Christian ministries are bringing both physical and spiritual encouragement to the people of Iran after an earthquake measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale struck the southeastern city of Zarand Tuesday, Feb. 22. Approximately 500 people died and another 1,000 were injured in the region.
According to the Associated Press, the toll from Tuesdays quake, which affected an estimated 30,000 people in several small villages, was likely to rise as rescue teams still did not have a final count from the three most isolated villages in the mountainous region.
Sources say some 40 villages were damaged in the quake, which struck a region 150 miles from Bam, site of a devastating earthquake in December 2003 that killed more than 30,000 people and leveled the historic city. Following the quake, many survivors were left homeless, living in tents and surviving on food rations.
SAT-7, a Christian television ministry that reaches the Middle East and North Africa, broadcasts in Farsi to this area where there are few Christian ministries or believers.
"At a time like this we all know how discouraging and frustrating and difficult a situation it can be to be without your home and be asking a lot of questions about why, SAT-7 Executive Director Debbie Brink told the Mission Network News (MNN). And, I would think our programs could be very encouraging."
"People in Iran right now are very eager to hear ideas about Christianity," Brink added. "They're not real satisfied with their situation in Iran and are very eager to get outside information through satellite."
The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) similarly reported last week that many Iranians long for openness and liberty.
However, under Islamic law Christian witness to Muslims is banned and renouncing Islam is a capital offence, the Commission noted. Under Irans constitution, Islam is declared the official religion of the nation.
Sources say since the government-ordered execution of convert pastor Hussein Soodmand in Mashhad in December 1990, the Islamic Republic of Iran has enacted a harsh crackdown against the countrys evangelical churches and various house-church movements accused of evangelizing Muslims.
But despite this, Christian groups such as Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) of the PC (U.S.A.) are involved in the ongoing response to the Bam earthquake and assessing the situation to determine an appropriate response. PDA plans to send volunteers to Iran for continued response to the Bam earthquake and to identify needs related to the earthquake in the Zarand region.
The agency reports that contact has also been made with Rev. Dr. Nuhad Tomeh, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Regional Facilitator and Associate General Secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC). Currently, the MECC does not have an operational presence for responding to the disaster.
According to the Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Tehran has not appealed to the international community for assistance as the destructive effect of Tuesday's quake was far less compared to the one that leveled the historic city of Bam in December 2003.
"There is no appeal but if there is any kind of voluntary assistance we welcome that," said Mehrdad Eshragi, deputy director-general of the international affairs department at the Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS).
Due to its geographical position, Iran is prone to earthquakes and experiences hundreds of small tremors each year. More than 150,000 people were killed by earthquakes in Iran during the 20th century.