Those who have followed this blog for some time will know that we have a sizeable Iranian community with us. We currently function bi-lingually with English acting as the main operative language and Farsi simultaneously translated.
Most of our Iranian contingent are, or have been, asylum seekers. Whilst we also have Afghan and Iraqi (Kurdish) asylum seekers with us too, numerically we are dominated by Iranian asylum seekers. At last count, we had somewhere in the region of 8 different nationalities represented in the congregation.
Many wonder how we can take advantage of the openness to the gospel among Iranian people. In our particular case, one Iranian man simply wandered into the church several years ago and, as tends to happen, Iranians begat Iranians. We have seen dozens of Iranian people come into the church, trust Christ, get baptised and join the church in membership. Many are no longer with us but are going on with the Lord in other parts of the country, blessing other churches.
Without wishing to over-theologise about it, the truth is that Iranians will come into the church when the Lord brings them in. I would love to point to our community and say it was the product of some cleverly devised strategy. But the reality is that the Lord simply brought them in and then kept them coming. Even were we inclined to do so, we cannot claim any credit for their coming.
However, as the Lord began bringing Iranians into the church, there were adjustments undertaken that probably helped them to stay. In the early days, there was a desire to try and meet so-called ‘felt needs’. This typically led to segregated, language-based Bible Study. This had the unfortunate consequence of leading the church to effectively have two separate congregations that, though meeting together at times, individuals prioritised their particular studies of choice (usually those delivered in their first language).
This led us to change tack altogether. We removed all separate studies and, instead, instituted Community Groups. We purposefully mixed them, insisted that we eat at them and told our Iranian friends that we would cancel their Farsi Bible Studies for a time. We promised we would try to translate as much as possible and said that we would (if there was a call for us to do so) reinstate the Farsi Bible Studies as an additional teaching opportunity if they showed themselves committed to the community groups.
Over time, this led to far greater integration between the nationalities in the church and also meant that the whole church was sitting under the same teaching programme. We never heard any great clamour for Farsi Bible studies being reinstated. Nonetheless, having established the Community Groups, we decided there was room for Farsi Bible Studies but that these should be periodic, led by one of our Iranian members and aimed at non-, and new, believers. This led us to run Farsi Christianity Explored once per year. We have also looked into running the Identity course as a follow-on to this.
I have been asked about the resources we use to teach and disciple our Iranians. So, below are some things we have used:
Pre-translated Farsi courses:
Persian Leadership Development Programme (South Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary course – Kambiz delivered some training for our people via skype)
Courses we have used and translated in-house
Six Steps to Loving Your Church
The Cost of Discipleship Study Book
Oldham Bethel Church Persian page (includes links to websites and access to Farsi downloadable sermon translation)
Elam Ministries (see also their resources arm, Kalameh)
Mahfele Enjil (Gospel Coalition resources in Farsi)
Jesus-Islam.com (apologetics in Persian – the site also has versions in most Muslim-majority languages)
I have also written this book, which is currently being translated into Farsi.
As I have mentioned several times before, Oldham is officially the most deprived town in England and the makeup of churches like ours mean we are unlikely to be self-sustaining. Within our membership – which includes many asylum seekers – we have c. 5 people in any form of work (this has only recently increased by 2!) We are seeing many people coming to Christ, being baptised and joining his people. But these are almost exclusively amongst those drawn from the lowest socio-economic backgrounds.
As such, we are not (and are never likely to be) a church that is self-sustaining. We are reliant on the long-term support of people and churches from outside. By God’s grace, we have some generous supporters who have committed to us in the long-term. Nonetheless, we continue with a substantial monthly deficit between our incoming and outgoings. We have few folks internally able to give to the work and we have vast needs within our membership.
If you would like to support the work in Oldham, you can do so by visiting the giving page on our website or you can make contact directly using the contact form on this blog for other details.