House Church Movement Growing Too Big for Religious Police to Contain

Hundreds of thousands of Christians are worshiping secretly in a rapidly accelerating house church movement in Iran, as a London-based theological center is aiding the movement by training the next generation of its spiritual leaders.

The Iranian government labels Christianity as a threat to the nation’s Islamic identity and imprisons over 100 Christians for worshiping Christ. Such crackdowns on faith, however, have not prevented Iranian house churches from blossoming into a movement too big for the Iranian religious police to contain.

Some estimates, such as one provided by Open Doors USA, record as many as 450,000 practicing Christians in Iran, while other, more optimistic estimates, record over 1 million Christians in the Islamic republic.

Regardless of the number, there is a strong need for leaders-in-Christ who can lead individual house churches and help the movement grow to become not just a Christian movement, but also an inherently “Iranian” one.

At least 200 Iranian Christians are being trained by the London-based Pars Theological Centre to become the next generation of leaders to help the house church movement grow so that it can foster a better society for all in Iran, a source affiliated with the centre told The Christian Post.

“Pars sees this as a real chance to train agents of change who would transform the Iranian society from the bottom up by fostering a grassroots development of the values of Jesus in an Iranian style,” the source stated. “This is not a political movement at all, but it will have political implications because it is touching the core foundations of society. This is battling prostitution and drug addiction. If you want to live in a country that doesn’t fund terrorists, you have to develop the values of the grassroots.”

“It is not anti-Iranian,” the source assured. “It’s an Iranian movement. It’s a great, great number of Muslims turning to Christ.”

The source explained that due to the fear of government crackdown, Iranian house churches consist only of about four to five members, and have to change their place of gathering every time they meet.

“If they want to sing, they have to sing very quietly or not sing at all,” the source explained.

Pars Theological Centre, which was founded by Rev. Mehrdad Fatehi in 2010, works closely with several Iranian house church networks.

About 70 percent of Pars’ students live in Iran and are trained within the country. Candidates who study with Pars are mostly accepted by the recommendation of their leaders. Pars is intentional in targeting its students’ hearts, hands and minds in all its courses. In addition, Pars has also developed a ministry program where the students are put under the care of a mentor who guides them in their spiritual journey and practical ministry.

Pars’ program, if studied full time, can take one, two, or three years to complete, but most students don’t have the time to complete it in that time frame. Students are taught various Christian themes and concepts in courses, such as The Suffering Church, Hermeneutics, Christian Counseling, Ministry and Teaching of Jesus, Christian Ethics, The Triune God, and Apologetics.

A major part of the learning is done from within the students’ homes on offline computers, using Pars’ video lectures, workbooks, and resources in a digital format. The students stay in touch with their teachers and tutors through email. This allows them to submit their assignments and receive feedback on a regular basis.

Pars additionally broadcasts courses through two satellite channels into Iran, which are watched by thousands of Iranians, Christian and others.

The students sometimes gather in small groups to talk about the content of the lessons, the source added. In each group, a senior student leads the discussion.

“These are all underground, and the students need to keep extreme security measures,” the source said. “They have times of worship and prayer, but these need to be done very quietly and without attracting attention.”

While most of the study is done in Iran, students can also attend Pars’ formation conferences that are held in other countries. These are the only times the students get to actually meet their teachers in person, and pray and have fellowship with them.

Though it took only about three years for the center to grow its student body to over 200, Pars has the goal of one day training as many as 1,000 Iranian leaders.

“While Iran’s fast church growth is a cause for celebration, there is serious concern for the lack of depth in the movement and the severe shortage of well-equipped leaders to address this need. The church is facing a leadership crisis that, if not addressed, will damage its health and mission,” the source contended. “So there is a great and urgent need for training quality leaders, and to do that there needs to be quality theological and leadership training that is accessible to those who are serving inside the country.”

Although there are well over 200 emerging Christian leaders in Iran who want to train with Pars, the center needs more human and financial resources to be able to accommodate more students.

Along with those who are studying from inside Iran, Pars also trains Iranian Christians from over 17 countries.
Read Original Article Here

Advertisements

Iranian Pastor’s Wife Files Court Papers against Recently Freed Husband

The recently freed Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini has been reunited with his children in Boise, Idaho. But the Abedini family may be in for tough times after his wife took legal action against him in court.

