After more than 10 years under Islamic rule, the Christian community in Iran is flourishing as never before, according to observers. And though government pressure on the believing community continues, some feel it may be declining since the Ayatollah Khomeini’s death last June.
“We have strong evidence that the [Iranian] church has increased five [fold] in the last 11 years,” said Abe Ghaffari, director of Iranian Christians International of Ann Arbor, Michigan. He said a census taken by Iranian Christian leaders in 1977 revealed about 2,700 born-again Iranians, almost all living within the country, free of persecution.
Following the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979 and a nine-year war with Iraq, however, an estimated four million Iranians fled the country. Ghaffari now estimates the number of Iranian Christians worldwide at more than 15,000. About half of that number, Ghaffari said, reside in Iran.
The revolution was a major turning point for the church, as well for Islam, according to Sharokh Afshar, director of the Fellowship of Iranian Christians in Long Beach, California. “Khomeini exposed Islam to many Muslims who had no idea what they believed,” Afshar said. “As one [Muslim] said, ‘If this is what our forefathers believed, there must be a better way out.’ They started to check into different religions—mainly Christianity—something that 10 years ago was not heard of.”
Another factor, according to Ghaffari, was the failure of materialism. “Before the Islamic Revolution, there was a lot of material prosperity,” he said. But because of Iran’s current economic troubles, Ghaffari added, Iranians have become much more open to the gospel. “They have seen how easily material things can be stripped away,” he said.1