Return to "The Mission Field..."
The data is a bit fuzzy . . .
(Image from Christian World News)
A few weeks ago, I posted a blog entry titled "The Mission Field" and asked about the statistics that one sometimes hears concerning Muslim-background converts to Christianity. A couple of interesting articles published last week in Christianity Today provide a bit of information on this issue, though not much hard data.
Christopher Lewis, "It's Primetime in Iran," Christianity Today (September 24, 2008), describes the scene in a television studio that beams a Christian message from Pastor Hormoz Shariat to Iranian believers in Christ:
The TV studio hums just a few feet from his church office in northern California, but pastor Hormoz Shariat is still a last-minute arrival to his own show. Behind the scenes are teams of phone counselors and hip young producers.Lewis doesn't explain here why he refers to the "house-church movement in Iran" as "exploding," but in a separate article, "Looking for Home," Christianity Today (September 24, 2008), he cites information from Abe Ghaffari of Iranian Christians International, so I can see what he meant by the remark:
Waiting behind an Islamic veil 7,000 miles away is an exploding house-church movement in Iran, whose compatriots eavesdrop on the illegal satellite programs produced daily by Pastor Shariat's Iranian Christian Church (ICC).
Missiologists say Persians have never identified as strongly with Islam as their Arab Muslim conquerors. While some studies estimate 500,000 to 1 million Iranian Muslim-background believers worldwide, Ghaffari counts fewer than 300,000 -- most of them isolated "secret believers." But even Ghaffari is stunned by how Iran's house-church movement of 50,000 has doubled in the last five years. "This is historic," he says.Ghaffari sounds somewhat trustworthy since he downplays the total numbers of Iranian converts from Islam to Christianity, but I nevertheless wonder how one 'counts' "secret believers." Presumably, one would need to count these, or a representative sample, to back up claims of a "doubling of the Iranian house-church movement in 5 years" -- which sounds impressive but is ambiguous between meaning from 25,000 to 50,000 and meaning from 50,000 to 100,000. Initially, I took the claim to mean the latter, but I now think that it must mean the former.
However, I am not sure, for in my "Mission Field" post, I noted that Golnaz Esfandiari, "A Look At Iran's Christian Minority" (Payvand's Iran News . . . 2004), quotes the Iranian Protestant Issa Dibaj on the number of Muslim-background Christians in Iran:
"There is another Christian minority that people know little about, these are Iranians who are born as Muslims and then later become Christians," Dibaj said. "Their number is growing day by day. [There] may be around 100,000 [of them], but no one really knows the exact number."The number 100,000 might sound as if it would support Ghaffari as meaning that the house-church movement has exploded from 50,000 to 100,000, but Dibaj's estimate was four years ago would therefore not support Ghaffari's round number if 100,000 is meant. Unclear, however, is whether or not Dibaj was referring to a house-church movement at all. And what does Ghaffari mean by his numbers anyway -- individual believers or house churches?
Whatever the figures, they pale beside Iran's mostly Muslim population of about 70 million. The house-church movement might be 'exploding,' but to my ears, it still sounds more like a firecracker than a bundle of dynamite.