By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BAGHDAD/TEHRAN (BosNewsLife)-- Despite a mass exodus of Christians, "the church" is far from empty in Syria, Iraq, Jordan and other parts of the Middle East as thousands of Muslims turn to faith in Jesus Christ including through radio broadcasts, a Christian group said Thursday January 5.
"There are thousands upon thousands coming to Christ," said the Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC), which supports Christian broadcasters in the region. "We are in regular contact with our FM stations in Iraq and have talked with many people who have family in the Middle East," VOMC told BosNewsLife.
"Some of our Middle Eastern broadcasters have shared testimonies [about many turning to Christ] with us, which they hear directly from listeners when visiting there...."
VOMC made clear that that amid war and Islamic attacks in the region, "God has been very faithful." The group added there are "strong Christian believers remaining" in the Middle East "and tremendous growth is taking place in the lives of new believers who were Muslims."
VOMC it wants the Lord to "be praised and worshipped with great honour, He is worthy."
The spread of Christianity has also been reported in Iran, despite a crackdown by the government on house churches and other denominations deemed a threat to the Islamic state. "In 1979, there were less than 500 known Christians from a Muslim background in Iran. Today the most conservative estimate is that there are at least 360,000 believers in the nation," said mission group Elam Ministries, which was founded by Iranian church leaders.
"Church leaders believe that millions can be added to the church in the next few years-such is the spiritual hunger that exists and the disillusionment with the Islamic regime. If we remain faithful to our calling, our conviction is that it is possible to see the nation transformed within our lifetime. Because Iran is a strategic gateway nation, the growing church in Iran will impact Muslim nations across the Islamic world."
Among those who turned to the Christian faith is Behrang Masoumi, core member of the Elam team, who said he is training Iranian believers "for ministry".
He said he learned about Jesus after someone said: “You like parties, Behrang, so why not come to the Christmas party at my church? It’s a birthday celebration for Jesus!”
Madoumi said it was "the first time" he realized that one of his relatives was a Christian. "I was shocked. I was even more shocked to discover that she had been secretly following Jesus for five years. And she had been praying for me all that time."
He said he knew his Muslim family would be angry at her for abandoning the family’s religion. "But I was also intrigued [and] went along to her church not long after. I was astonished by the joy and warmth with which I was met. Apparently this whole church had been praying for me for years too."
He said Jesus started "to stir" his heart in that meeting. "But I needed more, so I asked God to give me a clear sign that he was real. The very next day I was freed from my addiction to cigarettes. I had been addicted for years, but overnight the very thought of smoking had become disgusting to me."
He concluded there was "no denying that Jesus Christ was alive and powerful" and said that "one week later" he "surrendered" his life to Him.
"Being invited to celebrate Christmas was a simple thing, but it was a vital step in my journey to faith. I know this has been true for many other Iranians. And I know it can be true for many more." He said he had been praying this Christmas season that "many would come to know the Lord, right across Iran, because of the courageous witness of many believers."
He urged Christians to also pray for "divinely appointed conversations, salvation for many, and protection for the house churches", amid ongoing police raids and other reported pressure from authorities.
VOMC suggested that Christians like him play a crucial role in the Middle East as they "have made significant contributions for the good of society, especially in Syria and Iraq, going all the way back to the first century."
Their contributions include working in the areas of health, literacy and the translation of the Bible into Arabic, the group noted. "They were among the first to introduce charitable works and work with missionaries and NGO workers. They are often recognized as the most honest when it comes to business and trade. In the future, Christians will be vital to maintain diversity and ensure sustainable peace and lasting stability in the Middle East."