(Photo: REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl)
The Iranian government’s tracking of Christians in Iran has intensified over the last several months, according to Open Doors USA, an organization that provides help to persecuted believers in Jesus worldwide.
In Iran, Christians gather in house churches, which are being increasingly discovered. Members are then subjected to various forms of harassment, including imprisonment, job termination and separation from family.
Open Doors estimates that there are 350,000 Christians from a Muslim background living in Iran. The country’s current regime lost credibility following the turmoil of the 2009 elections, and in an effort to distract attention from continuing protests, it is increasingly lashing out against Christians, Open Doors USA leaders say.
Michael Wood, an American who works in the Middle East office of Open Doors USA, told The Christian Post that the house church movement in Iran is one of the fastest growing in the world. However, the Iranian government is doing its best to squelch the movement, he said.
“Over the last few months they have made a really strong attempt to undermine what’s going on in the house church movement. They are tearing apart meeting places. If they find out somebody has been involved in a house church group they are arrested or really intimidated,” Wood said. “They are listened to on their cell phones. Houses will be broken into and Bibles and Christian material will be confiscated.
“So, you have a lot of intimidation factors where they are really trying to stifle and minimize the growth of the house church in the country,” he added.
One of the Christian leaders within the country, who Open Doors is not naming for security reasons, said that “things are increasingly getting more difficult.”
“I am allowed to take care of my church members, but I am not allowed to receive other Iranians or to disciple them, while many are coming to Christ. Christian leaders are very careful and also feel uncertain with the growth of Christians and converts in the country. We can hardly handle the growing number of new believers.”
Since the revolution in 1979, the house church leader has seen the official churches diminish in membership at an increasing rate. Many people have left Iran and “people are always speaking about leaving. Christians are looking for a better life elsewhere than inside with God,” he said.
House church leaders need to be careful about admitting new members into their group because government spies are portraying themselves as people seeking to learn about Christianity, Wood said.
Wood aids in the distribution of Bibles and Christian discipleship material to house church leaders. However, he said the most effective method of teaching and learning has been through various means of broadcasting into the homes.
“We heavily use radio broadcasts, short wave and satellite TV broadcasts to send programs back into the country that are used in house church groups,” Wood said. However, this method has also proven to be risky.
“Satellite broadcasting in the country is illegal,” he noted. “It’s illegal to have a satellite dish, but if you were ever to fly into Tehran you would see satellite dishes all over the roofs of homes.”
Although many house church leaders say they hope for a more open society in Iran, in the same breath they say they would be apprehensive about being allowed to live in a Western society, where Christianity can simply be a label and not a matter of faith chastened by the threat of persecution, Wood explained.
He seemed to agree with the assessment given by Christian leaders within the country.
“The growth of the church in the country right now is spurred on by the fact that the country is closed and [by] the government’s hostility towards Christianity,” Wood said. “If you look at church history, the great movements of God have come when the church has come under a great deal of persecution. You see a tremendous growth under pressure. God does some incredible things.”