I love sharing a cup of tea with my British friends, or what we Iranians call ‘chai’. I’ve drunk so much chai in my life I can’t count the amount of cups, but there is one I will never forget.

It was more than a decade ago that my husband and I left Iran to pursue higher education in a neighbouring country. Our plans fell through. The year that followed was the most difficult of our lives: living as refugees was lonely and demoralising.

The lowest point was the week we had to sleep on the streets. I remember talking with my husband about how dark the future looked, when suddenly a stranger approached us. When we confirmed we were Iranian, he gave us a big hug. After one year of difficulties and sadness, a hug was utterly astonishing. Then he invited us for a cup of chai. There was nothing we wanted more!

When we got to his house, the atmosphere was as refreshing as the tea. How is there such peace in your home?” I asked him. He answered with a twinkle in his eye, This isn’t just my home. This is also a house church.”

Thanks to the simple hospitality of this young Iranian pastor, our lives would never be the same again.

'How is there such peace in your home?' I asked him. He answered with a twinkle in his eye, 'This isn’t just my home. This is also a house church.'

He shared the gospel, gave us the Bible in our language and – to cut a long story short – we met Jesus. We grew in faith as members of that church and became passionate about seeing others find their identity and freedom in Christ. Today, both my husband and I are in full time ministry amongst Iranians, and it all started with a cup of tea.

In Britain today, I know there are countless Iranian refugees. Due to the oppressive character of Iran’s régime, many people are looking for a fresh start elsewhere, just like we were. A small proportion who leave are Christian, fleeing because they have faced persecution, while many others have never heard the gospel.

But they are open. Iranians are disillusioned with Islam because of the actions of our government and are looking for real truth, hope and purpose.

Inside Iran, the underground, persecuted church is reckoned to be the fastest growing church in the world. But this isn’t just happening inside Iran; as UK churches open their hearts to Iranians, many people are putting their trust in Jesus. People like Setareh.

Setareh* came to faith in a UK church and she later led her sister – still in Iran – to the Lord. The two sisters then prayed every day for their mum to come to faith. Months later, their prayer was answered. As well as this kingdom impact in Iran, Setareh is active in her local British church, helping fellow Iranians walk with the Lord.

Bahar Shahbi (Elam Ministries)
Bahar Elam Ministries

We hear many stories like Setareh’s. The more we hear, the more we are convinced that God is inviting the British church into perhaps the most exciting missional moment of this generation. Churches from Cardiff to Carlisle and from Bournemouth to Belfast are finding there are Iranians in their own cities, hungry to hear about Jesus.

While this is an astonishing opportunity, I know for some churches the language barrier and cultural confusions can feel daunting. Some small churches feel so stretched that a new missional opportunity sounds nice but unrealistic.

If any of this resonates, can I encourage you to start with a warm welcome and simple hospitality? Our culture places a high value on hospitality and so God often uses it as a gateway for the gospel. He certainly did for me and my husband.

Our culture places a high value on hospitality and so God often uses it as a gateway for the gospel.

So, the next time you are thinking about sharing the gospel with someone in your neighbourhood, why not invite them for a cuppa? You never know, it might just be the start of an incredible work of God.

  • To hear Bahar’s remarkable testimony in full, listen to Learning to Fly’, an episode of Elam Ministries’ Jesus Speaks Farsi podcast.
  • If you have Iranians or Afghans in your community and want help in reaching and discipling them, Elam Ministries has resources for you. Visit Elam’s resource page here.
  • To learn more about the work of Elam to strengthen and expand the church in Iran and beyond, visit Elam’s website here

*Pseudonym used to protect identity.