Iran has a remarkably young and educated population, but an oppressive regime and crumbling economy offer them scant hope for the future. Yet their search for meaning and purpose gives many a deep spiritual thirst.
In common with many Middle Eastern countries, Iran has more young people than any other age group. Over 60 per cent of the nation’s 79 million people are under 30. And, given that 99 per cent areliterate and over a third in higher education, you might expect Iran’s teenagers and young adults to be carefree and optimistic about their futures. But you would be wrong.
A combination of factors, ranging from the rigidity of Iran’s hardline clerical leaders, to repressive security measures and a faltering economy, mean that Iran’s younger generation are as disillusioned as many of their elders. The government’s ruthless crushing of the 2009 Green Movement – a youth-led protest similar to the Arab uprisings that followed it – has added to a mood of hopelessness.
One measure of this is Iran’s drug addiction rates. These are among the highest in the world with 1.3 million hardcore drug users, the average being in their twenties. Some 20% of the population aged 15 to 60 is involved in drug use.
Although three-quarters% of a million Iranians leave university each year, opportunities to find suitable and adequately paid work are rare. Despite huge gas and oil reserves, economic mismanagement and corruption and international sanctions have crippled the economy. Official figures show youth unemployment at 29.1%. Many who do work juggle two jobs to make ends meet. It’s not surprising that there is a brain drain for those who have the means to find work abroad.
According to Nikoo Ordodary, the 23-year-old Iranian presenter of SAT-7’s Dandelion youth show, reality hits hard for many when they graduate or finish school and face the demands of finding work, somewhere to live and family pressures to marry.
For some, the demands are too heavy and the easy availability of drugs – close to the region’s poppy fields – are too strong a temptation. Revd Miltan Danil, a UK-based Iranian pastor who contributes to some of SAT-7 Farsi-language programmes, was a drug addict himself from the ages of 17 to 27.
Feeling their pain
“I can understand their pain, their hunger, and I have a passion for reaching them,” he says. Viewers who call in to Windows, a show he participates in, sometimes say, “You are the same as other religious leaders but with neck ties,” he says. “I say no, we give people hope. Iranians are waiting for people to do something for them and for these programmes to give them hope.”
Unprotected premarital sex and a boom in prostitution (with an estimated 300,000 sex workers in Tehran alone1) are increasing the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases and abortion. It also threatens to increase an HIV/Aids epidemic, which has been concentrated among those who inject drugs. In 2009, the head of Iran’s Aids research body said the highest prevalence was among 25- to 29-year-olds.
A pervasive education system has raised young people’s expectations but illiberal government policies, an army of religious police, and a faltering economy have left them bitterly disappointed.
Perhaps it’s surprising that both the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88 and the policies of the Khomeini-era religious leadership actually accelerated development, education and empowerment of the traditionally poor.
Ordinary people, especially in rural areas, are now better educated than previous generations, but this has created aspirations that are smothered by a tightly policed regime and crumbling economy. Young people and women wanting greater empowerment voted for President Mohammad Khatami in 2000, as he promised to lead the country in a more liberal direction. But resistance by the ruling religious leaders blocked this and change was halted by the 2005 election or arch-conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Cynicism is one result of these disappointments. “Due to the political climate in Iran and the social limitations they face, it is hard for young adults to trust people,” Nikoo Ordodary explains. “As soon as you tell people about the love of God, they say, ‘You don’t know anything about Iran, the financial crisis and our everyday struggles’.”
Iranian churches, also face obstacles. The official churches, such as the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Assyrian Church, serve minority ethnic groups and are warned not to accept newcomers. Evangelical Churches are not permitted so have to flourish in secret.
Getting a hearing
Despite the barriers, Christians who show genuine love and concern and who offer hope through Christ, do earn a hearing.
The programmes produced by SAT-7 PARS, the station’s Farsi-language channel, can reach people that churches cannot. They can receive them uncensored wherever they live, via satellite or online. And shows such as Dandelion have an iniquiring and enthusiastic audience.
Dandelion producer Kiaa P, emailed in January 2013, to say that the response to an edition discussing “The Power of Prayer” was a real breakthrough.
“We really felt the power of prayer during the show,” he said, “The testimonies of callers brought tears into our eyes. More than 90% of our callers were non-Christians. They had a deep respect for Jesus Christ and asked for prayers in the name of Jesus. Several callers mentioned that when they talk about Jesus, something is coming into their heart and they are surrounded by a peaceful and joyful atmosphere.”
Each week the programme chooses a theme related to young adults’ lives and concerns and invites viewers to “engage in a discussion with us”, Nikoo says. Using Scripture, their own views and experiences and quoting from Farsi poets and literature that have a great place in Iranian culture, hosts probe these issues and summarise the calls, texts and emails that viewers send. “Moreover, we create questions in viewers’ minds, encouraging them to re-think a subject they might have made their mind up on.”
“Dandelion attracts those viewers who not only look for the truth but wish to be heard, ask questions and get to know the true God,” Nikoo says. “Our viewers are not only Christian believers or seekers but devout Muslims who want to take part in the discussions. Many of them feel encouraged to read the Bible and get to know more.”
1 Iran: Open Hearts in a Closed Land, Mark Bradley, Authentic, 2007, p.61
Pray for the witness of young Iranian Christians in their own country. Ask that they might find Christian fellowship and grow strong in knowledge of Christ, in his ways and in hope, and be wise and sensitive witnesses to family members and friends.
Pray for the presenters and makers of live shows like Dandelion and Windows,asking that these shows may have a great impact under God.
“I am 21 years old and I am very depressed. My father is drug addicted and financially we are not in a good situation. I don’t have any job and I am not able to pay a university fee. Yesterday when I was very upset I wanted to end my life. I saw your channel and somehow changed my mind and I decided to call you for help.” Tara from Khorasan. SAT-7 PARS explained how she could find hope in Christ and prayed for her
“First of all I want to thank you for your programmes specially the programmes you have for young people. Because of security reasons we cannot go to a church or participate in worship services in Iran. We do not have access to anything that would help us to grow in Christ. So please send us any Christian articles, recourses and any new Christian songs so we can grow in our faith.” Iman
“I am unemployed and I wish that I can find job soon. I am 23 years old and I came to Christ last year. I used to go to university but could not finish my degree due to financial difficulties at home. I am a frequent viewer of Dandelion and What’s Happening? I love Dandelion because of the host and the very real and interesting topics. Please pray for me to find a job.” F from Hamadan
“I came to Christ by watching SAT-7 PARS. Not long after this my 15-year-old brother also believed. But we are having a lot of problems with our parents for our faith and my brother was even expelled from his school. Please pray for us and give us advice how to deal with our situation” Yahya
It costs just £1 per person to develop, broadcast, and run an audience relations service for SAT-7 programmes for a whole year. A gift of £25 could enable 25 Iranians to receive and be strengthened in hope in Christ. Please consider making a gift via our SAT-7 site.