One Sunday morning in 2012, three Iranian men appeared at a church in the Midlands. It was the start of something extraordinary.
These men seemed keen to form a Bible study group and find out more about Jesus. Tony (now a Neighbours Worldwide team member) offered his home as a meeting place. He lived near the centre of town, close to where the men were based, so it seemed a sensible location for a meeting.
“I was planning just to provide a room,” Tony remembers. “But I thought it would be good if I met with them. I didn’t feel I could just make a cup of tea and clear off.”
A few weeks later, the group leader couldn’t make it to one of the meetings and asked Tony to step in. “It was a set-up!” Tony grins.
The three men soon asked if they could bring their friends and, steadily, the group began to grow. After a year, 40 Iranian men were coming to the meetings. After two years, 80. After three years, more than 100. Fast forward to 2018 and more than 300 Iranians have been part of the church community. 285 of those have professed faith in Jesus. Including burgeoning groups for Afghans and Kurds, 116 people from muslim backgrounds have been baptised in a single church, within six years. So how has this staggering growth been possible?
“The group members do all the evangelism!” Tony says. “For example, they invite newcomers from English classes to the group. Having a meeting in their own language is really helpful too. It’s also down to ‘DNA’ – you grow what you are. If we have an urgency to share the gospel, it transmits to group members.”
More than 300 Iranians have been part of the church community. 285 have professed faith in Jesus
There’s also a vital spiritual element to this remarkable project: “Most of these Iranians have grown up under hard-line Islam and have rejected it. They believe in God, but they no longer believe in Islam. So it’s actually very easy to lead them to Jesus. As a result, a lot of churches in the UK, in Europe and around the world are seeing huge numbers of Iranians coming to faith. In fact, this is the tip of the iceberg: the people we reach share their faith with their friends and families. We know of many family members who have come to Jesus through people who have found faith in our church. Really, this is simply a move of God.”
Ministry to asylum seekers has an inherent challenge in that group members often move on to other parts of the country. Tony and his team meet this challenge by helping departing group members connect with good churches in their new locations. 146 people have come through Tony’s church and moved on to other cities – and all but ten of them have come to faith.
Tony is obviously excited but is cautious about taking it all for granted: “It’s wonderful, but you never know what’s around the corner. Please pray that we’ll be able to keep this work going! There’s real spiritual warfare involved in this kind of work, too. The team are all experienced cross-cultural workers, but it can still be very demanding – you never know when the phone’s going to ring, day or night. So we’d really value your prayers for energy and wisdom.”
133 professions of faith from people of muslim backgrounds between November 2019 and May 2020.
Over 550 people from muslim backgrounds have started to follow Jesus over the last seven years.