"I grew up as a Muslim and have lived in this Muslim country all of my life. One day, Jesus came to me in a dream and revealed himself as the Messiah and Lord. I was afraid because becoming a Christian would cost me everything—it would cost my relationship with my family, my job, and perhaps my life, but I knew that was what Jesus wanted from me. I was able to find a copy of the New Testament that had been passed through many different people. As I read it, I understood that Jesus loved me. I wanted to follow Him. My family has disowned me and I lost my job, but Christ is with me and I trust in him…"
When a group of ECO church leaders recently traveled to Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and London, we heard countless versions of this story as we met with believers from Iran and the Arab Peninsula. Their testimonies of how God, through the persecuted church and His glorious power, is leading Muslims into relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and gave us a glimpse into the vibrant underground church movement, which in Iran alone has grown from one to four million people over the last ten years. While it is hard to get accurate numbers across the whole Middle East, ECO Synod Staff, Pastors, Elders, Covenant Partners and church staff members have been meeting with leaders within these movements through our partnership with Frontier Fellowship. Our hope is to connect ECO churches with in-country leaders of ministries and networks of house churches, to support what is happening and come alongside these ministries and networks as they expand their ministry influence throughout the Middle East.
Our group of ECO church leaders, led by Frontier Fellowship, next journeyed to London where we met with Pars (Persian Theological Centre). Pars is working with at least ten underground church networks in Iran to train and equip their pastors and church leaders. Each network may have any number of churches in them, and many of these networks and churches purposely do not know one another for security reasons. The quality of education being offered at Pars is of the highest standards. Our entire ECO group was beyond impressed with the theological development a Pars student receives from their studies with the Pars faculty and tutors. Many involved in missions and ministry have speculated for years that these leaders working in and witnessing the miraculous movement of God in the 10/40 window will emerge as the next generation of theological and pastoral leaders to affect the worldwide Church. Pars is doing significant work and is at the forefront of helping to train and equip these new leaders. I believe that the work being produced through Pars, such as the writings, development of theological education, and church methods are great lessons and tools for the church in the West. We pray that new ministry partnerships will be formed with Pars to support their mission of training Iranian underground church leaders.
We were also able to meet with ELAM Ministries, which is arguably one of the most well-known and established Persian Ministries. ELAM is responsible for helping to create the Persian Language Bible, and have used creative ways to get these Bibles into the hands of Persian people who want to learn more about Jesus. The ministry to discreetly distribute Scripture in Iran is significant and dangerous work. The scarcity of Bibles in their language makes it so that a Bible is not kept by one believer, but instead, read and then passed on to another new believer, and so forth. For ECO churches who are passionate about Bible distribution, you could partner and connect with ELAM, as well as another partnership through Frontier Fellowship.
In Dubai, we had opportunities to meet with leaders who have pastored in above-ground churches, and others who share Jesus with people from the Arab peninsula on holiday in Europe. Because of the current movement of God in the Arab world, these leaders have moved to exclusively pastoring new believers from a Muslim background. We were in awe of these ministers and their families who put their lives at risk to pastor and equip these new believers. There are so many stories like this that cannot be shared due to the danger of being Christian in the Arab world. What I can tell you, is that through the ministry of Frontier Fellowship, there are now ways you can meet and/or support them. We encourage each of you to contact Frontier Fellowship for more information.
Almost all of the people we met had been imprisoned, tortured, or had family or friends who had been martyred (killed) for their faith in Christ, or for sharing Christ with someone from a Muslim background. There are many others who come to faith and have not been persecuted, as long as they stay unknown, or live in a more open place, such as the UAE. And yet, in the midst of all of these stories, there was and is abounding hope. One pastor and his wife shared that over the last five years God has been bringing Muslim Background peoples to faith so quickly, they are astonished at the difference in their ministry today from five years ago. The numbers are growing so quickly that Muslim Background Believers (MBBs) no longer want to be referred to in this way, but want to be called, “The New Church” to differentiate them from the above-ground established churches. It is impossible to hear about the underground church movement without thinking of the book of Acts and the early church. It is humbling and moving, and I found myself laughing, crying, and being powerfully affected by every story.
These are stories that each ECO church can be a part of. Through our partnership with Frontier Fellowship, you can directly support these different ministries. In some cases, you can send teams to support the work they are already doing. For instance, one underground church goes away on retreat in a more open country. An ECO church could provide childcare and sponsor the church as they live freely as Christians for one week a year. What an incredible blessing this would be to both churches.
Our hope in ECO is to continue to tell these stories, and for every church in ECO to learn from the example of this movement of God in the Muslim world more about how we can live boldly and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our own contexts. Frontier Fellowship will be at the National Gathering in Houston, and is available to consult with any church in ECO. Dana Allin, John Terech and myself would be happy to share our experiences and support of these wonderful ministries. And Jen Haddox, ECO’s Global Advocate, would be happy to help any ECO church make connections and be part of these significant ministries.