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EXCLUSIVE: 'Jesus is Building His Church' Inside Iran, Millions Watching Christian Satellite TV

01-28-2018

This may come as a surprise to many, but Christianity is growing faster in the Islamic Republic of Iran than in any other country in the world.

Tens of thousands in this overwhelmingly Muslim nation are abandoning that faith.

Experts say the ongoing political crisis and economic challenges are fueling widespread anger against the regime.

Iran's president Hassan Rouhani is promising to resolve the country's economic, social and political problems after days of protests gripped the Islamic nation last month.

"I want to promise our people, that the economic, social and cultural conditions of the country, although there are problems, although the people haven't still achieved their dreams and demands, the government is capable of resolving the problems with the help of the people," Rouhani told Iran's state TV media. "God willing, together we'll solve problems step-by-step."

Social media producer Emily Jones and CBN's Senior International Correspondent George Thomas discuss how Jesus Christ is building His church inside Iran. Learn how millions of Iranians are meeting the Lord through the power of satellite TV!

At least 21 people died in clashes with police, and over 1000 were arrested, after Iranians held demonstrations across the country against government repression and the poor state of the economy.

Mike Ansari says political turmoil is creating unique opportunities to share the love of Christ.

"Many Iranian Christians have turned to us asking what it is they need to do," Ansari wrote in an email.

Ansari is the president of Heart4Iran Ministries, which describes itself as "a non-political partnership of multi-national organizations" bringing some 86 different ministries together with the goal of serving and blessing the people of Iran.

He says with all the negative news about Iran, it is easy to miss the big and often untold story of what Is really happening inside the Islamic nation.

"God is at work in Iran," declared a confident Ansari. "Jesus is building His church, the {Holy} Spirit is transforming lives and the gospel is on the move."

Mohabat TV is the media arm of Heart4Iran Ministries.

In 2006, Mohabat TV became the first 24-hour Farsi Christian satellite TV channel to beam gospel programs into Iran. Today, it is one of 4 satellite TV channels broadcasting continuous Christian programming into Iran.

"Christian satellite TV broadcasts into Iran have played a vital role in the success of underground house church movement," Ansari wrote.

Recently 20 Iranians, many of whom accepted Christ watching Mohabat TV, traveled to an undisclosed location to get baptized. CBN News was granted exclusive access to the celebrations.

"The significance of media strategy is that it by-passes security measures set by the government and reaches the people of Iran through their TV set or on their smart devices."

As a result Ansari believes Iran's house churches are experiencing explosive growth as scores of Iranians abandon Islam for Christianity.

"According to World Mission, the (underground) church in Iran is one of the fastest growing churches in the world," Ansari wrote in an essay about Iran's house church movement. "Most indigenous Iranian Christian leaders believe the house church movement in Iran is the lifeline of Christianity inside this country.

Reporters George Thomas and Gary Lane discuss the explosive growth of Christianity and its implications for the broader Middle East

Ansari, an Iranian by birth, sat down with CBN News for an exclusive look at the church inside Iran.

Below is an edited version of his interview with Senior International Correspondent George Thomas.

George Thomas: What is the state of the house church movement in Iran today?

Mike Ansari: Jesus is alive, He is moving, the Spirit of God is moving in Iran, and the church is growing real fast. We have never seen such an unprecedented growth of an underground church anywhere else before. World Mission announced in 2016 that Iran is among one of the fastest growing house churches in the world.

Thomas: Why is the church growing so fast?

Ansari: The church is growing because the people of Iran are disillusioned with Islam and they are looking for answers to life. They are not finding answers in the traditional forms of state religion or the faith of their ancestors. They are looking for new answers, they are not happy and satisfied where they are spiritually. It seems that a large number of these people are actually having dreams and visions about a shining man dressed in white far before we are out there telling them about Jesus.

Thomas: Is there a specific area of Iranian society that Jesus is touching more than others?

Ansari: The demographic that is responding to the gospel the most is the younger generation, who are very tech savvy. These are people, anywhere from 18 to 30 years of age, that are very tech savvy. They are online, they are following the world's pop culture {and} they are very much plugged in and they are looking for answers. They want to belong to a larger purpose and meaning in life, and they are finding that in Jesus.

Thomas: The 1979 Islamic Revolution was supposed to usher in this great Islamic revival. Did that ever materialize?

