A movement of Iranian women, who are risking their lives for Jesus, is taking Iran by storm. That’s according to New York Times bestselling author Joel Richardson, who joins me this week on The Roys Report to tell this remarkable story. Richardson is an internationally recognized expert on Biblical prophecy and Islam and has just finished producing a film depicting this move of God. Learn how to catch the premiere of this livestreaming event. I really hope you can join us for The Roys Report, this Saturday morning at 11 on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life and on Sunday night at 7 on AM 560 The Answer!
Note: This transcript has been edited slightly for continuity.
JULIE ROYS: Welcome to The Roys Report, brought to you in part by Judson University. I’m Julie Roys. And today, we’re going to talk about one of the fastest growing Christian movements in the world. And surprisingly, this movement isn’t occurring in the West where there’s a lot of religious freedom, or in the Global South, where Christianity is also booming. In fact, there are currently more Christians in the Global South of the world than in the Global North. And the Christian community in Latin America and Africa alone account for one billion people. But this incredible movement that we’re going to be discussing today is happening in the Middle East of all places—in the mostly-Islamic country of Iran. That’s right, in Iran, a country where the government is engaged in systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom, Christianity is booming. In a country where Christians can face imprisonment, torture, and execution, Christians are actively and successfully evangelizing.
It’s an incredibly inspirational movement. And next Friday, there’s a new film telling the story of this amazing movement will debut as a live-streaming event that you and your friends, your church, your small group can watch. In fact, there are about one-thousand different watch parties scheduled for this Friday, August 23rd. And I’ll be telling you a lot more about that in the rest of this show. But joining me now is Joel Richardson, a New York Times best-selling author and co-producer of this new movie called, “Sheep Among Wolves.” Joel also is an expert in biblical prophecy and spends a lot of time in the Middle East, ministering among Muslims. So, Joel, welcome! It’s a privilege to have you with us!
JOEL RICHARDSON: Julie, thank you so much for having me on.
JULIE ROYS: Yeah well, and you’re recently back from the Middle East is that correct?
JOEL RICHARDSON: Well, yeah, we’ve made some short-term trips, a few different countries. We did a tour actually to Jordan and Israel earlier this year. I was recently in southeast Asia and I may have forgotten a couple of other places.
JULIE ROYS: I know you’re always on the road seems like every time I contact you you’re somewhere around the world that sometimes you can’t tell me or you can’t speak about publicly because you sometimes go into areas that don’t really allow Christians. And speaking of which Iran is one of those. And so, I think when we talk about there being a booming Christian movement, the last place we expect it to be is in Iran. But yet, this is where this Christian movement is booming. And I know you’ve spoken to a lot of the leaders of that movement. So help us understand why on earth, of all places, is a Christian movement spreading throughout Iran.
JOEL RICHARDSON: Well I think in the natural, when people hear that, they’re like, “What in the World?” Persecution there is intense. Christianity is restricted. The government is really going to hammer, bring the hammer down, on any Muslims, particularly, that convert to Christianity. But from a biblical perspective, we see that the gospel is to those that are poor in spirit, to those that are downtrodden, to those that are broken. The gospel is for the poor. And so, there’s a few realities in Iran that most people are not aware of. The inflation there is astronomical. I mean it’s hard to even fathom. Basic food is difficult for a lot of people to afford. Iran has one of the highest drug addiction rates in the world. There’s just a tremendous spirit of brokenness on the country. And as a result of that, there’s a hunger. There’s a hunger for God. It’s Job that actually makes the statement; he says, “when someone is in a heap of ruin, they stretch out their hand and they cry out to God.” And I think the Iranian people are a perfect example of that. In their desperation, in their hunger, there’s a cry rising up out of Iran. And the Lord is responding.
