Some of these men go on to become evangelists and church planters.
Mehdi’s grandfather and father were mullahs, so there was no question about his career. Mehdi would become an Islamic cleric, perhaps even an ayatollah.
To study more, Mehdi moved to Qom, Iran’s religious capital. Here he sat at the feet of one of Iran’s most senior and hard-line ayatollahs.
In Qom, Mehdi studied hard and became a mullah. He began to travel and teach Islam.
While researching in a library in Qom, Mehdi was looking for a volume on Islam. Trying to find this book, he noticed a small red book on top of a shelf. Inside the cover was written ‘The Gospel of Jesus Christ’. Mehdi had never seen a New Testament before. So there in this Islamic library he sat and read the Gospel.
He was shaken by what he read, and thought: Who is this man who could make the blind see? In Islam we don’t have anyone like him.
Mehdi could not find that book again. But he could not forget what he had read. Mehdi’s attitude to work changed and over the next five years his colleagues became suspicious. One day a friend called Mehdi and told him to leave Iran. His life was in danger.
So Mehdi went to Turkey with his wife and son. On arrival the border police put the family in prison because they had come illegally.
In prison an Iranian man visited the family. He gave Mehdi a book. It was the same red book he had found in the library in Qom. He recalls: ‘As I turned its pages again, I had a strange sense of peace.’
Soon after this visit Mehdi was released. He then had a vivid dream. He saw a light that grew stronger as it drew nearer. As the light fell on Mehdi a voice said: ‘Come – let’s go outside.’ He went out of the darkness into the beautiful light.
The dream felt very real. So when Mehdi woke up, he took it seriously. He expected something to happen.
That day something did happen: Mehdi met an Elam evangelist. The evangelist, Sephir, persuaded Mehdi to take tea with him, and the two men sat and talked from 9am to 5pm about Christianity.
‘Whatever questions I had, he had the answers. Eventually I ran out of questions. That’s when I gave my heart to the Lord and a deep peace came into my life.’
When Mehdi’s wife, Zahra, found out that her mullah husband had become a Christian, she was furious. She said Mehdi was ‘unclean’. She barely talked and refused to eat with Mehdi. But, strangely, Zahra agreed to come to the church. And after a month, with great joy, Zahra too asked Jesus into her heart.
In 2014 Mehdi and Zahra joined Elam Ministry’s training programme. Mehdi – a former student of one of Iran’s most hardline ayatollahs – now wanted to become a faithful student of Jesus Christ.
Ali was a well-known religious leader in a large city in the north of Iran. With a few phone calls he could gather a crowd around him. He was not a man to get on the wrong side of.
But that is exactly what Hassan risked doing. Hassan, a fervent evangelist from a Muslim background, could not keep his mouth shut about Jesus.
When he saw Ali posing as a typical militant, Hassan saw past the long religious beard to the empty heart inside. He shared the gospel. Instead of reacting in anger, Ali was curious. For a month he asked Hassan questions.
Asking Jesus in
One night this previously fanatical Muslim leader knelt down and, with the simplicity of a small child, asked Jesus into his life.
Ali wanted Hassan to come and share the gospel with his family. One night Hassan met with 11 members of Ali’s family. Hassan was a little nervous as he started speaking, but they all listened very carefully.
At the end Hassan asked if anyone would like to ask Jesus into their lives. All the members of Ali’s very Islamic family put up their hands. They all became Christians on that night.
From then on a house church started in Ali’s house – and as others heard his testimony, so this house church network grew. After one year there were 60 members; after two, nearly 250.
The book of Acts records that even some of the priests believed: so, too, even the most unlikely of people believed in a city in the north of Iran.
This article first appeared in the Summer / Autumn issue of Iran, the magazine of Elam Ministries and is used with permission.