Iran is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a Christian, and there are thousands of underground Iranian believers practising their faith in secret. For those with no one to talk to about Jesus, SAT-7 has become not just a television channel, but also a virtual pastor, church, community and friend.
But beyond the channel, our Persian team is communicating daily with these hidden believers through mobile messaging apps like Telegram. They are able to offer one-to-one support, answer prayer requests, and provide much-needed resources like Bibles, sermons and Christian literature in a secure way, directly to viewers’ mobile phones. Isolated believers also find encouragement from online communities that have developed on SAT-7 PARS Telegram groups.
A secure way to share the Gospel
Telegram is the most popular messaging app in Iran, with over half of the population active on the platform. Nearly 50 percent of all viewer contact received from Iran by SAT-7 in 2017 was via Telegram. Sadly, because of its secure encryption, the app has in the past been linked with terrorist groups such as Islamic State who can communicate in total privacy. But it is precisely this level of security which also makes Telegram the perfect platform for making the Gospel available in a country where it would otherwise be too dangerous to communicate about it.
One viewer, Taghi, had no Church and no Christian friends to speak to. While watching SAT-7, he was overjoyed when he saw their Telegram number appear on the screen. “It’s the first time I’m contacting anyone overseas, and to be frank, I’m a bit afraid that I might find trouble for doing so,” Taghi said. “When I sent you a message I didn’t think you would answer, but when you did, hope and a warm feeling ignited in me.”
Strengthening hidden believers
Taghi is not unique – he is one of many Iranian believers keeping their faith a secret. There are hundreds of thousands like him – one estimate suggests there could be up to 700,000 hidden believers in Iran.
Another lonely believer, Babak, got in touch to tell us the story of how he had met Jesus through a friend. But when that friend had to leave the country, Babak found himself with no one to talk to about his faith. “I have been feeling very alone until a few days ago,” Babak said. “I was zapping through the channels and came across SAT-7 PARS. Since then I have been watching most of the programmes and I’m very happy. After three years of being in faith, I still don’t have a Bible and would love to have one.”
The SAT-7 PARS team connected with Babak on Telegram, and have now sent him a PDF version of the Bible. Through technology, they are also able to offer him the fellowship he so desperately needs.
Other viewers, like Pariya, use Telegram to ask SAT-7 for prayer. “Since we have no pastors, I’m grateful that I’m able to send my prayer requests through Telegram,” Pariya said.
For the Iranian Christians who have been able to find an underground church, resources are still sorely lacking. But because of the Telegram app, SAT-7 is able to support these churches with the materials they need. “We look forward to receiving sermons through Telegram, as we use them in our small church,” said viewer Farahnaz.
Some viewers are even bold enough to share the resources they receive from SAT-7 with their friends and families. “A month ago you sent me the Bible through Telegram, and I forwarded it to five of my friends,” said viewer Arash. “Praise God, my friends reacted positively, as they also wanted to follow Jesus Christ.”
Arash and his friends only have one satellite dish between them, so they now meet to watch SAT-7 programmes and share fellowship together.
During the protests in Iran in January earlier this year, Telegram was briefly blocked by the Iranian government in an effort to disrupt communication between protestors. This also had an effect on our SAT-7 audience relations team and their contact with viewers in Iran. Thankfully, though, the blockade was soon lifted and we were able to return to offering advice, support and a community through the app.
Strengthening the body of Christ in Iran may never have been in the developers’ minds when they created the Telegram app, but it is being used for powerful effect to this end. Thank God for this vital channel of communication, and pray that it will continue to be an encouragement to hidden believers throughout Iran.
- Pray God’s blessing on the many thousands of unknown believers of Iran, and pray He would strengthen and encourage them.
- Thank God for technology such as the Telegram app, which makes it possible to equip Iran’s churches and isolated believers.
- Pray that many more Persian-speakers, like Babak, would stumble across SAT-7 PARS and experience God’s love.
- Pray for the SAT-7 PARS team, and thank God for the powerful impact of their work.