Ansari: After almost 40 years of the Islamic regime, the average Iranian is realizing that Islam is bankrupt and Islam is not able to answer their social, daily lives and the dilemmas they are dealing with. Iran is facing a host of crisis, from drug addiction to depression to suicide to sexually transmitted diseases to human trafficking. Unfortunately, Iran is dealing with so many issues and the answers are not found within the state religion.

Thomas: How bad is persecution against those who decide to abandon Islam and embrace Christianity?

Ansari: Iran is listed on the top 10 list of one of the most persecuted countries by Open Doors International. The reality of an Iranian Christian is that they are living in fear. They cannot go out on the street and share with people their new faith. They cannot celebrate anywhere publicly, and they are constantly in fear of retaliation from the authorities. Becoming a Christian in Iran, especially if you are from an Islamic background, is illegal and is punishable by the legal code in the country. This is why we want people around the world to continue lifting up the persecuted church in Iran.

Thomas: You recently commissioned an extensive survey inside the country to find out how many people are watching programs on Mohabat TV. What did the survey results show?

Ansari: We had no idea that so many Iranian youth are following our programs. It appears that roughly about 16 million Iranians within the last 12 months have viewed one or more of our programs on satellite TV and also on their mobile devices. That roughly translates to about 20 percent of Iran's population and that is an overwhelming number.

That by itself is a huge indication that there is a huge interest among the Muslim youth to better understand other religions in the world, in particular Christianity. We realized that in the last 11 years since we launched this channel into Iran, we have had over 400 percent increase in impact, and for us, that was absolutely phenomenal.

Thomas:  Your team produced a map showing all the locations Iranians are calling your show from. Describe this map.

Ansari: Any time a seeker or somebody who is interested in the message of Christ calls us we ask them whether they'd be willing to share with us what city they are calling from. Because of security reasons, we may not ask them details of their exact location, but we definitely want to find our what city they are calling from. We have been doing that for the past 11 years since we launched the channel and since then we've managed to put together a very rich database that shows the many different places people are calling from. When we put the information all together we were absolutely amazed pf all the places they were calling from and these dots were appearing all over the place.

We also realized that there is a huge number of Iranians that are responding to the gospel in diaspora. These are people, who have at some point left Iran, searching for a better life, but at one point they have not been able to really find that ultimate happiness. When they come across the message of Christ on our channel, they are picking up the phone and calling us and asking us if we can tell them more about this Jesus.

Thomas: How many people call in to your channel and how many have accepted Christ since you launched the network?

Ansari: It is a rough estimate that within the last 11 years we've been able to connect with over a 1 million Iranians through our call center. These are people who have contacted us wanting to know more Christianity. These are people who have either, become Christians or have had dreams or visions, and wanted to find out more about Jesus. Or people who have become Christians and they want to find out how to grow in their new faith and how to be discipled or how to start a house church in the country. In 2016, our call center processed about 700 contacts per day, which resulted in about 93 decisions for Christ per day. That's roughly about 3 people every hour that confessed their faith in Jesus.

Thomas: Is satellite TV still the most important evangelism tool to reach Iranians with the gospel or is social media becoming an even more important?

Ansari: In 2013 and 2014 when the Iranian Green Revolution took place, we realized the importance of Twitter. That was a glimpse into what was coming. In 2017, we realized that social media has arrived in the Middle East, especially in a country like Iran where the people, especially the youth, are actively using social media on their mobile devices. In addition, the numbers we've been getting through our survey is additional validation that this is a sound strategy for ministries to start focusing more and investing more in social media.

Thomas: You are convinced God is moving in powerful ways across Iran, right?

Ansari: Unfortunately, most of our media talks very negatively about Iran and the people of Iran. I'm here to tell you that God is alive, God is moving in Iran, the Spirit of God is moving and stirring hearts across the country and people are coming to know Him. There's a lot of good news coming out of Iran and we need to focus on that and celebrate that. We are hoping that our programming into Iran, the results that are being shared with the church in the west, would encourage Body of Christ that God is very much alive among Muslims and He's doing a great thing.

CBN NEWS EXCLUSIVE: In one of the most repressive countries in the world for Christians, a group of 20 Iranians recently professed Jesus Christ in baptism. Watch as CBN News cameras captured the celebrations.

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