Centuries before Christ, the Persian Empire ruled more than 40 percent of the known world. Persian kings like Xerxes and Darius played integral roles in Jewish history — particularly Cyrus, who contributed to the rebuilding of the temple and the return of the Jewish remnant from captivity. What was once Persia is now modern Iran.
Christian missionary work in Iran started in the early 1800s with missionary Henry Martyn. Dedicated Presbyterian missionaries followed in the 1900s, which resulted in a very small group of born-again believers from Islam.
Iran’s Pentecostal movement was initiated by Armenian and Assyrian minority groups. In a remarkable act of sacrifice, the tiny group gave up worship in their own languages and held their services in Farsi, thereby reaching out to the Muslim majority community.
But by 1970, when veteran AGWM missionaries Jim and Eloise Neely arrived, it is estimated that less than 1,000 Christian believers of Muslim background existed in Iran. Response to the gospel was minimal.
They persevered through the Islamic revolution and Ayatollah Khomeini’s takeover in February 1979. That summer, when they left for furlough after their second term, Jim and Eloise and their children were the last AG missionary family to leave the rapidly changing country.
The Neelys joyfully report that today God is doing remarkable things among Iranians, both in Iran and worldwide.
By 2007, the number of Muslim-background believers in Iran had risen to 100,000. Today, estimates place the number somewhere between 350,000 and 600,000.
Jim and Eloise recently purchased over 2,000 New Testaments for distribution.
“Iranians are open to receiving Scripture,” Eloise says. “Scriptures really speak to them. One of the greatest ways to bring them to Christ is giving them the Bible in their own language as they are a poetic people and value artistic language highly. The Holy Spirit uses it to stir them deeply.”
“The Bible is powerful,” Jim agrees. “Though Islam claims the Old Testament belongs to the Jews, the New Testament to the Christians, and the Koran to Muslims, we believe that if Muslims get into the Bible — God’s Word — it will draw people to Christ.”
Despite martyrdoms and persecution, hundreds of thousands of Iranian Christians still meet in secret. Iran boasts the fastest growing Christian population of the Muslim world — estimated to be growing by nearly 20 percent each year, despite a government that stands in vehement opposition to Jesus Christ.
Even within Iran’s Islamic military, the Neelys are aware of at least one Iranian Muslim who, after being drafted, encountered a fellow soldier who had become a believer. His restless soul found rest in the presence of the Christian man, and soon he accepted Christ for himself.
“The Holy Spirit is drawing Iranians to himself in unprecedented numbers,” AGWM Communications Director Andy Raatz says. “When our workers begin the conversation, countless Iranian hearts are immediately ready to respond and receive the message of Jesus’ grace. Reflecting on history reminds us that borders are not truly closed to the gospel when the Holy Spirit is at work.”
Raatz shares a story from a Christian Iranian man serving his home country with an AGWM team. An elderly Iranian gentleman he met while traveling appealed urgently to him, “I really want to know Jesus. I have seen miracles, but I do not know God. I want to know Him. Talk about Jesus to me.”
Source: AG News