Could you tell me briefly about the history of Christianity in Iran?
Many of the great men of the Bible visited the land that today belongs to Iran and the graves of some of them, such as Esther, Habakkuk, Cyrus, can still be visited today. There has been spiritual investment in this land for centuries. In the last few hundred years, however, the ethnic minorities kept the faith, the Armenians, the Assyrians, who begged God to intervene in the fate of their nation, and saw that nothing happened.
Lazarus and Maggie (the founders of Transform Iran, Lana's parents- ed.) also prayed continuously, held street evangelism, but people were not interested in Jesus. Then in 1979, the Islamic revolution changed the whole system- it was like darkness had occupied on the country. The Christians were confused: this was not what they had been praying for for many years. Then they understood that where darkness grows, so does light. Lazarus used to say that Iran's greatest evangelists are the mullahs, because they awakened Iranians to the suffocating reality of Islam. If you look at the numbers, before 1979 only a few hundred Muslims were converted, but since then thousands have been coming to Jesus.
Lana Silk is the head of Transform Iran in the United States. The non-profit organization aims to transform Iran into a nation that bears the image of Christ. As a child, Lana Silk emigrated with her parents from Iran to the United Kingdom, where she completed her studies at Imperial College in London. With more than 20 years of marketing experience behind her, gained in the media, she considered it her calling to represent the Iranian people in the West. More information about Transform Iran's work can be found at www.transformiran.com.
How was Transform Iran created?
This branch of the Pentecostal movement (Jamat Rabani) started from the home of Lazarus' father. After the Islamic revolution, when more and more Christians fled from the increasing persecution, Lazarus and Maggie, who were already part of the leadership of this Pentecostal church, firmly believed that it was their calling to stay. However, in 1988, the Lord began to speak to them individually and this made them very uncertain. They agreed not to talk about it for a month. They prayed, fasted and kept a journal, and at the end of the month they showed each other their notes. It turns out that God literally said the same thing to both of them.
Lazarus then went to Haik Hovsepian Mehr to the leader of the church at the time, who said that they were needed at home, but that night God spoke to him in a dream to let the Lazarus family go.
I was ten years old then. First we went to Switzerland, then to England, where we settled down. But the whole time there was the feeling that we didn't know why. Finally, God spoke to my parents. He said that the church was being forced into illegality and He wanted to be supported from outside.
Within a few years, the state repression was really on the church. Brother Haik was murdered along with other leading pastors. God foresaw it all and brought out Lazarus, Maggie and a few others to unite the Christians who had previously emigrated to Europe and were beginning to lose hope. My parents showed them that they had jobs from there, even remotely. Conferences were organized where Iranian Christians could meet and seek the Lord together. And God began to give visions and the ministry grew over the years. First, we smuggled in Bibles, printed Christian literature, translated books and started using the media in a path-breaking way. We were the first to broadcast satellite TV programs in Farsi and we were the first to create a digital platform. I feel that we have been given a special oil to see new possibilities in which others can follow us. People in Iran are desperate for something other than propaganda and we are giving them the best possible alternative. They are very receptive to the gospel, all we have to do is to present the truth to them.
By the way, we use the media in the ministry in two ways. One is the preaching of the gospel, the other is disciple training and church building.
Usually people come to us saying that they had some kind of amazing experience: a dream, or they happened to come across one of our radio programs, or they say that they were Muslims but Jesus healed them, freed them from addiction and they want to follow Him. Our counselors call the new converts once a week for a year and answer their questions. At some point, what almost always happens is that when the counselor answers, he hears on the other end of the line, "I hope you don't mind, but I put you on speaker, there are thirty members of my family here and they want to hear about Jesus." This is how house churches are created, and from then on we help them in how to lead them.
Their name changes (222Ministries, then Transform Iran) suggest that their ministry was fundamentally defined by two powerful visions. The first is based on 2 Timothy 2:2 and is about entrusting the Word to faithful disciples, the second concerns the transformation of Iran and the entire region. How did this change come about in the determination of the purpose of your calling ? Hogyan következett be ez a változás az elhívásuk céljának meghatározásában?
When Lazarus and Maggie started working, we couldn't talk about an organization, we were just a family looking for God. As the ministry began to develop, God led them to 2 Timothy 2:2, which talks about how to pass the relay stick stafétabot, how to train leaders who will train more leaders and so on. After that, my parents chose the name 222Ministries and built the ministry around people's ability to create change. However, in the last couple of years, we started to feel walls in the ministry. When we prayed about it, God said, “2 Timothy 2:2 is still the foundation of your ministry. In the last thirty years, a whole network of leaders has been built in the program of your work, but your calling is more than making disciples. Continue what you have been doing, but keep your eyes on a greater goal: the transformation and redemption of a country."
When we examined how God uses names and callings, we found that he always foresees things in people's lives, such as giving them a new name and they grow into that identity, that task. In Simon, He already saw Peter, the rock on which the church is built. In Jacob He saw Israel, the nation that comes from him, but we could mention how Abram became Abraham or Saul became Paul. God often changed people's names, indicating that He sees much more effective and fruitful things in relation to them than they could ever imagine for themselves. Something similar happened to us, we thought in terms of leaders and churches and God told us to think in terms of nations.
Can the current events in Iran be considered in any sense a prayer answer?
