“My nation is destroyed because of lack of knowledge.” Mansour Khajehpour, the Executive Director of SAT-7 PARS, quotes the prophet Hosea (4:6) to stress the lack of access to the Bible in his birth country of Iran.
He and Deputy Executive Nikoo Ordodary had just returned from the SAT-7 PARS teachers conference (October 2014), a bi-annual event designed, not only to develop the Bible and theology teaching on SAT-7’s Farsi language channel, but to grow and deepen relationships among a community of Iranian Christian pastors and theologians.
“We invite all the pastors and theologians [we can] to join in strategy for the future,” Nikoo explained.
This fourth conference took place in the UK and gathered 30 leaders from across denominations in the Iranian churches. Many are currently involved in SAT-7 PARS teaching programmes but others are not.
On the table were opportunities to share the pressing needs of the Farsi/Persian-speaking Church and seekers in Iran, Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Leaders – who are connected with thousands of Christians in house churches in Iran – were asked “In your area of ministry, what is the number one need of Iranian people inside Iran?”
There were also opportunities to review and brainstorm for SAT-7 programming from which the channel will develop a two-year plan.
But beyond this, Nikoo, said, “The main objective was to create a group of teachers who will think about the future of teaching for the Farsi Church, a group who will stay in contact and find this a safe place to share ideas and build friendships.” Since the conferences began in 2008, the aim has been to relate the needs inside the Persian world to all Iranian ministries.
Ground-breaking for Iranian pastors
For many, this year’s conference was ground-breaking in building trust and relationships. “One of the characteristics of Middle East churches is that we are all leaders,” Mansour explained, “and collaboration is a wish that never happens in practice. So we had to build a platform where leaders of different views could feel unthreatened and work together.”
“It was very touching for leaders to hear a pastor they respect so much speak so honestly about learning from his mistakes.”
To this end, SAT-7 broadcaster and pastor of probably the largest network of Iranian churches, Revd Edward Hovsepian, was invited to speak of the lessons he had learned over decades of ministry in Iran and abroad. “He shared from his own mistakes and how many times he had changed his ways of working and some of his views,” Nikoo said. “It was very touching for leaders to hear a pastor they respect so much speak so honestly about learning from his mistakes.”
Another participant, Dr Susan Tavassoli, spoke about the meaning of collaboration, integration and celebration. After each session, discussion groups and plenty of down time to relax, laugh and chat together fostered the building of relationships.
For two church leaders ministering in the same city but from different theologies and church traditions, the conference was a breakthrough. For eight years they had not spoken to each other, Mansour said, but at the end of the conference they both invited teachers from the conference to come and speak at their churches. One told him, “Brother Mansour, this was the best thing that could have happened”.
Another important feature of the conference was how to be a missional church, reaching all of the community and addressing needs holistically. Dr Elie Haddad, president of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS) in Beirut tackled this by sharing lessons from the Arab-speaking world. ABTS collaborates with the SAT-7 ARABIC channel on the TEACH-LEARN theology teaching project. LEARN is an ABTS-led curriculum which can be accessed online while SAT-7’s TEACH programmes seek to convey the basics of this material in creative ways through television series.
In November 2014 a group of fifteen SAT-7 PARS producers will hear from Juliana Sfeir, SAT-7’s TEACH director, and consider what the Farsi channel can take for the cultures it works in.
Christian TV gives Iranian access to “the good life”
While Iran is believed to have the fastest growing house church movement in the world, the Christian communities in Arab countries like Lebanon and Egypt have easy access to biblical teaching. The contrast with Iran is startling, and shows why communicating the faith plays such an important part in SAT-7 PARS programming.
“Consider that Iran has not had any freedom or access to any religious teaching except Islam for 35 years,” Nikoo said. “These programmes help Iranians find the truth, know and grow in the truth. With all the restrictions Christians face in Iran – especially for relatively new believers who want to become leaders – we provide training they cannot obtain by any other means. To grow courageous leaders who will build the Church you have to educate them in Bible understanding.”
And teaching isn’t limited to the quarter of SAT-7 PARS programmes that focus on adult education. “We do it for all ages, in different ways and approaches, in our children’s and youth programmes,” Nikoo adds. “So SAT-7 PARS is a teaching channel. Everything we do is to get people closer to Jesus, to help them understand the Bible and to enjoy growing in that good life.”
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