Ali has lived and worked as a missionary in Iran for many years. In an interview, he reports on the situation in the country and on God’s work among the Iranians.
What is the situation in Iran today?
There is chaos in Iran. People riot, they are angry and hopeless. The US sanctions against the country have been devastating; you basically have to hold a whole bundle of cash in your hand to buy meat, cheese, or fruit. People only come out of their houses because they have to eat. They have to eat something, so they go to work, but they’re totally depressed. Everyone is under pressure and afraid of the future. But this economic, social, political and religious unrest creates the perfect moment for the message of Jesus Christ.
What do you mean when you say this is the perfect moment for the message of Jesus Christ?
In times of chaos and despair, people start thinking, because what they thought was important is suddenly no longer important. For example, they have seen material things lose their value overnight with a single decision – without being in control. Then they ask themselves: What is worth anything? What am I still living for? Why did God create me at all?
It is actually one of the ‘most beautiful’ times. I have been serving in Iran for many years now and I can say that a lot is changing. God is really powerfully at work.
Can you tell us a few things about your work?
We met a man who was crying. We asked him, “Why are you crying?” He said, “Because I and my daughter have epilepsy.” He had been to the Imam Reza Shrine; this is a shrine in Iran that is said to cure people. The people who go there eat, sleep and shower; in short, they basically live there. They literally let themselves be tied to the shrine with a rope to wait for healing. This man had spent eight years there. But nothing had happened.
Then he came to the capital, Tehran, where the medical care is a little better, but they couldn’t help him here either. In the meantime his daughter even had seizures while sleeping. One of my employees said to him, “You know what? God will give you and your child the best sleep in your life!“ Then he prayed a very simple prayer, “Lord, please, let this man and his daughter sleep better than ever.” The following week the man came back and asked, “Please tell me more about this god? Who is this god? It was such a simple prayer! I and my daughter had the best sleep ever.” This is how we lead people to Jesus.
And what happens when Muslims recognise the true God?
You find meaning in your life. You become free inside. They are deeply obedient to God and just want to tell everyone about Him. And then they change. For example, the men – the angry father who was never there suddenly becomes a loving dad who takes care of his children and his wife. I met women who, when they became Christians, even forgave their rapists. Of course, God is not a supermarket that simply fulfils all your wishes. But it’s about that He really cares about us. God meets Muslims at the point where they need it and shows them that He is a personal God who sees their needs and cares for them. He wants the best for them and has a good plan for their lives.
What you are doing is very dangerous. You could be arrested, or worse. How do you deal with this danger? What do you think about persecution?
First of all, persecution keeps you clean. When you live in a country where Christians are persecuted, you try very hard not to sin. And not because God otherwise loves you less or you would have to be particularly holy. You just want God’s hand to stay over you. We don’t want to open a door to the enemy and give them an opportunity to attack us. Satan creeps around us like a roaring lion looking for points of attack. We don’t want to offer him that. So we stay ‘pure’.
I also learned to trust God completely. Thank God there is freedom in the West. But this has led us to believe that Christians no longer have to rely entirely on God. In my situation, however, I am forced to do so. Sometimes I may have ended up in prison if I hadn’t prayed and fasted beforehand. For example, when riots break out, people demonstrate and the secret police are on the move – then we pray, “Lord, give us a strategy! What should we do?” And we fast. To be honest, the persecution in Iran first gave me an understanding of the power of prayer and fasting, and of staying closely connected to His Word. It has resulted in me constantly living in an attitude of prayer. Because if I don’t pray, if I don’t speak to God and hear His voice, then I could make a mistake, take a wrong step, and it could end up pretty nasty. It could cost me my life.
What do you say to your employees? Are you preparing them for persecution?
Definitely! I am convinced that we must suffer before we can share God’s glory with Him. For example, there is Joseph. As a favourite son, he was destined for great things. But he had to suffer. He was sold, went into slavery, spent years in prison. Only then did he become the second man in the country and ruled. Or Moses. As Pharaoh’s foster son, he had everything. But what happened? Forty years in the desert. He had to suffer before he was allowed to rule. And if you look at David, it was similar. Samuel anointed him king. But he was first pursued by Saul before he could really become king. I could give so many examples from the Bible where suffering comes before glory.
Is there a particular passage in the Bible that particularly encourages you, especially with regard to the situation that is currently prevailing in Iran?
Yes, I have just read the book of Job. How he got neither angry nor bitter despite all the suffering, that appealed to me, because sometimes I get angry about many things in Iran. I then ask myself, why is this and that not working right now? Am I doing anything wrong? Job didn’t do anything wrong, and yet he suffered a lot. But he looked at the Lord in everything and fixed his eyes on him! And towards the end of the book it becomes clear that God is good. We really have to internalise this: God is good! He loves us so much that everything that happens to us glorifies Him. Mind you, it is not always ours, but always His honour!
Are you struggling with fear?
Very. I think anyone who says otherwise is lying. Nobody wants to be arrested. I get a lot of comfort from prayer.
How can we pray for you and your staff?
In the depths of my heart I’m actually a rather pessimistic guy, but it’s the first time during my time in Iran that I feel we are on the threshold of a movement in which the Holy Spirit is like a mighty storm. So my first prayer request is that we get the wisdom to set our sails right. I am truly, wholeheartedly convinced that not only in Iran, but also in Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Kuwait, that everywhere, God will intervene so powerfully that we will no longer be able to count the number of conversions.
Iran is about 30 years ahead of the rest of the Middle East. When the revolution took place, people thought that everything would get better with Islamic rule. They believed in an Islamic utopia. But with the years the disappointment came; now they are even worse than before. They have lost everything and are now saying that Islam cannot be the answer. They reject Islam wholeheartedly because they have got to know its true face. In the Arab countries they still hope for this revolution, this Islamic utopia. Unlike the Iranians, they have not yet understood that Islam is not the solution. There are really many Iranians who have dreams and visions in which they encounter Jesus Christ! I was once called to a man in a city who had had something crazy going on. He told me that one day a white-faced man with a beard knocked on his door. When he opened it, this man told him to write the following: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” He showed me his notebook and there was literally all of the Gospel of John in it! That really blew me away. Jesus is particularly active in Iran. Why? Because all languages of the Near and Middle East are spoken here. Assyrians, Armenians, Arabs, Afghans, Pashtuns, Turks, Turkmen live in Iran. If Iranians come to believe, it means that the entire region will come to believe. Because when the Turks become Christians then go back to their home country … just like the Afghans who become Christians in Iran. The Jews too. I think that’s why God uses Iran as a strategically important point.
How can we pray for Iran and its people?
That the chaos continues. Most people think we should pray for change in Iran. But if you look at what happened in Russia and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain … or in China when money poured into the country … you can see that the revival suddenly stopped. I hope that one day the news will show that this nation that exports radical Islam has now become 10% Christian and that its government doesn’t know what to do.