Hope for Iran in the Gospel: The Intimacy of Heart Languages: Patheos

by Lana Silk

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:36 

The Iranian Christian church is the fastest-growing church in the world. However, due to local government religious oppression, this movement is largely underground, making the exact growth rate estimate-able, but far from exact. And while we know this movement is massive, with many statistics estimating over one million Christians in Iran today, this revival is largely limited to people groups who have access to Biblical literature in their native language. 

The Bible, and the ability to access and understand it, is a critical foundational tool for evangelism, discipleship and church planting work. The simple truth is that unless the Word of God is available in every language, we can never achieve the Great Commission, to “go and preach the Gospel to all nations” (Matthew 28:19-20). 

Although it is traditionally assumed that everyone in Iran speaks Farsi, there is a large portion of the population — particularly the older generation and women — who do not. In fact, more than 55% of Iranians do not speak Farsi at home, speaking any one of more than 39 different languages. And although these people groups account for the majority of the population of Iran, they are considered the “national ethnic minority.” 

Sadly, the Farsi language is one of the Iranian government’s oppressive tools designed to further control the people. This nuanced level of control dictates the way information is distributed — including the way Farsi-translated texts are communicated to the public, thus diluting, restricting or manipulating messaging, and even greatly increasing illiteracy for ethnic minority groups. 

Therefore, an obvious problem exists. Most Iranians who are deemed the ethnic minority, without prominence or privilege, do not have Bible translations in languages they can understand – or understand well. Furthermore, the Farsi translations available fail to resonate with these disadvantaged people groups because they are not yet written in their “heart languages.”

Reaching the Unreached 

In simple terms, someone’s “heart language” is typically the first language they learned at home. It’s the native tongue that comes to represent their cultural and geographic identity. It’s their inner voice. It’s how they dream. 

Because the Bible is not available to every language present in Iran, millions of people are completely unreached by the Good News of the Gospel. At best, they might have access to the headlines of the Bible through stories shared with them, but none of them will have the whole message. 

Thankfully, there are passionate advocates who are working tirelessly to translate the Bible into every language in Iran. These champions of the Great Commission understand that reading or hearing the Word of God in the mother tongue bypasses many hurdles and enables the listener to truly understand and connect with the message.  

This meaningful work has already begun in the Gilan Province, where the native language of Gilaki is spoken by approximately three million people. Although many people in the region are bilingual in both Gilaki and Farsi, those in the more rural areas, especially the women, are monolingual Gilaki speakers. Because the younger generations have largely adopted Farsi as their primary language, Gilaki is on the brink of extinction. It is not only paramount that the language be preserved, but that these people who speak only this language are not left to be a forgotten people group.

God has not forgotten anyone, and by His grace and the support of dedicated partners, Transform Iran will have translated the full New Testament in Gilaki by the end of 2023. In development for both written and audio formats, the latter will include dramatizations of the Scripture using authentic native accents, as well as music and musical instruments that represent the culture of the Gilan Province. The audio version will support people with lower literacy in the region and draw on their imaginations — a highly important element in connecting with the people of Iran, who are known storytellers and dreamers. 

The testimonies are extraordinary. Iranian people who had not known Jesus before now have ears to hear and eyes to see the Good News. Those who were already believers can now receive Christ’s love in a fresh, more personal way. When the Word of God is presented in someone’s heart language, it lets them know they’re seen and their culture is valued. Ultimately, it makes them more receptive. 

Making Jesus Known to All 

The Gilan Province is just one of many regions of Iran in which God is moving. Transform Iran’s Bible translation teams are hard at work on multiple scripture translations for the ethnic minorities of Iran. By the end of 2024, the New Testament will also be translated in Luri, Laki, Khuzestani Arabic and through a strategic partnership, Western Balochi. Sharing the Gospel message with the Iranian people is the most precious and transformative gift we could ever give them. Not only do native tongue translations better resonate with their hearts, but they also serve as a powerful language preservation tool. 

This is a complex undertaking with eternal significance. Practically speaking, the cost of translating Bibles into these regional languages is approximately $35 per verse. Once these verses are translated, they are a permanent part of written lingual history with the power to change lives eternally! 

These Bible translations are a huge expression of love and validation for the people of Iran. In search of hope, these precious people, created and loved by God, are crying out to Jesus, whether they realize it or not. The many avenues of intimacy God uses to resonate with each of our hearts, inclusive of language, are the very reasons we are able to know Him. 

Now more than ever, it is crucial to help our Iranian brothers and sisters in Christ who are crying out for justice and freedom. Therefore, my plea to you is to explore ways to be involved in and support ministries like Transform Iran, or any mission-oriented organization seeking to win souls for Christ, because it is these very organizations that the Lord is using to advance the Kingdom in the Middle East.

And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?…Both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” Acts 2:8,11

Originally posted on: Patheos.

Published on
11 August 2023
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