also has a traditional Armenian and Assyrian church with about 80,000 members. These churches are free to have their meetings in their own language, but it is not allowed for them to reach out to the Farsi-speaking Muslims. Officially, the Iranian government says that there are about 200,000 Christians living in Iran. Other religious groups are also growing in Iran. But the growth of the number of Christians is far higher than the growth of the other religions.
Open Doors workers think that the growth of Christianity has everything to do with Iranians getting to know the real face of Islam, the official religion of Iran, and the mistrust of the people toward the government and leaders following the fraudulent 2009 presidential election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“Iranians are very outgoing and want to speak about their faith,” another Open Doors worker states. “That is why discipleship training (with elements of outreach and communications) for Iranian believers is successful. If you tell them that a Christian should share, the Iranian Christian shares.”
Offering discipleship training is one of the ways Open Doors uses to strengthen the Iranian church. Many Iranians are also coming to Christ through Christian programming on satellite television.
The government of Iran sees this growth as a threat. In 2010, Iran's supreme religious leader Mahmoud Ali Khamenei blamed “the enemies of Islam for establishing and encouraging the expansion of Christianity in Iran.’’ The Minister of Intelligence, Heydar Moslehi, reportedly warned of the threat of house churches and other Christian interests during October and November 2011.
“For that reason the house churches have to be more careful,” says the Open Doors worker. “In the past every house church had around 15 members. Now this number of persons is five or six because of security reasons. Most of them are organized in networks and not connected to churches outside Iran.”
Over the last few months the Iranian government has prohibited several churches from holding services in Farsi on Fridays, the official Muslim holy day. “They thought this would lead to less people attending services, but that didn’t happen,” reports the worker. Another restriction is the Iranian government is forbidding the selling of Bibles and New Testaments.
Persecution in Iran not only comes from the government but also from society, including Muslim-Background Believer families.
Iran is ranked No. 5 on the Open Doors 2012 World Watch List of the top 50 worst persecutors of Christians. Open Doors will be sponsoring a prayer campaign for the Persian Gulf countries, including Iran, starting this summer.
An estimated 100 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with millions more facing discrimination and alienation. Open Doors supports and strengthens believers in the world's most difficult areas through Bible and Christian literature distribution, leadership training and assistance, Christian community development, prayer and presence ministry and advocacy on behalf of suffering believers. To partner with Open Doors USA, call toll free at 888-5-BIBLE-5 (888-524-2535) or go to our Website at www.OpenDoorsUSA.org. (For more information or to set up an interview, contact Jerry Dykstra at 616-915-4117 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Emily Fuentes is available at 949-413-6721 or email at email@example.com.)