A major new translation of the whole Bible into modern Persian was launched in London and Istanbul last week (September 22- 24). The project was especially significant as some of its’ earliest contributors were martyred for their faith.
Its publishers are Elam Ministries, founded in 1990 by senior Iranian church leaders with a vision to serve the growing church in the Iran.
Elam says this event was made all the more remarkable because of the recent transformation of the church in Iran. At the time of the Islamic revolution in 1979, there were no more than 500 Christians from a Muslim background in the country. Now Iran is thought to have one of the fastest growing churches in the world.
The Coordinator and Chief Editor of the new Bible translation Rev. Dr Mehrdad Fatehi said: ‘This project is like raising a child. It has been 18 years of hard work but worth it for such an exciting day.’
‘Though the event was joyful, we are sad it had to take place outside Iran,’ said Sam Yeghnazar, founder and director of Elam. ‘This event proves the worldwide church will always bring the Scriptures to people, however “closed” a country is meant to be.’
According to David Yeghnazar also of Elam, and Sam’s son, ‘A very conservative estimate puts the number of Christians in Iran at 100,000… The generally-accepted estimate is 370,000. Some believe there are 700,000, others more than a million.’
Despite restrictions and risks from the Iranian government, Elam aims to print and distribute at least 300,000 copies over the next three years.
Sam Yeghnazar believes that the dedication of the Bible, in the company of hundreds of mainly leaders representing the church worldwide, sends out a clear message to those who persecute Christians.
The Michaelian Project
The venture was named The Michaelian Project, in honour of Tateos Michaelian who was shot dead 20 years ago and is regarded as Iran’s most notable Bible translator.
His widow Juliet was presented with the first copy alongside others who are relatives and friends of martyred Iranian Christians.
Rev. Hossein Soodmand was martyred in 1990. He is survived by his daughter Rashin Soodmand who also received a new Bible at the launch.
‘I was crushed by my father’s death but wanted to share Jesus with others,’ she said. ‘We had no scriptures so we wrote them out by hand and left them in taxis and restaurants. I prayed for Bibles for my city and country. God has answered my prayer.’
The gatherings of the international church in London and Istanbul also sent out a timely message that the Middle East is Christian as well as Muslim.
Christianity prohibited and deterred
Since the Iranian Revolution religious clerics and Iran’s Supreme Leader have been transforming Iran into an Islamic Republic which has made living in Iran as a non-Shiite Muslim especially difficult.
‘In 2010 the Mayor of Tehran called evangelical Christians “deviants,’ said Yeghnazar.
‘The enemies of Christianity portray Christians who love the Bible as a cult-like sect. Alongside 500 or more mainly Christian leaders – including representatives of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Vatican embassy, the Coptic Orthodox church, the Assemblies of God churches and many others – we are saying this view of Christians is wrong.’
According to Open Doors, an organisation that works with persecuted Christians worldwide, almost all Christian activity is illegal, especially when it occurs in Persian languages. This ranges from evangelism to Bible training, to publishing Scripture and Christian books or preaching in Farsi.
It says that the regime’s harsh treatment of Christians has only further fuelled church growth and since 2010, persecution in Iran has further increased. This happened because Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned of the ever expanding influence of home-based churches, against Iranian culture.
In efforts to stop Western influence, the Iranian government has limited the speed of the internet and prohibited the possession of satellite dishes.
Open Doors says part of the Islamic Republic’s goal is to slow down the growth of the church which they have been attempting to do by obstructing access to media channels and websites. They also said Iranian Christians claim that several Christian websites that used to be blocked are now permitted because the government wants to monitor the visitors and those who have logged onto the websites claim to be interrogated or arrested soon after.