Religious faith has a bad image among Iran’s young adults and it’s easy to see why. Tight restrictions and harsh penalties imposed by its clerical leaders and enforced by religious police give many a very negative impression of belief – and not just their own.
According to Moe Pooladfar – producer of a new SAT-7 youth show for the Persian world – that includes Christianity: “They often think of Christianity as another religion which they cannot relate to,” he says.
This is the reason for 4:12 – a new weekly live show for adults aged 18 to 25. “The main aim is to break this negative mindset,” Moe enthuses. “By having two presenters from this age group, the show aims to demonstrate that you can be young and be a believer, have fun and yet live in purity, socialise, study and work like others, but follow Christ.”
Moe chose 4:12 as the title, partly because it is cryptic: “It makes you think – is it a Bible verse, is it the time on a digital clock?” Actually, it is drawn from 1 Timothy 4:12 – Paul’s instruction to a young Christian leader to set others “an example in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity”.
The need for such a programme is vital when you realise that 60 per cent of Iran’s population is aged under 30, and so many of its young population have no idea that a relationship with God can be a positive, life-changing experience.
“When you look at the Christian resources for Farsi-speaking young adults they are very, very limited,” Moe says, “so it was a no-brainer to have a youth live show for this age group.”
The programme’s co-presenters, Andre and Termeh, agree. “We want to show you can be a cool person and enjoy life but live the pure life that God wants for you,” Andre says.
In common with many Middle East countries, young adults often continue to live at home with their parents well into their twenties. This is partly because of the high cost of independent living but also because of social attitudes. Single men and women in Iran face suspicions over their motives if they try to rent a flat alone, and even open-minded parents fear for the safety of women living independently.
As two generations live under the same roof, tensions inevitably arise. Termeh says the attitudes of parents in Iran are often very conservative and don’t allow their adult children the choices that are available to their contemporaries in the UK. They give orders “on what to do and what not to do, and people of our aged don’t like to be ordered,” she says.
Andre agrees: in a closed country, many parents also have closed minds. “Some are very old-fashioned,” he says, “and the young Iranians are open-minded and like to experience new things… Parents say ‘No, that’s not right’ because they haven’t experienced it.”
Although education levels in Iran are high, Andre says parents will often dictate their children’s university or career choices.
The main part of each 60-minute episode of 4:12 addresses these or other challenges that are relevant to young Iranian adults. Topics targeted in the first season include friendship and issues of trust, dating and what the Bible has to say about it, decision making and planning ahead, confidence and self-esteem, and the right use of social media.
The tone is informal, thoughtful, and honest. There are lighter touches that include a video diary that Termeh and Andre have recorded of their week, Instagram-style on their mobiles, and “Jukebox” where a single, album or Christian music band or artist is introduced.
Through every element of the programme, Andre and Termeh are aiming to disprove what Iranian young people thought they knew about religion.
The faith Andre and Termeh have discovered is “not just a religion or belief,” Andre says: “It’s a love relationship with God and Christianity is about knowing Jesus and letting Jesus know you and come into your heart. We want them to know that living with Jesus is amazing.”
Watch interview with the 4:12 team