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 11.23.05 AM

“Nothing has made me happier than seeing Saeed freed from his chains and in American soil,” Naghmeh Abedini posted to her 80,000 Facebook friends Wednesday (Jan. 27), while adding that she filed domestic legal papers to ensure her children stay in Boise.

Saeed was released on Jan. 16 after nearly three and a half years in prison in Iran.

In her post, Naghmeh said she regretted hiding from the public her allegations of domestic abuse. She also said that three months ago her husband threatened her with divorce.

“Saeed told me things he demanded I must do to promote him in the eyes of the public that I simply could not do any longer. He threatened that if I did not, the results would be the end of our marriage and the resulting pain this would bring to our children.”

As of yet, Saeed has not commented publicly about the case filing or his wife’s abuse allegations, which first surfaced in November. His spokesperson did not immediately respond to a reporter’s inquiry.

In his first interview since release from prison, Saeed told Fox News he was beaten during a prison interrogation and threatened with execution.

Iran sentenced Saeed to eight years in prison, but detailed charges were not made public. At the time of his arrest, Saeed was setting up a home for orphans. Previously, he was involved in creating a network of house churches, something that Iranian authorities prohibit.

On Facebook, Naghmeh said her goal was reconciliation, not divorce. “I have taken temporary legal action to make sure our children will stay in Idaho until this situation has been resolved. I love my husband, but as some might understand, there are times when love must stop enabling something that has become a growing cancer. We cannot go on the way it has been. I hope and pray our marriage can be healed.”

Her Facebook followers were largely supportive of the court action. “Saddened by the truth but the truth always sets free,” one woman posted in the comments section. The Abedinis are members of Calvary Chapel in Boise.

Through much of 2015, Naghmeh engaged in a nationwide campaign to secure her husband’s release from prison, drawing the attention of President Obama and top human rights and religious leaders.

In early January, Iran and the U.S. agreed to a “prisoner swap” that resulted in the release of Abedini, Nosratollah Khosrawi, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and  former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati. The U.S. released seven Iranians held in U.S. prisons, and so far all seven have chosen to remain in the U.S.

Read Original Article Here

———————————————————

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 11.14.09 AM

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 11.14.47 AM

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 11.16.52 AM

Open Doors’ annual list of countries where Christians face the worst persecution:

unnamed-2

Each year, Open Doors releases a list of the top 50 countries where Christians are facing the worst persecution because of their faith. The Open Doors World Watch List (WWL) is the only annual survey of religious liberty conditions of Christians around the world, and measures freedom in five key areas of life: private, family, community, national and church life, plus a sixth sphere measuring the degree of violence.

PERSECUTION RISES WORLDWIDE IN A LAWLESS YEAR 

The most oppressive regime in contemporary times, North Korea, tops this year’s Open Doors World Watch List for the 14th consecutive year. Eritrea and Pakistan rise to their highest levels, to #3 and #6 respectively, and lawless Libya also enters the top 10 for the first time ever. Islamic extremism constitutes the main persecuting force in thirty five of the top fifty countries, with Religious nationalism and Dictatorial paranoia also rising sharply. The degree of persecution of Christians was confirmed to be rising, with Open Doors’ researchers recording an average persecution increase of 2.6 points in this year’s Top 50 compared to last year.

The Open Doors World Watch List is published every January and lists the 50 countries worldwide where Christians experience the most persecution. Persecution is understood as any hostility experienced as a result of one’s identification with Christ. This can include hostile attitudes, words and actions towards Christians. Research methods and results have been independently audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom (IIRF).

In the reporting period (1 November 2014 – 31 October 2015) the Top Ten countries where Christians find it hardest to practice their faith are: North Korea (92 pts), Iraq (90 pts), Eritrea (89 pts), Afghanistan (88 pts), Syria (87 pts), Pakistan (87 pts), Somalia (87 pts), Sudan (84 pts), Iran (83 pts) and Libya (79 pts).

