DALLAS, Texas — While acknowledging that these are dark days for the Christian church in the Middle East, Africa and other parts of the world because of so much persecution, Sasan Tavassoli, an ordained Iranian pastor involved with ministries within the Iranian world, urged those in his seminar to remember that “God is alive and well, sitting on His throne and Jesus Christ is building His Church.”
“Sometimes it is hard to believe that,” he told those attending his seminar at the 2014 National Gathering of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians and what is now the Fellowship Community (formerly the Fellowship of Presbyterians). “Sometimes we need to say, ‘Lord, I believe. Help me with my unbelief.”
“The kingdom of God is not in danger,” he said. Acknowledging that churches are being closed, and that Christians are being persecuted and killed, he reiterated that “the kingdom of God is not in danger … Jesus is in that mess. Jesus is building His Church. Don’t miss out on that reality.”
Tavassoli declared that reality is not defined by CNN or Fox News. “Reality is defined by the promises of Jesus … Jesus said, ‘I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.’”
He quoted Ephesians 1:11, “In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will.”
To illustrate the verse, Tavassoli told about American Christian missionaries being kicked out of Iran in 1980 and how the churches were closed. At that time, the Iranian government declared “This is the end of the church.”
In the 30 years since, approximately 1 million Iranians have come to know Christ. “My point is, that if you kick out the Americans, the church will grow,” he joked. Seriously, though, he said that “When things look terrible and hopeless, God is at work.”
He also read Colossians 1:16, “For in Him all things were created:things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities;all things have been created through Him and for Him.” Tavassoli reiterated what the verse said – “With all the powers and rules and thrones there are, somehow Jesus is in control.”
“These are dark, sad, tragic times,” he said, “but they are also the most exciting times concerning mission in the Muslim world … Churches need to get excited about how Muslims are opening their hearts to Jesus.”
He recommended the book, A Wind in the House of Islam, where author David Garrison divides the Muslim world into nine regions – or rooms – and documents “how in each room the Spirit of God is blowing.”
Tavassoli said that in studying the history of the mission to the Muslim world, Garrison found that in the first 1,300 years, there was not a single known instance of a volunteer movement of Muslims coming to faith in Christ. (Tavassoli defined a movement as 1,000 or more people.)
By the end of the 19th century there was one documented movement in Indonesia, where approximately 20,000 Muslims came to Christ. By the end of the 20th century, there had been nine to 10 movements.
Then, in the last 13 years of the 21st century, Garrison found approximately 70 movements – 4-5 million people – coming to Christ in the Muslim world.
“Something new is happening,” said Tavassoli, “and the church needs to be aware of that.”
It’s not in every country and in every people group, he warned, but “Jesus Christ is up to something.”
Tavassoli also spoke of the research and study done by J. Dudley Woodberry, dean emeritus and senior professor of Islamic studies at Fuller Theological Seminary.
He said that Woodberry speaks of the “hand of God in the glove of history, or the five trends through which God is at work in the Muslim world.” Those trends – or fingers – are:
- The rise of political Islam. “Whenever radical Muslims take over a country it opens up the Muslims to the Gospel.” He explained that when political Islam “comes into play” it usually includes assignations, deaths, persecution and more making the Muslims ask “Can all this death – evil – be from God? … They open up to Jesus.”
- Natural catastrophes – earthquakes, tsunamis, famines, etc. – “The people who show up to minister to the needs of the people are Christians. … There are reports of Syrian Muslims coming to faith in Christ in both Syria and Jordan as they are ministered to by Christians.”
- Migration. “Can we believe that God is bringing the mission field to our doorstep? … Can we love our new neighbors that God is bringing into our neighborhoods?” Tavassoli said that “When people come to a new country, they are opened up to new ideas … They are not under traditional pressures …. Many people fall in love with Jesus.
- Desire for blessings and healing.
- Ethnic and cultural resurgence. Tavassoli said that 4/5 of the Muslim world does not speak Arabic, yet Muslim prayers are recited in that language. These people wonder, “Why can’t we speak our prayers in our tongue?”
At this point, Tavassoli added two more fingers to the hand.
- The rise of modern technology, including satellite TV and Internet. This, he said was especially true in Iran and the Middle East. For the first time in history, Muslims can sit in their living rooms and watch satellite TV. While technically, satellite TV is illegal in Iran, it isn’t enforced. The country actually produces shows for the various stations. “We now have four 24/7 Christian channels broadcasting into Iran … and people are calling and emailing these stations.”
- The rise of the global Church taking the Gospel to the world. He mentioned churches in Brazil, China and South Korea that are catching a vision for mission. “The whole Church is rising up to take the Gospel, and they are crossing denominational lines … I’m a hard-core Presbyterian, and I am working with Pentecostals, because it is about Jesus, not about Calvin.”
Tavassoli said he was raised in a Shitie Muslim home in Iran. During the Iraq-Iran war his parent sent him out of the country so he would not be drafted into the military. He was supposed to go to a Muslim community in England. Instead, he wound up in a Christian school in Portugal.
At that school, he was asked “How do you know the Koran is the word of God?”
“That question turned my life around,” he said. Tavassoli said he began to question what he beleived. He had his mom send him a copy of the Koran and began reading it. He attended a Christian church, all the time, struggling to find the truth.
He became a Christian in January, 1985 and “I felt that God had plans for me to take the Gospel back to Iran.”
Since 2006, he has been teaching the Iranian world through satellite television programs. Read more about him here.