Jump directly to the Content


Meet the Iranian Christians Crafting an Evangelical Alliance

Introducing 11 of the dozens of diaspora ministries working to unite one of the world’s fastest-growing gospel movements.
Meet the Iranian Christians Crafting an Evangelical Alliance
Image: Courtesy of Pars Theological Centre
Iranian Christians worship at a leadership gathering in London.

Last week in Tehran, thousands rallied to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the Islamic revolution that established Iran’s modern theocracy. Last October in London, 130 Iranian Christians gathered to worship and pray, and celebrated a quiet decision to establish an evangelical alliance.

Time will tell which gathering was more consequential.

In 1979, one month after the fall of the shah, 98 percent of Iranian citizens voted to approve a constitution installing an Islamic government. Four decades of religious authoritarianism later, an online poll indicated that only 16 percent of the population would vote for it again.

An earlier survey, furthermore, found that only one-third of Iran’s population call themselves Shiite Muslims. More than half identified as either atheist, agnostic, no religion, vaguely spiritual, or Iran’s ancient Zoroastrian faith.

Those responding “Christian” totaled almost a million.

Thousands more Christians have fled persecution, taking refuge among the extensive Iranian diaspora in the West. Some have established ministries to evangelize among them, while others broadcast satellite TV programs, engage in remote discipleship efforts, or preside over a network of underground house churches.

Many multitask, while few collaborate—until now.

At the London gathering, members from over 40 diaspora churches and ministries voted almost unanimously to partner together in an evangelical alliance. Further votes were taken to choose a seven-member steering committee to represent the whole, tasked to take a year to study and recommend best practices, as an additional 60 leaders observed proceedings online.

Momentum had been building for years. Named the Iranian Leaders Forum (ILF), previous gatherings met in 2015 and 2018 until COVID-19 disrupted the triannual effort. While unity had been discussed previously in principle amid believers of different theological perspectives, 2023 represented the first practical step to formally establish it.

But the first mention of an alliance quieted the room. Gathered leaders—one-third of whom were female—had been beaming with joy at the reunion with colleagues separated by time and space. Hints of lingering tensions were whispered in the hallways, but worship was loud and heartfelt; prayers were passionate and pleading.

The ministries, however, were not used to cooperation, and many wondered what was intended. While a representative ILF steering committee planned the announcement of an alliance, it was not expected by most participants. Would such an alliance seek administrative control, establish a single denomination, or venture into politics?

Over the course of the five-day conference, leaders addressed the uncertainties. The motivation came from Jesus’ prayer for unity, to strengthen the witness of the Iranian church and to allow for one Christian voice where consensus exists. Breakout groups put diverse ministries in communication about what would be acceptable to all. But the purpose, organizers assured, was to agree on the benefit of forming a network of mutual relationships and then to take the time necessary to figure out the details.

A single denomination was ruled out, as was a political party. Currently under discussion is if membership will include only believing Protestants or if those of evangelical conviction in other denominations will also be welcomed. And while much of the house church movement is connected with gathered ministries, only God knows the full extent of the church within Iran.

Participants gave CT their various recommendations for success:

  • Avoid hierarchical structures and minimize administrative control.
  • Craft a clear strategy and process for decision-making.
  • Ensure election of capable and representative leadership.
  • Facilitate communication channels appropriate for active ministries.
  • Honor the theological and practical diversity of members.
  • Be mindful of inherited cultural authoritarian patterns.
  • Address the impact of Western money and denominational pressure.
  • Discuss competition over resources and ministry duplication.
  • Discern the role of women and non-Iranian participation.

Time will tell if the overwhelming agreement will hold. But CT asked a selection of participants to contribute short biographies of their ministries, along with their hopes for what an Iranian evangelical alliance can accomplish. Listed in alphabetical order, prayers are requested for all involved:

Mike Ansari, president of Heart4Iran:

Born into a secular family in Iran’s southwestern city of Shiraz—birthplace of the celebrated national poet Hafez—Ansari emigrated to the US in 1983 after living through the Islamic revolution and, as a seven-year-old, witnessing his cousin’s accidental death via a stray bullet. These events caused him to question his nominal faith, and when his mother experienced a profound transformation following her dream about Jesus, he joined her in becoming a Christian.

But having missed the truth for so long, Ansari keeps focus on the post-resurrection experience at the Sea of Galilee in John 21:4—the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. His prayer is to not lose sight of God’s leading in the effort to build lasting partnerships in fulfillment of the Great Commission.

Uniting over 100 ministries in evangelism, discipleship, and Bible distribution, Heart4Iran—founded in 2006—runs a 24/7 satellite TV broadcast that reaches Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. Ansari prays also that God’s spirit will set free millions of disillusioned Muslims and preside over peace and stability in Iran.

