A coalition of Iranian church leaders and pastors have come together for the first time to ask for prayers for the re-emerging Church in Iran on Sunday's International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.
Mike Ansari, president of missionary group Heart4Iran, told The Christian Post in an email on Thursday that IDOP has been around for years, but a specific focus this year will be on the persecuted believers in Iran, as they continue seeing big changes to the country's religious landscape.
"This day is designed to bring much needed global attention and awareness to the plight of the persecuted church and isolated persecuted Christians," Ansari told CP. "We pray for a positive global response to this effort."
A number of reports have pointed to the growing and re-emerging Christian faith in the country, but Ansari said it's important to remember that the Church was strong in Iran even before the rise of Islam.
"Much of today's Islamic world, including Iran, was once Christian. The churches across Iran and Iraq were once great and enduring churches, which sent the first missionaries to China. Yet with [the] emergence of Islam, these communities were marginalized and at times completely destroyed," he said.
"It seems there is an organic re-emergence of Christianity across Iran. God is on the move and building His Church. With growth comes persecution. We're asking everyone who believes in Jesus to lift-up Iran and Iranians in their prayers on Nov. 4," he asked.
Indeed there have been multiple arrests of pastors and churchgoers in the past several months, including the 10-year jail term for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani in May, who was previously sentenced to death for apostasy.
Iranian Christians Saheb Fadaie and Fatemeh Bakhteri were also sentenced to 18 and 12 months in prison, respectively, in September.
Ansari suggested that U.S. sanctions are being felt in Iran, and with anger being stoked toward the West, Iranian authorities are increasingly seeing the conversion of Muslims to Christianity as a "Western plot" aimed at weakening the Islamic regime.
Still, ministries like Heart4Iran continue helping Christians uphold and grow their faith, and are reaching out to others in Iran. The ministry said that it will be adding a new Farsi program that will air on its partner stations, Mohabat TV, SAT-7 PARS, and Shabakeh 7.
"This insightful, heartfelt call to prayer will share why prayer is so important for the people of Iran, as well as specific prayer needs," the ministry said in a press release of its plans.
"We will also be broadcasting the JESUS film and two other transformational videos. Our hope is that these moving productions will draw Iranians who don't yet know Jesus Christ to seek Him. Please pray these four broadcasts will accomplish this goal — and that everyone who watches will be impacted by the truth of the Gospel."
The ministry explains that ultimately, the mission of IDOP is to "pray diligently for and with the people of Iran and continue seeing lives impacted by the eternal Gospel throughout this nation."
Ansari pointed CP to the IDOP for Iran website, which lists specific prayers Christians around the world can make for Iranians.
The website notes that believers in the country face numerous difficulties, with Iran being consistently vilified in the Western world, while the rise of Christianity in the country is being largely ignored by the mainstream media.
"Pray for peace across the nation of Iran and in her relationships with other nations. Pray for the Western world to see the people of Iran for who they really are as children of God, replacing any prejudices with Christ's love and compassion. Pray that God would raise up and equip strong Christian leaders in Iran to help lead the house church movement. Pray for these leaders to walk together in unity," read the prayer points, in part.
"Pray that every Iranian follower of Jesus Christ will discover a house church where he or she can build relationships, study God's Word, and grow in the faith," they continue.
"Pray for God to open the hearts and minds of Muslims, preparing them to hear the Gospel and respond. Pray for Iran's leaders and her people to experience the life-changing, heart-transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ."
The movement says that it hopes that thousands, if not millions of Iranians will watch the prayer program, including the "JESUS" film and the other transformational videos.
"We are asking everyone to visit www.roozedoa.com and join Iranians everywhere to pray for Iran," Ansari urged.
Open Doors USA, which ranks Iran at No. 10 on its World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most dangers, says that there are nearly 800,000 believers in the country, and rising.
Ansari previously told CP that it's difficult to estimate just how many new Christians are emerging through the underground church movement, but noted that Heart4Iran processes around 700 daily contacts with Iranians asking about Christ.