Eritrea and Pakistan – Two major risers in the Top Ten

Dubbed the “North Korea of Africa”, Eritrea ranks among the very worst countries in terms of freedom of religion, freedom of press, rule of law and other human rights records. Driving the persecution of Christians is first and foremost president Afewerki’s Dictatorial paranoia. Any Christian who dares to speak up in Eritrea and protest the treatment of Christians is jailed or arrested no matter what their status. The former Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Abune Antonius, has been under house arrest since 2007 for speaking out. According to a UNHCR report from November 2014, 22 per cent of all refugees reaching Italy by boat are Eritrean. “Eritrean Christians, even though they know that there is a very high probability of falling into the hands of traffickers and ruthless radical groups like the IS, are still desperate to escape from Eritrea”, one researcher confirmed.

The world’s second largest Muslim country, Pakistan has risen to #6 and is the only country getting the maximum score in the violence category in the World Watch List together with Nigeria. The level of pressure is high in all spheres of life and persecution does not come from the State as much as from radical Islamic groups. The reporting period started with the killing of a Christian couple, working in a brick kiln on 4 November 2014 by a furious mob and climaxed in a twin bomb attack on two churches in Lahore on 15 March 2015, leaving 25 dead and wounding dozens. This overt violence conceals the everyday abuse of Christian girls who are frequently abducted, raped, forced to marry and convert, and the country’s 3.8 million Christians feel increasingly under threat in their daily lives.

Newcomers in the Top 50 – Niger and Bahrain

The entry score for the Top 50 has risen by almost 5 points, which sends out a very worrying signal and shows that the World Watch List is really just a record of the tip of an iceberg. The WWL 2016 contains only two newcomers: Niger and Bahrain enter at #49 and #48 respectively. For Niger, the spread of Boko Haram into its territory has caused violence against and fear among Christians to rise sharply. In Bahrain, the sultan’s gradual introduction of Sharia law has already begun to seriously restrict the public witness of Christian faith in the country.

These two new entries have ousted Sri Lanka and Mauritania from the Top 50, which were outflanked this year by rises in persecution in other countries. Despite leaving the official listing, the situation for these countries has not improved. In Sri Lanka churches are still being attacked by local Buddhist communities, despite fresh hopes of protection for religious minorities being placed in the recently elected new government. Mauritania is one of only four official “Islamic Republics” in the world, and the influence of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Mauritania is growing. The monitoring of all Christian activity has continued but happily violence has been very low in the reporting period.

The Smash and Squeeze

The Open Doors World Watch List is unique not only as the instrument that measures the persecution of Christians annually, buts its methodology is designed to track how the exercise of the Christian faith gets squeezed in five distinct areas – private life, family life, community life, national life and church life, as well as covering violence such as rapes, killings and church burnings. Dr. Ronald Boyd-MacMillan, Director of Research at Open Doors International, explains why: “It is possible for persecution to be so intense in all areas of life that Christians fear to witness at all, and so you may find very low levels of violence as a result since incidents of persecution often result from acts of witness.”

The countries that show where this squeeze was most intensive were: Somalia, North Korea, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Maldives, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Syria. The highest levels of violence directed against Christians (in countries listed in WWL 2016) were in Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Myanmar, Central African Republic, Egypt, Mexico, Sudan and India.

Open Doors records show that worldwide there were well over 7,000 Christians killed for faith-related reasons in the reporting period. That is a rise of almost 3,000 in comparison to conservative figures from the WWL 2015 period. This is excluding North Korea, and partly Syria and Iraq, where accurate records do not exist. Statistics also show that more than 2,400 churches were attacked or damaged, which is over double the number for last year.

In Nigeria news of violence has been dominated by the brutality of the radical Islamic militants, Boko Haram. But as Frans Veerman, the Director of the WWL Unit explains, even without Boko Haram, “that would still leave the Hausa-Fulani Muslim herdsmen regularly committing atrocities against indigenous Christian farmers in the Middle Belt states. Out of the more than 4,000 Christians who lost their lives in attacks in Nigeria in the reporting period, 2,500 are attributed to Boko Haram and not less than 1,500 to the Hausa-Fulani herdsmen. At least 30,000 Christians have been displaced through the violence in Taraba State alone. These are the results of fact-finding on the ground but the researchers estimate that

they uncovered only 50% of the atrocities committed. This is looking like ethnic cleansing based on religious affiliation.”

