Amid persecution and a travel ban, Iran’s youth want community and transformation from within.
When I first met Hormoz Shariat in 2016, I expected the president and founder of Iran Alive Ministries to be a larger-than-life figure who matched the legendary stories of his sacrificial and protective love for Iran’s underground church. I was instead greeted with warmth and humility by him and the staff of his prominent television and evangelism ministry. Though Shariat is constantly in danger, his eyes sparkled with excitement as we talked.
As recent US foreign policy decisions about Iran made news headlines, I caught up with Shariat by email to hear his thoughts about this year’s travel bans, Iran’s next generation of Christian leaders, and the work of Iran Alive.
The Iranian church is seeing explosive growth, despite every effort to silence it. How is this?
There is a very special grace on Iranian Christians living inside Iran. Through satellite TV, we teach them to love their enemies and pray for them. We not only help persecuted and isolated Christians grow strong in faith and action, but we also teach them to share the gospel with their persecutors.
I have many stories about how persecuted Iranian Christians love their persecutors. Many experience the presence and power of Jesus while in jail or when tortured. Our best underground house church leaders are women who were formerly oppressed and desperate but are now attracted to Christianity, where women are respected.
What has been the response to President Donald Trump’s temporary travel bans?
Feelings were mixed. Some were directly affected and were not happy. Iranians both in America and outside America were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to see their loved ones. Those who were hoping to immigrate to America lost hope. Iranians love America, and succeeding there is an ultimate dream.
Many Iranians say they understand that the President must put US interests first. I’ve heard this even from those who were negatively affected by the ban. Iranians are both hopeful and afraid of Trump. And, they’re hoping that their Islamic government will be replaced by a secular democracy, but they don’t want war or violence to achieve it.
Many young people around the globe are taking up justice causes. What about Iran’s young people?
There are some similarities between Iranian and American millennials: Both are looking for a worthy cause to believe in and give their lives to. Both are interested in social justice and solving social ills, with many helping the homeless and poor. Community is important to both, and they are not interested in superheroes of faith.
The under-20 generation has the greatest potential to transform Iran. Most Iranian youth are secular in thinking, and the spirit of Islam has no control over them. They’re not afraid of Allah, the government, or death. They’re not interested in religion until they are presented with Christ, in whom they find salvation and purpose. Because of the killings after the 2009 election results, they are against public protest or violent uprising, but they’re open to the message that we share on satellite TV: Transform Iran without violence by first being transformed yourself, and then become an agent of transformation.
Do you wish American Christians would give attention to the 1–2 million Iranian Christians living in secret?
My prayer is that American Christians will wake up and see what the Lord is doing around the world and in the Middle East, especially among the youth in Iran. I pray they will see that God is doing something special in Iran; the whole Middle East could be transformed by the gospel through [it]. God has prepared the hearts of millions of Iranians; he is appearing to them in visions and dreams. He has given us technology so that we can connect with them both en masse and at a personal level—even from a distance.
Redemptive technology—is this where Iran Alive satellite TV comes in?
Iran Alive isn’t a TV ministry; it’s a church and a church planting organization. We deliver church services to every home in Iran, and help Christians to gather in homes and form churches. Our role is to encourage, equip, activate, and mobilize Iranian Christians with worship services, classes, prayer meetings, and children’s programs.
Iran is ready for a major transformation; we can truly make history there.