20 March 2020
Iran is the country hit hardest by the coronavirus (COVID-19) after China and Italy. Iran is also the country with what is thought to be the fastest growing house church movement on the planet. What does the virus mean for Iran’s Christians? Here are five things you should know:
The situation is likely to be worse than reported.
At the time of writing, the Iranian authorities have reported almost 18,000 cases of COVID-19; sadly so far 1,135 people have died from the virus. However, experts believe that the real numbers could be higher, as many of the reported cases are government employees whose deaths are more likely to be recorded. One house church leader reports: “We are dying here and no one seems to care. A lot of people around us fall ill and end up in hospitals or are dying.”
There were at least seven Christians imprisoned for their faith amongst the 83,000 prisoners released to battle the spread of coronavirus.
Iranian prisons are a hotbed for the virus. Out of precaution, the Iranian authorities have (temporarily) released 83,000 prisoners. At least seven of them were imprisoned for their faith. Among them is the young Christian activist Mary (Fatemeh) Mohammadi. She has taken to Twitter to speak out against the continued sentencing and imprisonment of people during this difficult time, saying it is ‘inhumane’.
Despite the precautional release of prisoners, at least 10 Christians have unjustly been denied freedom.
Because of potential for the coronavirus to rip through Iranian prisons, Javaid Rehman, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, has called for the release of all prisoners of conscience currently held in Iran. Despite this, there are at least 10 Christians imprisoned for their faith who haven’t been released.
Iranian Christians are worried about their jobs.
A lot of Iranians have lost their jobs due to the crisis. The economy has been hit hard while already being weak due to the US-imposed sanctions. Christians, as well as many other Iranians, worry about their future. Some are struggling to provide the basics for their families.
Christians are reaching out to help.
Despite the difficult situation, Iranian Christians are choosing to follow Jesus and serve their country. One church leader says, “We used to mobilise volunteers to make sandwiches and feed the street children who try to earn a little to support their families on empty stomachs. But, after the coronavirus outbreak, we have prioritised the provision of masks and sanitising gels to help them stay safe.”
Another house-church leader says, “We are doing all we can to provide food packages for the elderly and vulnerable who are unable to go out these days, or for those who have lost their job in these difficult circumstances. Throughout the year we shared the good news of Christ with our neighbours and community; now we have a chance to BE good news.”
- For God to pour out His healing power on Iran as the nation struggles to cope with the virus outbreak
- That Christians in Iran will continue to be salt and light during this time, and that many will come to know Jesus
- For the release of Iranian Christians being falsely held in prison
- That God will grant wisdom and compassion to those in power to effectively manage this crisis in a way that blesses everyone – especially the poor and vulnerable.