Recalling Hafez, Ansari hopes that the arts might have a role to play. He founded FarsiPraise Ministries to train worship leaders for the underground church and archive its music while also producing 19 original albums. His mother was an early lyricist; Ansari—a poet himself—arranged the melody.

An evangelical alliance, he believes, will give a legitimacy to Christianity in Iran if they are able to keep a united front. Local and diaspora leaders, working together despite differences, will then be able to win recognition and inclusion of the church within Iran’s social and political arenas.

Amir Bazmjou, founder and CEO of Torch Ministries:

Born in Iran’s third-largest city of Isfahan, Bazmjou left Iran as a 19-year-old student in 1996 to continue his higher education in Germany in hope of pursuing entrepreneurial business opportunities. A few months later, he came to Christ through reading the Bible in Farsi and thereafter had a vision of a flaming torch lighting the way for other Iranians still in darkness.

This image was later confirmed by his 2003 marriage to Rashin, daughter of the martyred Iranian pastor Hossein Soodmand, hanged in Iran’s second-largest city of Mashhad. Rashin was only 13 years old at the time, and as she grew in faith she was inspired to “carry the torch” of her father’s legacy.

After years in Christian service, in 2017 they co-launched Torch Ministries, which works to strengthen and equip the church through media, discipleship, and leadership training, including counseling for believers traumatized by family or social oppression. Bazmjou is currently a PhD candidate in Christian theology at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies.

His favorite verse is 2 Corinthians 5:17—if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation—as it speaks to the unique role of God in moving people from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God. His prayer is that Jesus would reveal himself to more and more Iranians, who would one day have freedom to join the church and worship without persecution.

Bazmjou’s hope for an evangelical alliance is the creation of unity amid a diversity of personal backgrounds and emphases of service. By establishing a sense of belonging among believers, a common identity will strengthen collaboration, partnership, and ministry accountability. And once formed, the alliance will have one voice to address the sociopolitical challenges in Iran and to combat the false teaching that can easily arise in a young and growing church.

Mansour Borji, founder and director of Article18:

Born in 1974 in Saqhez, a city in Iran’s Kurdistan province, Borji grew up in Tehran due to local armed conflicts in the region at that time. He shares his birthplace with Mahsa Amini, the young girl whose death in custody triggered the “Woman, Life, Freedom” nationwide protests.

After coming to faith in 1992, Borji went to London five years later to study theology and later joined various Christian organizations to work in evangelism, pastoral ministry, and theological education. But in 2008 he founded Article18 to devote himself to advocacy on behalf of the persecuted church.

His favorite verses are Romans 12:1–2—this is your true and proper worship. The passage is holistic, speaking of the presentation of the “body,” the renewing of the “mind,” and the alignment of the “will” with God’s. It leads to a full transformation that then proceeds outward in love and service.

And such is his prayer. Borji desires that the church will bear the Spirit of the Lord to preach good news to Iran’s poor, captive, and brokenhearted. Then, once clothed in salvation, it will help rebuild the nation, becoming a center of hope not only for Iran but the wider region as well.

To do so requires unity, for which Jesus prayed. An alliance is therefore a necessity, Borji believes, not only to manage the challenges of ministry but also to leverage complementary experiences on behalf of a still-tiny Christian population. And if a common vision can be crafted, trust and mutual reliance will propel the church forward to innovate and adapt to ever-changing Iranian circumstances.

Mehrdad Fatehi, founder and executive director of Pars Theological Centre:

Born in 1960 in Iran’s northern tea-producing town of Lahijan, Fatehi came to Christ as a second-generation believer at the age of 11. Called to ministry during his university studies, in 1991 he moved to the UK with his wife to pursue theological studies, eventually graduating with a PhD in New Testament studies.

But when Haik Hovsepian-Mehr and other leaders were martyred in Tehran in 1994, Fatehi decided to remain in exile. Beside his leading role in producing a modern Farsi translation of the Bible, he has authored three books and translated seven theological texts. These, alongside others, inform the interdenominational curriculum of Pars Theological Centre’s bachelor’s degree, which last year celebrated its first graduating class.

As Fatehi ages, his biblical reflection turns to the Farsi translation of Romans 12:11—do not let your zeal ever diminish; be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Believing this is a unique time in Iran’s history, he wants to remain fervent in ministry as he prays that God in his wisdom and grace will bring an end to 45 years of hard times. His nation is deeply traumatized, and the gospel of Jesus offers the healing necessary.

