The number of Muslim converts risking prison or death by secretly worshipping as Christians in Iran’s house church movement has grown close to 1 million people according to watchdog groups.
Pars Theological Center, based in London, is training at least 200 Iranian Christians to become the next generation of Iran’s Christian leaders, according to the Christian Post.
Persecution of Christians has been on the rise in Iran since the rise of the country’s theocratic Shiite Muslim government in 1979. Since then, Christians have faced threats of death, lashing and torture. About 100 Christians are currently imprisoned under President Hassan Rouhani’s rule.
In 2010, there was a crackdown on underground house churches after the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said they “threaten the Islamic faith and deceive young Muslims.”
Despite the crackdown, there is a growing movement of Christians in Iran. Watchdog groups estimate that there are around 450,000 – 1 million practicing Christians in the country.
According to the Christian Post, “Pars sees this as a real chance to train agents of change who would transform the Iranian society from the bottom up by fostering a grassroots development of the values of Jesus in an Iranian style… It is not anti-Iranian. It’s an Iranian movement. It is a great number of Muslims turning to Christ.”
A source told Christian Post that the Iranian house churches consist only of about four to five members and are forced to their place of gathering every time they meet.
Fox News reports:
“Pastor Farshid Fathi has been locked up in Iran’s notorious Evin prison since December 2010 for what the American Center for Law and Justice describes as practicing his Christian faith.
After bowing to international pressure, Iranian authorities are starting to avoid charges that appear to be based on a person’s faith, according to the ACLJ. In Fathi’s case, his Christian activity was framed as being “criminal political offenses” by the court.
The regime in Iran equated his activities as “actions against national security,” based on evidence the pastor unlawfully distributed Bibles printed in Farsi, Iranians’ language.
Another Christian minister, Pastor Behnam Irani, is serving six years in Ghezal Hezar prison for alleged “actions against the state,” after he preached to a group of converted Christians in a house church as well as sharing his faith with Muslims.
But the widespread persecution hasn’t stopped groups like Pars from expanding the Christian movement within the Islamic Republic.
The center, which was founded by Rev. Mehrdad Fatehi in 2010, works closely with several Iranian house church networks. About 70 percent of Pars’ students live in Iran and are trained within the country, according to the Christian Post.”