Training and equipping Persian Christians to reach their neighbors
Tony was born into a Kurdish Muslim family in the Middle East. After his mother died in childbirth and his father left him at the hospital, Tony ended up in an orphanage run by Christian missionaries. As an adult, Tony served in the army where he witnessed a close friend killed in action. It was through this traumatic experience that Tony found Christ. He joined a Bible society and traveled all over his home country selling Bibles. Many times he was arrested and imprisoned. He came to the U.S. to study theology with the intention of returning to his homeland as a pastor, however during this time significant political change took place and Tony was denied re-entry. In 1982, God led him to work with Trans World Radio, producing radio programs in the Farsi language. He continues in this role while leading the Persian Ministry. To this day, he is unable to return to his homeland. Tony is married and has a growing family.
Ministry Vision & Strategy
With restrictions on evangelism so severe in the Middle East, one of the most successful tools for sharing the Word of God is gospel radio programs. However, these radio programs cannot organize house churches, and strict censorship makes it difficult to send Christian literature through the mail. In response, a group of Persian Christians started the Persian Ministry to follow up with radio listeners. Today, the ministry sends pastors to disciple believers and start house churches.
New Testament Helps Turn Muslim's Heart Toward God
"I grew up in a strict Sunni family. As a child, I followed the examples of my parents, but I never felt I had a true connection with God. After my sister was married, I realized my new brother-in-law was a Christian. In our country, there is a death penalty for anyone who converts to another religion. It amazed me that he had taken the risk. I began visiting my sister just to talk with him. I had thought our religion was far superior for so long that it was hard to know which was the right path. But when my sister became a Christian, she gave me a New Testament and I finally gave my life to God.
"Now I am a true child of God and know that my sins have been forgiven. Today, in my hometown there is a house fellowship. Even through we are few in number, we know God is with us."
History is full of stories about God’s work in the land of the Middle East. Today, however, government repression of anything Christian is widespread. Believers who have dared to share the Gospel openly have been threatened, killed, or simply disappeared.
But God is not without a witness in the Middle East, and He is particularly at work among the Persian people. House churches do exist and they are reaching out among a surprisingly responsive people. Though 99 percent of Persians are Muslim, many are disillusioned with Islam.
Because Christian evangelism is forbidden in the area where our partner, Persian Ministry, works, seekers must be cautious. According to Islamic law, any Muslim who converts to another religion is an apostate, subject to the death penalty. Sometimes guards are posted in front of evangelical churches to make sure that no Muslims enter. Those who have converted from Islam are often unable to find employment or attend university. Many flee the region for religious freedom in another country, which quickly depletes the small evangelical Church.
In spite of the lack of religious freedom, it is estimated that 700,000 to one million Persians have converted to Christianity in the past 30 years. For most of these believers, their only contact with other Christians is through small house churches.
>WORKER SUPPORT: $625 per worker per month
Worker Support, Persian Ministry
At the end of December 2010 and in the beginning of January 2011 more than 70 Persian Christians were thrown into jail because of their Christian activities. This “sting operation” and the increased persecution caused more than 500 Christians to flee to Turkey before they could be arrested. One man, a house church leader affiliated with Persian Ministry, and his wife were among them. The husband had been interrogated and imprisoned some years earlier and knew firsthand what he would face if he or his wife were arrested. He feared the worst for their young, single daughter who had been actively engaged in Christian work with Persian Ministry for a number of years. This young woman is now in Turkey and has applied for refugee status from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). While she is waiting for her paperwork to be processed, she will continue to do evangelism and discipleship, focusing on Farsi-speaking women living in the same city. She is also translating Christian pamphlets and devotionals from English into Farsi that can be used for Christian radio programs.
Partners would like to help support this young woman, who will likely be in Turkey for at least two years, as well as Tony with funds for living and travel expenses, so they can devote themselves fully to ministry. This funding will be a great encouragement to both staff by helping them cover the expenses incurred in coordinating various projects, leading training conferences, and caring for believers and workers within the house church network.
>TRAINING MIDDLE EASTERN CHRISTIANS: $750 per trainee, $8,750 for facility maintenance
Training Middle Eastern Christians, Persian Ministry
In some Middle Eastern countries, there are few official churches and Christians are under constant surveillance. Many of the house churches only have a leader visit once a month because the few who are trained to disciple the believers have to do the work of many. Because of this, the Persian Ministry holds twice yearly Bible and leadership training events in a nearby country where Christians can gather together safely. These training sessions equip ministry workers and other volunteers to follow up with the growing number of people interested in Christ. They also connect new believers with existing fellowship groups, helping to preserve and build up the churches.
Often participants travel long distances to attend the conference—some more then 20 or 30 hours. When they are finally able to meet other believers, the joy of fellowship overflows. These are times of not only training, but of spiritual care and strengthening relationships with other brothers and sisters in Christ. Over the last few years Partners has helped Persian Ministry purchase and renovate a training facility. With this space, the ministry can extend its training program to 50 participants each year.
In addiiton to providing training funds, gifts to this project will help Persian Ministry with maintenance of their facility. Believers take great ownership and pride in this building, calling it their church building, since they are not allowed to have one in their home country. Improvements will include painting, tiling, and exterior cement work.
>SUPPORT FOR PERSECUTED FAMILIES: $937 per family per month
Support for Persecuted Families, Persian Ministry
It is extremely risky for Christians to share their faith and minister to Muslims in the Middle East. They often face harassment from local authorities, religious extremists, or Muslim neighbors who oppose their presence in the community. Because their outreach is often illegal, ministry workers face the threat of arrest, excessive fines, confiscation of their belongings, and eviction. Worst of all, there is a constant sense of being watched. A number of people we are working with in the region were arrested last year for their ministry activities. Others were in so much danger they were forced to flee their homes and relocate temporarily. Because these families often must leave quickly, they take very few of their belongings with them. They are in a strange place with no local connections to help them get by until they decide what to do next. Adding to their difficulty, refugees in Turkey are not permitted to work. Unless they have considerable personal savings or receive money from friends and family, most families will struggle greatly to pay for rent, food, and medical care during this time.
We want to provide short-term support for these families who have suffered so much for the Gospel by providing food and housing expenses. This project ministers deeply to these families, coming alongside them at a time when they need their brothers and sisters in Christ the most.
>BIBLES AND CHRISTIAN LITERATURE: $9 per Bible
Bibles & Literature, Persian Ministry
Bibles and Christian literature are not readily available in some Middle Eastern countries and cannot be found in libraries or bookstores. The few churches have a limited supply and this is quickly exhausted as more and more people are seeking to learn more about Jesus. A long-awaited revision of the Persian Bible was completed in 2008, and Persian Ministry’s goal is to get it in the hands of as many seekers and believers as possible. The team is also working to provide the Persian Church with copies of one or more Christian books as well as DVDs and CDs with Christian teaching and music that can be shared among house church networks. Our goal is to provide at least 750 Bibles.