On 21 March, the start of the Iranian new year, Meersa from Iran sent SAT-7 her new year greetings, tinged with longing: “Happy Norouz, in the hope of a day when the doors of churches in Iran will be open and we who love God can join in worshipping Him! “Hoping for a year full of fruitfulness and blessing and freedom for our dear Iran,” she continued. “May it be that we will not live in fear as we worship God.”
Most of us would agree that the freedom to choose or change our beliefs and to practise and share them with others is a right that everyone should have. But in Iran, despite the country being a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that upholds these freedoms, Christian converts risk arbitrary arrest and interrogation, imprisonment and many other deprivations – simply for exercising these freedoms.
Research conducted in 2020 showed that there are almost 1 million Christians in Iran, most of whom are converts. But the criminalisation of house churches forces them to live either as isolated believers or to meet with great caution and secrecy. To avoid detection, groups may be held at different homes in rotation, members may stagger the time they arrive, and voices are kept low when they pray or sing.
Many Iranian Christians tell us that SAT-7 is “their church” and rely on its programmes and contact with our viewer support teams for fellowship and their growth in Christ. For those who want to meet with other believers but are young Christians and unsure how to go about this, SAT-7 has launched a new series called Worship Territory.
Series producer, Petros, explains that the inspiration for the series came from two sources: a video sent to SAT-7 by a house church of them singing worship songs together; and questions from viewers asking, “What is church?” and “How can we worship?”.
Petros says, “We received so many messages from viewers asking, ‘How can we pray? How can we share testimonies?’ We want to show these viewers what the living Church is, that they can grow in Christ together, praying for one another, strengthening one another and supporting one another while following Christ.”
To do this, Petros met with and filmed thirteen half-hour meetings with Iranian believers now living in Türkiye. Around half a dozen men and women meet in each episode. They share learning from the Bible, ask questions, pray and worship. The participants all knew each other in some way, so their times together were relaxed and reflected the conversations and worship that would naturally occur.
One of the messages Petros wanted to convey was the example of the New Testament church (eg. 1 Corinthians 14:26) where every Christian had something to contribute to the group. He stresses: “Believers should not look to just one person to teach them.”
“There is a common misconception among young Iranian Christians that a church must have a single pastor who leads everyone in prayer, teaching, and worship,” Petros explains. In situations where most or all church members might be new believers and none will have had theological training, it is important not to place this responsibility on one person.
Each episode covers a different topic, ranging from prayer and its effects, identity and value in Christ, the meaning of fellowship, to the Christian understanding of freedom. Each also has several songs that viewers can adopt and learn themselves following the teaching of Ephesians 5:19, to “speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit”.
Testimonies from adversity
“I enjoyed producing this programme because of all the testimonies that people shared,” Petros says. “Now living outside Iran, even though my wife and I are serving the Iranian Church and sharing God’s Word, we sometimes feel a little physically disconnected from the Church.
“However, all of the people taking part in the programme had recent experiences in house churches in Iran, and it was powerful to hear their testimonies first-hand. One woman’s daughter, for example, had been killed because she was a Christian. One man had served six months in prison, and another has a relative who is in prison.
“We also heard testimonies of people travelling to Türkiye to be baptised because they couldn’t in Iran. I really liked producing this programme because of such testimonies.”
The challenges for believers in Iran are very real but the faith of the series participants has grown strong through adversity. Petros hopes that Worship Territory will play its part in building the faith and fellowship of those who continue to live and encounter Christ there today.