The government of Iran is so concerned about the rising Christian population that it has spent millions of dollars cracking down on Christian converts, including threatening believers with prison and death. But that has not stopped Christianity's growth, a ministry said.
Missions group Elam Ministries told Mohabat News on Monday that more Iranians are choosing to convert to the Christian faith, which has led to the government spending millions on Islamic propaganda and on jailing members of the underground church.
Christian materials and books are also being routinely confiscated. Publishing Christian materials and even worshiping Jesus is resulting in "imprisonment, and more likely, death."
Still, "church leaders believe that millions can be added to the church in the next few years — such is the spiritual hunger that exists and the disillusionment with the Islamic regime," Mohabat News reported.
"If we remain faithful to our calling, our conviction is that it is possible to see the nation transformed within our lifetime. Because Iran is a strategic gateway nation, the growing church in Iran will impact Muslim nations across the Islamic world."
Calculating the exact numbers of believers in Iran is difficult, as they have to hide their faith in public. Elam Ministries estimates that there may be around 360,000 Christians in Iran today, compared to only 500 Christians in 1979.
Open Doors USA estimates a Christian population closer to 800,000.
Behrang Masoumi, an Elam team member who is training Iranian believers in ministry, said that he was shocked to discover that one of his own relatives had been a secret follower of Jesus for five years.
The ministry shared several other instances of Iranians turning to Christ despite the dangers in the Islamic country, as well as making the decision publicly overseas.
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Ayatollah Alavi Boroujerdi, a leading Islamic seminary official, admitted in August 2017 that there are "accurate reports indicating that the youth are becoming Christians in Qom and attending house churches."
Wahid Khorasani, another ayatollah, condemned Iranian government officials "for their negligence in preparing counteracting strategies to stop the spread of Christianity."
The New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran has also reported that Christians are being targeted in Iran, as part of officials' attempts to suppress the faith.
In one instance last Christmas Eve, five Christian men attending a house service were arrested, and authorities have provided no information on whether they are still alive.
Government agents reportedly confiscated books, CDs, laptops, and a satellite receiver during the raid, and later raided and threatened the neighbors of the Christians.
"The good news for Iranians is that despite the government's concerted efforts to the contrary, Christianity continues to grow. And, even under the most oppressive conditions Christianity is still viewed by many as 'the religion of freedom,' and love," Mohabat News reported.
"Why? Because of what Christian converts repeatedly claim: 'In Islam, we always lived in fear. Fear God, fear of sin, fear of punishment. However, Christ is a God of love.'"