Christians in conflict hotspots – Iraq, Yemen, Kenya

The conflict zones of the world are very often regions where Christians are especially vulnerable. Whilst the world media fixes its attention to the battles and bombings, in the background the Islamic State (IS) is radicalizing populations even in countries where it has no apparent presence. The Kurdish region of north Iraq (which has risen 4 points to #2) is currently acting as a safe haven for thousands of Christian refugees from Mosul and the Nineveh Plain. But even there, the government is ordering land to be sold to Muslim families in several predominantly Christian areas and towns. This “demographic reversal process” in many majority Christian areas is forcing Christians to live precariously in a minority situation – or leave. In Yemen (#11), which missed entering the Top 10 by just one point, Saudi Arabia and Iran are fighting a proxy war. Virtually all Western expatriates have fled the civil war, leaving just a few thousand brave Muslim Background Believers in the country. The Church is holding on by the skin of its teeth.

Another region with an increasingly radicalized Muslim population are the northern and coastal areas of Kenya, which has risen 5 points to #16. Attacks from al-Shabaab adherents killed 28 Christians on a bus from Mandera on 22 November 2014. 36 Christian quarry workers were killed on 2 December 2014, again in Mandera; 147 Christian university students in Garissa were killed on 2 April 2015, and 14 Christian quarry workers were killed in Mandera on 7 July 2015. Most of these were “execution-style” killings and Christians were targeted specifically by separating them from Muslims. It is to be feared that the situation for Christians will continue to deteriorate, especially as pressure in all spheres of life is high.

Central Asia – Rising persecution through surveillance of terror networks

Christians living in Central Asian states have seen a sharp deterioration in their religious freedom, especially as these governments increase their surveillance and control on all groups in society, often cynically citing a need to crack down on Islamist inspired terror. Uzbekistan is a perennial occupant of the top 20 (at #15) with Turkmenistan joining it at #19, and Tajikistan (at #31 moving up from #45) and Azerbaijan (at #34 from #46) constituting some of this year’s significant risers.

The goal – Supporting the people behind the figures

The Open Doors World Watch List is published annually as a tool 1) for media to raise awareness 2) for politicians to make informed decisions and 3) for churches around the world to support and pray for their brothers and sisters on the frontline. World maps displaying the spread of persecution against Christians and further detailed information on the situation in specific countries are available from all Open Doors offices.

For 60 years, Open Doors has worked to strengthen Christians in the world’s most oppressive and restrictive countries. The WWL has also been independently audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom to help make the information gathering and calculation process more transparent.

Access the World Watch Map Here

Please consider giving to this wonderful organization in order to help those that are persecuted. You can do so by clicking here.

You can also sign up for the new letter by clicking here.

Open Doors World Watch List 2015

wwl map 2015

The World Watch List ranks countries according to the intensity of persecution Christians face for actively pursuing their faith. The list is compiled from a specially-designed questionnaire of 50 questions covering various aspects of religious freedom. A point value is assigned depending on how each question is answered. The total number of points per country determines its position on the World Watch List of the world’s worst persecutors of Christians. The World Watch List lists the 50 countries where faith costs the most. The list is based on detailed information from Open Doors co-workers in over 65 countries, as well as independant experts. Worldwide, the List reports an overall increase in the persecution of Christians in 2014. 

The Open Doors’ WWL 2015 tracks a marked increase in persecution for Christian communities in a large number of African states. Sudan, Eritrea and Nigeria make their appearance in the Top 10. Kenya and Djibouti have marked the steepest climb on the list, and Tanzania and Eritrea also scored significantly higher compared to 2014.

While Africa saw the most rapid growth of persecution, the Middle East saw targeted attacks, resulting in a mass exodus of Christians. In forty countries of the Top 50, Islamic extremism was a major source of persecution. It would be fair to say that the WWL 2015 again shows that the persecution of Christians seems to become more intense in more countries of the world. Approximately 100 million Christians are persecuted worldwide, making them one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world. While persecution can take many forms, Christians throughout the world risk imprisonment, torture, rape and even death as result of their faith.

World Watch List 2015 – Top 10 Countries – Including Summaries