BACKGROUND: Iranians, descendants of the ancient Persians, are still affected by a costly war with Iraq in the 1980s. That war was preceded by the 1979 Islamic revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who returned from exile to lead the overthrow of the Shah. Though the Iranian and U.S. governments are at odds, most Iranians have a favorable view of Americans and desire trade and commerce with the West. Though Iran is an Islamic republic, few people regularly attend mosque, and the country is functionally atheist. True power in the country lies with the top religious leaders rather than the elected officials.
MAJOR RELIGIONS: Iran is the only nation in the world whose official state religion is Shiite Islam. The country is surrounded by hostile Sunni Islam nations.
PERSECUTOR: Christians are persecuted by government authorities, supported by a network of spies in each city. Family, friends and community members also persecute Christians, especially when news of a conversion become public, because of the honor/shame culture. Even nominal Muslims sometimes report Christians to the authorities.
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A CHRISTIAN IN IRAN: The Iranian government is among the most oppressive regimes in the world. It is illegal to leave Islam, and Christians face the constant threat of imprisonment and being charged with “acting against national security.” Christians are routinely fired from their jobs, and it’s difficult to find new jobs. They also are often kicked out of rented homes. Many Christians gather in secret fellowships, while others worship and receive teaching through Christian satellite programs from other countries. Many Christians have been charged with crimes because of their faith and are awaiting appeals or summonses to serve their sentences. VOM contacts know of 11 Christians who are currently in prison.
ACCESS TO BIBLES: Bibles are highly restricted. It is illegal to import them and illegal to have Bibles printed in the country. Since they are so difficult to obtain, Bibles are treasured by Iranian believers. Christians have developed creative ways to obtain Bibles and distribute them, including through websites, mobile phone cards and smartphone apps.
VOM WORK: VOM provides encouragement, support and training for former prisoners as they rebuild their lives. We also help train current and future Christian leaders in seminary work, and we actively work to distribute God’s Word to believers inside Iran.