By James P. Needham
In November and December of 1977, I spent 30 days working among American Christians in the country of Iran, which approximates the ancient kingdoms of Babylon, Assyria, and the Medes and Persians. This trip was made at the invitation of the American brethren in Shiraz (a city toward the Southern part of the country), and I spent most of the time there, but was able to arrange short meetings in Tehran (the Capital) and Isfahan (a city about midway between Tehran and Shiraz). The trip was jointly financed by the Palm Springs Drive church in Altamonte Springs (metropolitan Orlando, FL) where I work regularly, and brethren in Iran.
The Situation In Iran
Some readers might wonder why there are so many American brethren in Iran. As you know, Iran is one of the richest oil countries of the Middle East (though experts say its oil will be depleted in the near future). It is a strong ally of the United States, and occupies a strategic location insofar as Russia is concerned. Also, it is strongly anti-Communist, but its neighbor, Iraq, has fallen into the Communist camp. This makes for a tense situation, and Iran has heavily armed itself with sophisticated American military hardware. Yet, the level of modern technology in the country cannot even begin to operate and maintain such complex machinery which involves engineering, electronics, computer science, etc.
Consequently, Iran has contracted with the American Government and American corporations to operate and maintain this equipment while teaching native Iranians to do the same (it is called counterpart training). There is also a movement to industrialize the nation. Many native Iranians are trained in engineering and other science-related fields in other industrialized nations like West Germany, France, the United States, etc. The 1975-76 academic, year found 179,000 Iranian students in foreign colleges and universities, Of this number 19,630 were in American schools (the largest number in any one foreign country). (Source: Institute of International Education). But President Carter stated recently that there were 30,000 Iranian students in the USA in 1977, and 40,000 Americans living in Iran! (President’s speech welcoming the Shahanshah and Impress Farrah to Washington, D. C. on Nov. 15, 1977).
This accounts for the presence of so many Americans in Iran, as well as many citizens of other countries. One can hear a half-dozen languages being spoken orr any, given day in the market places of Iran. As stated earlier, there are some 40,000 Americans there, and by 1985 it is estimated that there will be between 80 and 100,000.
Naturally, among so many thousands of Americans, there will be a certain percentage of Christians. I am not sure anyone knows how many Christians are in Iran, but I met about one hundred in three congregations meeting in three of the major concentrations of Americans in the country. It is highly possible that there are others, but I did not hear of them, and no American Christians I met knew of others. If anyone happens to know of others than those mentioned in this article, I would be happy to hear about them. I shall now give a summary of the works in the localities I visited:
The work at Shiraz goes back about 5 years. The Frank Herrlein family went there with the Westinghouse corporation and began meeting, as a family, in their home. Then, two years ago the Marion Grants (who were charter members where I work regularly) took a foreign contract with Westinghouse in Shiraz. They soon met the Herrleins and began meeting with them. Soon thereafter the George Snyders took a Westinghouse contract in Shiraz, and began meeting with the group, though Mrs. Snyder was not a Christian at the time. (She was baptized during my work there.) Then just recently the Harold Hollands came to Shiraz. Brother Holland is a Professor of Library Science and is teaching at the Pahlavi University in Shiraz. He is on a year’s leave of absence from the University of Missouri.
In the course of time, Marion Grant began teaching and preaching for a Baptist group with no strings attached, in addition to his work with the brethren. He and the other brethren influenced many from the Baptist group, and others, to attend the services of the local church. Sister Grant began teaching a children’s Bible class in a Presbyterian group. Opportunities to preach the gospel multiplied
The Grants approached the group in Shiraz about having an American preacher to come over and work with them for a few weeks and survey the situation, not only in Shiraz, but throughout the country, to evaluate the feasibility of perhaps moving a preacher there to work on a more permanent basis. The decision was made to do this. When the Grants came home for a leave, they asked me if I would be willing to make this trip. I agreed to do so, and we began making plans.
I arrived in Shiraz on Saturday, November 19, and was met at the airport by Marion Grant and Frank Herrlein. We went to the Grant’s house and visited a few minutes before they had to return to their employment. (The work week in Iran is Saturday through Wednesday. Our Thursday and Friday are the Muslim’s days off, their “week end.”) That evening the men assembled at the Grant’s home for a get-acquainted session, and some planning for the first gospel meeting to begin the next evening in the home of the Frank Herrleins.
This meeting got under way on Sunday evening (since Sunday is a work day in Iran as mentioned above), and lasted through Wednesday night. It was well attended by the four families that make up the Shiraz church, and many of their friends, both American and Iranian. Upon more than one occasion the majority of the audience was made up of non-members: Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Muslims, etc. (It is amazing how the Americans can lay aside their traditional religious prejudices when they are separated from family and community pressures! This within itself makes Iran a very fertile field of labor.)
Following a 3 or 4 day interim, we had a second meeting in the home of the Grants. It began on the following Sunday evening and went through the following Thursday. While it was attended by some outsiders, it was mainly supported by the local members.
The lessons were well received in Shiraz. The local Christians were greatly edified, non-members were impressed with the simplicity of the gospel, and some Muslims spoke favorably of the preached word. One American lady, Mrs. George Snyder, was baptized. A later report is that the effort is still bearing fruit.
It was a real joy to be associated with these wonderful people. It was a special joy to live in the home of the Marion Grants with whom we have been associated in gospel work for many years. They made my visit most pleasant and, profitable from a personal standpoint.
Tehran is the Capital of Iran, and a thriving city of some 8,000,000 souls. There is a large concentration of Americans there, and the church in Tehran goes back several years and has ranged in attendance to as many as 80. The number stood at about 40 while I was there.
I made contact with the Tehran church through John Nix, a brother I had known for several years, and a son-in-law to Brother Robert Bolton. At that time he was an accountant for Blount Brothers Corporation in Iran.
I flew from Shiraz to Tehran on December 2, and was met at the airport by John, and made my home with him while there. I began a short meeting with the Tehran group on the night of December 4, and ended on the 7th. The meeting was fairly well attended in view of the fact that it came on such short notice. (Communication in Iran is very poor. There are telephones,but one may spend 2 or 3 hours making a long distance call, and then be cut off in the middle of the conversation, then spend that much more time calling back!)
The work at Isfahan also goes back to 1976. Bell Helicopter is a big contractor in Iran and much of its establishment is in Isfahan. Many Isfahan brethren are employed at Bell. The church there numbers 35 or 40, but has been as high as 60. The tremendous fluxuation in membership is due to the transient nature of the members. Contracts are for 1, 2, and 3 years, and many do not renew. Some Americans like to live in Iran, but many do not like it at all!
I had difficulty contacting the brethren in Isfahan. I spent the entire two weeks- at Shiraz trying to make contact with them, and finally succeeded just before leaving for Tehran, but it was too late to avoid going to Tehran then back-tracking to Isfahan. Thus, I went to Tehran for the meeting, then flew back to Isfahan for a short meeting the next week end.
(Concluded next week.)
Truth Magazine XXII: 21, pp. 348-349
May 25, 1978