We have been believing for a long time that sooner or later the situation in Iran will reach a breaking point. The pupated butterfly can’t come out, unless the hard shell is cracked. The spirit of oppression is as strong as a thick, hard shell. We knew that the only way to break this was to pray for revival, and many now say that Iran is the fastest growing church in the entire world. We knew there would be a price, so we prayed for God's mercy and asked him to do everything possible to save human lives.
But what happens there is heartbreaking and brutal. The government doesn't let the news get out very much, but what we hear from the people living there is terrible.
We pray that it ends as soon as possible and that the changes that need to happen, will happen.
Women are at the center of the current movements. You wrote in the Christian Post in 2018 that women live under "unimaginable oppression" in Iran. The current events also indicate this- as if a barrel of gunpowder had exploded.
This is absolutely what happened, like it has exploded. Women in Iran live under extremely strict Sharia law…
Do you have any personal memories about this?
Yes, I was about ten years old when we left. Our school uniform was the hijab, which had to cover everything and was very tight. By the way, we were not allowed to wear anything form-fitting, I remember that when girls came in pants that the teachers said were too tight, they used scissors to cut the leg on the inside while the girls were still wearing the pants and they were sent home. I also remember that in the mornings we had to stand in the school yard and shout "Death to America!", "Death to Israel!" Let me find a tissue… (Lana excuses herself and wipes her eyes.) They teach this from a very young age, instilling hatred in children, unleashing the spirit of bitterness and anger in a nation. It is like cancer in the body to the soul.
The so-called moral police, which also caused Mahsa Amini's death (the precursor of the current protests - ed.), became more and more harsh over the years. They drive the streets in black trucks and watch to see who breaks the rules. They look not only at the hijab, but also whether the heels of the shoes are high, whether you have used perfume, anything, all expressions of femininity are forbidden. People just call black trucks black holes because no one can talk about what's going on inside them. Those who dared to speak about it said that sexual violence is not uncommon either. My friend, who is a few years older than me, told me that she remembers that the black car was always waiting for them in front of the high school, when they came out after school and they looked at how they were dressed. Those who were caught were driven around and intimidated.
But there is much more in it than that. Women can't travel without men's permission, they can't rent an apartment, they can't even take school subjects based on their own decision- everything has to be approved by a male guardian, who is initially the father, then the husband.
And then there are a bunch of laws that allow for further opression. For example, girls can get married from the age of 13. If they divorce men, then there is a teenager who is already a mother, but cannot see her children (according to Iranian law, the children stay with the father), she has no future because she has no social status, no one will marry her. Entire generations grow up practically deprived of their future.
Then there is the so-called sigha, the temporary marriage for pleasure purposes, which is a religious loophole for prostitution, or rather: abuse. According to Islamic law, marriage is the union of one woman and one man, and it is forbidden to have sex outside of marriage. At the same time, a man can take a woman of any age to a religious leader and say I want to marry this woman for three hours. The religious leader gives his blessing to the "marriage". There is no wonder that the rate of suicides, depression and addictions is very high.
There is a lot of work with women even after they come to Jesus, since they spent their entire previous lives believing they were worthless. They need to be told that Jesus values them. It is so unsettling to see the change that takes place in them at this time. Our service to women, Pearl of Persia, helps these women discover who they really are, how valuable they are in God's eyes, and what value they can bring to the World.
How do you reach people in the surrounding countries?
Turkey is a key service area. Every year, millions of Iranians vacation here, as it is one of the few places where they do not need a visa but can still have fun. During the peak seasons, our witnesses go to the resorts favored by Iranians, walk around, pray, and if they hear Farsi being spoken, they go there and join in the conversation. It is very common for people to give their lives to Jesus on the spot and there are many testimonies of healing. After that, we also help them to smuggle Christian things into Iran. For this, we usually use things that look like souvenirs (for example, a mug with a QR code), but with their help they can access the Bible and other Christian materials at home. Then they share the gospel with their families and another house church is formed. But since a lot of Iranians emigrate to Turkey, the communities are growing rapidly there as well; we already have 16 churches in different cities.
Afghanistan is a little different. The largest Afghan diaspora community lives in Iran (around 2-3 million people) and the language is very similar, so we are connected by a thousand threads. The work in Afghanistan started years ago when an Iranian couple from our church moved there. Today we have churches in seven regions of Afghanistan. Before the fall of Kabul, we received a prophecy about what was going to happen, so we had time to rescue those who wanted to come. We helped those who stayed by establishing secure communication systems and relocating them if it was necessary.
The seven churches are still functioning, but their situation is very fragile.
Have you been given a vision as to when you can return to Iran?
I don't have a specific date, but I believe that it will happen during the lifetime of Lazarus and Maggie. Iran is on the edge of a major crisis and we must be ready because we have seen that when there was an opening in oppressive regimes, the churches were generally not prepared. By the grace of God, we are trying to have the materials, the aid, the infrastructure, so that when we can return, we can say that here are the Bibles in the Kurdish, Jilaki and Baluchi languages, here are the trained Kurdish, Jilaki, and Baluchi leaders, churches, because these language groups represent such different colors on the palette. The Farsi language is almost one with the government and oppression. Therefore, when they hear the gospel in their own language, it is completely different. Traditionally, the rapid growth within the Church of Iran took place mainly among the Farsi-speaking natives, the Persians. There was no such revival among the ethnic minorities, we think it was because they did not hear the Word in their own language. If we can prepare everything in time by God's grace the country can really be transformed.
(Translated by Anett Harmath)