An evangelical alliance, Fatehi believes, can strengthen the voice of believers in any future sociopolitical structures as it speaks prophetically for the oppressed. But it is also necessary in order to provide unity, identity, and synergy in service. And if it plays its role well, it will protect the orthodoxy and practice of a young church as it matures in the faith.

Dariush Golbaghi, founder of SafeHouse Ministries:

Born in 1979 after the Islamic revolution deposed the ruling shah, Golbaghi is from Iran’s fourth-largest city of Karaj, located just northwest of Tehran. Active in the oppositional student movement at the turn of the century, he and his wife fled the country in 2001, seeking freedom and a better life in Europe. Many of their friends and classmates had been arrested, and threats circled around them personally.

They settled in the Netherlands but found that life became even more challenging until two separate but simultaneous encounters with Jesus in 2003. His own came through interaction with a Messianic Jew he was trying to convert to Islam.

The verse shared in reply has since become his favorite—I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). Looking for the way in Islam, this was the first Bible passage he ever read, and it transformed his heart. The Way was Jesus himself, who he believes is the key to healing Jewish-Muslim relations worldwide.

God then shifted Golbaghi’s life purpose from student activism to youth ministry. SafeHouse offers friendship, mentoring, and training to Iranian youth, both in Iran and the diaspora, so they can discover the gifts God has given them. Recognizing many are angry or in despair, his prayer is for God to give them the desperately needed hope with which they can change their society.

An alliance can help. Providing youth and others with a sense of solidarity, Iranians can partner with human rights organizations to combat the restrictions on religious freedom. But no matter the effort, Golbaghi believes that an alliance will further collaboration across ministries, giving all a common purpose.

Feridoon Mokhof, director of Korpu translation agency:

Born in the Ardabil province of Iran bordering Azerbaijan, Mokhof became a Christian in 1974 as a university student and from 1982–1988 pastored in the Assemblies of God denomination. Arrested several times for evangelizing Muslims, he found opportunity to flee Iran with the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, eventually settling in the UK.

A year later Mokhof began translating the Bible into his native Azeri language. And in 1995 he registered Korpu—which means “bridge” in Azeri—as a translation agency that earlier this year finished the New Testament in 12 additional minority languages. The Iranian government oppresses these people groups, he said, and several members of his team have been detained on charges of disturbing national security.

As such, the verse that provides him comfort is 2 Timothy 3:12—everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. His prayer is not only for the security of local believers targeted by a hostile regime but also for the young Iranians connected to the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement who have been arrested, tortured, and killed.

The need for an evangelical alliance, Mokhof says, has been felt for a long time. Through the uniting of a broad representation of churches and ministries, the Christian voice can speak powerfully to the government, especially in such challenging times.

Kamil Navai, senior pastor of Iranian Christian Church in Sunnyvale, California:

Born in Tehran in 1953, Navai left Iran at the age of 23 to pursue graduate studies in San Jose, graduating in 1978 with a degree in civil engineering. One year later the revolution prevented his return to Iran, and it was the simple gospel sharing of an American Christian that led him to the Lord in 1987.

Shortly thereafter, he began ministry as an evangelist and was one of four families to launch Iranian Christian Church (ICC), now with 200 people in attendance. He was ordained as an associate pastor in 2000 and became senior pastor in 2010.

The verse that accompanied his salvation has held him steady since then—whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord (Col. 3:23). All must be done for God’s glory, Navai believes, as he leads the four-person pastoral team at ICC with his wife in a “lacking nothing” theology based on Psalm 23. Through inner healing and spiritual warfare, his prayer is that salvation and prosperity in Christ would come to Iran and Iranians around the world.

An alliance would honor the prayer of Jesus for unity and unlock the blessings promised in Psalm 133, keeping the church from pride, jealousy, and the spirit of competition. The anointing that David speaks of will then bring life to ancient Elam, fulfilling Navai’s hope in the prophecy of Jeremiah 49—that “God’s throne” would be established in modern-day Iran.

Annahita Parsan, priest in the Church of Sweden:

Born in 1962, Parsan lived an idyllic Iranian life with her husband and child until a tragic car accident left her a widow. After remarriage, her new husband became abusive. Unable to divorce him, when he got in trouble with the authorities in 1984 she fled Iran with him to Turkey. One year later she received her first Bible from door-to-door evangelists.

She read it secretly and considered Jesus as someone she could pray to amid questions about why God had left her to suffer. In 1989 the local police intervened in their marriage, and Parsan found temporary refuge in a convent and marveled at the faith of the nuns. But it was only after relocating to Sweden that she gave her life to Jesus, when during a visit to Iran she called out to God when summoned to a tribunal over her original departure.

Given mercy by the judge, she has followed Jesus since.

