February 13, 2020
by Rev. Tat Stewart
My wife Patty and I both grew up in Iran, which familiarized us with the Iranian culture. We learned to speak Farsi as children. We had left Iran while still in high school and did not anticipate returning, but God had other plans for us. Our return was the consequence of a direct invitation from the Evangelical Church of Iran to serve as the pastor of the Community Church of Tehran. This church was an expatriate church of over 600 members before the Revolution, but now we learned that a small remnant of only six members was left.
The Iran we entered had just gone through a tumultuous Islamic Revolution where the once thought invincible Pahlavi dynasty had been overthrown. Since then, there really was no new government in place. Instead, each neighborhood was governed by a “Komenti” (a neighborhood vigilante group). During the daylight hours everything looked normal, but as night fell over Tehran, gunfire could be heard, and it was generally deemed ‘not safe’ to move around the city. We rented a nice apartment from one of the elders in our church and settled into leading worship on Friday mornings in English at the Community Church and attending youth group meetings as a youth adviser in the four Iranian congregations we had in Tehran.
Something very significant happened spiritually in Iran in 1979. It was as if God opened the windows of Heaven and poured out His Spirit upon this dry and thirsty land. A land where Godly workers from America and England had labored for over two hundred years with little fruit was now changing before our eyes. We did not recognize it so clearly at the time, but looking back over the past forty years we can now see the beginnings of the “Great Awakening” that the entire world has now witnessed. Back then, it was estimated that there were 3,000 protestant believers in the whole country. Today, I have heard anywhere from half a million to eight million. The truth is, we really do not know! But what we do know is that Christianity is growing faster in Iran than in any other country on earth. This is my story of what I witnessed in 1979-80 that were the first fruits of this Great Awakening.
A Thirst for Christ Among Muslims
Having attended Iranian churches throughout my childhood and youth, my impression at the time was that most of those who attended those churches were not from a Muslim background; most members were either Armenian, Assyrian, Jewish or Zoroastrian. When my family began attending the downtown church, we were confronted with two new realities. First, each Sunday we were learning of church members who were immigrating to Europe or America. The idea of an Islamic government was of great concern for many – what kind of future would it mean for them and their children? So those who could were leaving. But as Christians were vacating their pews in their churches, Muslims were filling them. Women wearing “chadors” (head to toe veils) were now seen in the congregation. I began hearing of people knocking on the doors of the church, inquiring about how to get a Bible and the times of the services.
There are several reasons for this and I can only touch on it here, but it turns out people were having dreams and visions of Jesus. One lady who had gone through a painful divorce shared her story with me. She was visiting a friend and saw a strange book on the coffee table and said she felt this great desire to read it. She asked her friend what book it was.
“It’s the ‘Ingil'” [Persian for “Gospel”].
“Oh, can I read it?” she asked.
“Well, you can have it for one day, but you must bring it back since it is the only one I have.”
She went home and began to read it, and she had this overwhelming desire to meet the author. That night she had this dream. She saw herself with her head on the lap of a man in shining white robes. As the man placed his hand on her head, all the pain and sorrow drained out of her heart. She asked the man if He was Jesus and He nodded his head and the dream ended.
The thirst for knowledge of Christ that we saw in 1979 has only grown more intense over the past forty years. Iranians are searching the many Farsi Christian websites and watching Christian satellite channels like SAT-7 PARS. They are hearing the testimonies of their fellow countrymen who have been delivered from drugs. They are witnessing dramatic answers to prayer and amazing healing all in the name of Jesus. This is a window God has opened during our lifetime, and it behooves us to disciple this fast-growing church.
*Photo credit siegertmarc on wikimedia.
Rev. Tat and Patty Stewart have been ministering to Persian speakers around the world for the past forty years. Tat is one of the founders of SAT-7 PARS, as well as being an on air teacher on Christian discipleship. He is Editor in Chief of “Shaban Magazine,” which is designed to provide theological and pastoral guidance for the emerging Persian church. Tat is also the Founder and Executive Director of Talim Ministries (www.Talimministries.com), which provides mentoring and Christian literature for Iranian church leaders. Tat and Patty have served for over twenty years as World Witness missionaries (currently serving as volunteers). They have been married for over fifty years and have two children and five grandchildren.