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23 September 2014

New Iranian Bible to tackle 'scripture famine'

New Iranian Bible to tackle 'scripture famine'

Hundreds of Christians from more than 40 countries gathered in London last night, 22 September, for the launch of the new translation of the Persian Bible and to hear stories about how God is working in Iran. This full New Millennium Translation in Persian (Farsi) was the result of almost 20 years of painstaking work by Iranian scholars and global experts.

When this Bible translation work began, 20 years ago, many expected the Iranian Church to fade away under the immense pressure from the hostile Islamic government. Iran is a nation whose government opposes Christianity, bans Bibles, arrests evangelists and threatens the lives of those who convert from Islam. However, the government has not succeeded in weakening the Church in Iran, and many disillusioned people are now open to hearing about Christ. It is thought Iran now has the fastest growing Church in the world, with an estimated 360,000 Iranian believers compared to just 500 at the time of the Iranian revolution in 1979.

New Persian Bible is launchedMore than one million copies of the translation's New Testament have been printed since its launch in 2003 and despite the risk of arrest, Iranian Christians are boldly distributing it. Hundreds of believers in Iran have been arrested and interrogated in the past five years.These include Ladan, a young Iranian lady arrested in 2010 and placed in solitary confinement for 25 days. She told how God's presence was with her in jail and gave her hope. She even turned the walls of her cell into a Bible after smuggling in a pen and writing out verses from memory (watch Ladan's story).

The equally inspiring story of Rashin Soodmand was also shared at the event. Her father Rev Hussein Soodmand was hanged in prison in Mashad, Iran in December 1990 when she was just 13. Devastated by her loss, she decided to put her faith in Jesus as her father had done and became passionate about sharing God's word with others.

"I wanted to evangelise in my city," Rashin explained, "but the problem was that we didn't have Bibles or New Testaments. So I would write Scripture verses out by hand. I wrote verses like John 3:16 and left them in taxis, restaurants, doctors' waiting rooms, or wherever. One time the Lord led me to write out the whole Gospel of John by hand. I prayed for Bibles for my city and my country. God has answered my prayer". Watch Rashin's story on the Elam website.

The New Millennium Translation aimed to tackle "Scripture famine" in Iran and meet the needs of a new era of Christians in the country by providing an accurate, clear translation, rooted in the original Biblical languages and written in elegant, understandable Persian. In 1994 Sam Yeghnazar, founder and director of Elam ministries and a member of the Alliance's council and One People Commission, invited Iranian church leaders from various denominations to unite for the project.

Presentation of the new Persian Bible

Shortly after he accepted the invitation, Iran's foremost translator Rev Tateos Michaelian went missing and his body was found three days later with shots to the head. He was the third Christian martyr in Iran that year, and his death shocked and grieved the Church. The team resolved to continue and named the translation project 'The Michaelian Project' after him. His wife and granddaughter were the first to be presented with Bibles at the launch yesterday in the moving ceremony.

Another key Iranian Christian leader was hanged in 1996, shortly after pleading with Sam for more Bibles. Sam recalled: "Ravanbaksh wanted to flood his whole province with the Word of God. But we could not provide him with Scriptures. I I wept when I heard he was found hanging on a tree and vowed that we will never leave people on the frontlines without the word of God."

One young woman told how she had been travelling on a bus outside Iran and was seeking God in her heart. A lady approached her and handed her a Bible, saying "This will set you free and bring you salvation". She now she travels across the world telling Iranian women about Jesus, and told those gathered "nothing in my life has been the same since."

ElamSam Yeghnazar shared how, prior to its closure by the government in 1990, the Bible Society's building in Iran had these words written inside: 'The word of God endures forever'. Despite the government physically chaining the building, Sam Yeghnazar proclaimed, "God's word is not chained… no one can stop this move of the Holy Spirit". Elam's goal is to print 300,000 copies of this new Bible in the next three years, helping to evangelise and disciple hundreds of thousands in Iran.

With seven million Iranians living overseas, Sam also encouraged the Church in the West to take the Great Commission seriously and welcome in Iranians, many of whom will go back and bring their families to Christ.

Steve Clifford, general director at the Alliance, attended and said: "As the new translation of the Iranian Bible was handed over to the wife and some of the children of those that had been martyred for their faith I was holding back the tears. I am so inspired by the faith and passion of the Iranian Church, their love for God's word and their determination to share it despite the risks."

Read more about Elam ministries.

Read about Elam's work with Iranian Christians in the UK in our recent idea article.  

The Religious Liberty Commission is encouraging churches in the UK to unite on Sunday, 16 November 2014 for this year's International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP). Visit www.eauk.org/rlc to find out more and access IDOP Sunday resources.