Parsan’s story is told in her 2017 autobiography, Stranger No More: A Muslim Refugee’s Harrowing Escape, Miraculous Rescue, and the Quiet Call of Jesus. It includes the account of her own car accident in 2006 that reoriented her life toward ministry, promising God to thereafter serve. In 2012 she became ordained in the Church of Sweden.

Inspired by the Great Commission, Parsan said she has assisted over 1,500 immigrant Muslims in finding the Lord. Her prayer request is freedom for Iran, the nation she loves, and that an evangelical alliance will help her people.

Nathan Rostampour, trustee of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board:

Born in Tehran in 1984, Rostampour became a Christian at age 17 when a recently converted relative led his whole family to Jesus. Over the next 10 years, he faithfully served the house church network, traveling abroad to return with training materials and theological studies not available in Iran.

But in 2010 one of his fellow church leaders was arrested for his faith, and Rostampour left Iran for Turkey as a refugee two years later. By 2013 he was granted asylum in the US and has since obtained a doctorate degree in strategic leadership from Regent University.

From the diaspora, he continues in ministry, mentoring young Iranian believers and teaching cross-cultural leadership and missions. He is a pastor at J. D. Greer’s Summit Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, and director of the Central Asian church-planting team. His favorite verse is the Great Commission in Matthew 28—go and make disciples of all nations—as it reminds him of his first converted relative’s faith, received from the testimony of a missionary to Iran.

Rostampour’s current prayer is that God’s truth would overcome the many lies in his home country. An evangelical alliance will help, as it will unite the witness of the church in the Persian-speaking world, facilitating the sharing of resources and experiences. But it will also strengthen the Iranian Christian voice in the international community, especially necessary when individuals fall into persecution.

Nahid Sepehri, executive director of the Iranian Bible Society in Diaspora:

Born in Tehran, Sepehri was raised in a Christian family as her father accepted Jesus shortly after her birth. She received Jesus as her personal savior as a teenager in 1978, eventually marrying and engaging in local ministry with her husband, who is now pastor of an Iranian church in Seattle.

Their relocation to the US came in 1997, fleeing with a one-year-old child following Sepehri’s imprisonment for evangelism. Since 2001 she has worked in Bible translation and distribution, and in 2015 she formed the Iranian Bible Society in Diaspora under the umbrella of the United Bible Societies. Currently shipping 300,000 Farsi Scriptures per year around the world, she is praying for the four-year plan that one million Iranians would obtain a Farsi Bible.

Among Sepehri’s favorite verses is Jeremiah 31:3—theLord has appeared to us from afar, saying: I have loved you with an everlasting love. Resonating with her own story of faith and that of countless believers through her ministry, the passage has been a daily source of encouragement and hope in God’s continual faithfulness.

But Sepehri’s prayers go beyond Iran to the trouble its government spreads abroad—particularly through Hamas in Gaza. She asks God to bring the leaders of Middle East nations to their senses, that they would seek peace rather than the escalation of war.

Part of a Bible society’s DNA, Sepehri said, is partnership with likeminded Christians from diverse backgrounds to equip the church. Since the bottom line is for people to meet the Lord Jesus Christ, she hopes an evangelical alliance will reflect similar collaboration with a collegial spirit.

Hormoz Shariat, founder and president of Iran Alive Ministries:

Born in Tehran in 1955, Shariat came to the United States in 1979 following the Islamic revolution and studied artificial intelligence at the University of Southern California. There he became a Christian through a comparative study of the Bible and Quran, and after graduating with a PhD, he continued research in his field until devoting himself to ministry in 1992.

Now located in Dallas, Iran Alive was founded in 2000 and broadcasts gospel content into Persian-speaking nations, including Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. This year he is launching an initiative to reach the next generation, aiming for a spiritual revolution.

A key verse for his ministry is Jeremiah 49:38—I will set my throne in Elam—which is in present-day Iran. He believes this is a prophecy that Iran will not only become a Christian nation but will send out missionaries to reach the Middle East and the entire world.

His prayer is that the local church would grow spiritually to one day fulfill this vision. Despite their hunger for the Word of God, thousands of believers do not have a pastor or regular fellowship, as underground churches are few and dangerous to attend. Many leaders, furthermore, have not been properly equipped in teaching the Bible.

But Shariat is encouraged by the creation of an evangelical alliance, because the task is too big for any one organization to handle alone. Balancing strengths and weaknesses—evangelism versus discipleship, for example—more will come to know the Lord as the church matures. And one day, when Iran becomes a free nation, an alliance can have a voice in society, perhaps even establishing a Christian university.

Support Our Work

Subscribe to CT for less than $4.25/month

Read These Next