JULIE ROYS: You know, it reminds me of what happened in China when it became communist. They kicked the western missionaries out. Not to say that western missionaries do need to be in these places. But after they kick the western missionaries out and it became so oppressive the church, the underground church, just exploded. And so it seems like sometimes Christianity does better in these countries where there’s so much persecution than it does here in the west where we’re very comfortable. And I know this is one of the reasons why you want to tell this story to those of us are in there in United States and the comfortable church, in the place where we have everything so to speak. And yet in some way spiritually we have a poverty that people in Iran don’t have. I mean, what’s your hope for the way that this film that you’ve produced telling the stories is going to open our eyes?
JOEL RICHARDSON: Yeah there are several lessons that we really hope that the Western Church will connect with. But I think what happens here in the West is we see, particularly in the United States, we see ourselves as not just as the leader of the world, we see ourselves as the heart of the church. And we think—when it comes to these new movements, such as in Iran—we think it’s so essential that they learn from us. But the truth is, they have so much that we—not just that we can learn from—that we need to learn from. If we are going to navigate the days ahead, we need to connect with and learn from the church that’s living it right now, that’s living—and I’m not even going to say, “early church Christianity.” Because honestly, I think what’s happening there today is something in a lot of ways even a step beyond what took place in the early church. There’s a purity that is, it’s moving. Every time you spend time with the leaders, you can see the fingerprint of God in terms of what He’s doing. And so it’s easy for us here, at ease in the coastland so to speak, to be comfortable and to not believe that that type of persecution will ever come here. But the reality is, it’s just around the corner. Now granted, it’s very different. But the hatred, the political polarization, is always, ends up being directed at the church. It always ends up being directed at Christians. And so when we see the manner, when we see the steadfastness with which the Iranian believers are persevering under such incredible, not just persecution, but, I mean, they’re being monitored. You know, just the oppression that they live with day-to-day, in every little part of their life. This is something we need to be paying attention to and really preparing ourselves for because it’s really not that far away.
JULIE ROYS: I think a lot of us are realizing that. And realizing we need to be ready for persecution because it is likely right around the corner. Tell me how this movement, how do you evangelize in a country that is so oppressive. It’s fascinating to me how Iranians are doing this because they can’t just like open up their Bible and start preaching on the street corner or even inviting people to church or to special events. This has to be done in a pretty covert way. Describe that.
JOEL RICHARDSON: Yeah, this is one of the most wonderful things about this movement is that first of all, it is completely illegal, obviously, in Iran, to evangelize, to proselytize Muslims to another faith. And here’s what’s amazing, is that they’re not breaking any laws. The way, the methodology that they’re using is very Socratic, which is to say they genuinely believe in the Holy Spirit, and they allow the Holy Spirit to do His work. So, much of the evangelism that they do, they’re asking questions. Now they’ll invite people to what we’ll call, “Discovery Bible Studies.” You know, they’ll invite them to hear Bible stories. And they lead them through the Scriptures in a very systematic way from the beginning, you know, from Genesis up throughout the story of redemption. But they’re not telling them what to believe. They’re not telling them how to respond. They’re asking them questions about these stories. You know, “What did you learn about God through this story? What did you learn about yourself?” And then they extend the invitation. They say, “Would you be willing, if this story is true, would you be willing to make changes to your life? And if so, what would those changes be?” And so it really is a dynamic discipleship movement. They’re teaching people how to listen to the Holy Spirit. Often times, and this is probably kind of a controversial statement, but often times before they even come to faith. They’re teaching them how to essentially listen to what God is speaking to them through the text—through the stories—and then how to respond. So, by the time they come to faith they already understand the concept of obedience. They already understand the concept of listening to the Holy Spirit. And it’s a beautiful thing. It’s truly a beautiful thing. Because when you see it—this is what it’s done for me, is it’s put faith in me that God is active and He’s working. Because, you know, this is not, you know, a western manipulative model where you’re teaching people how to behave and how to act. You’re actually introducing them to God and He’s teaching them how to behave and how to act.
JULIE ROYS: I love that. And I think sometimes in the West we think of conversion, coming to Jesus and lordship as two separate movements of God, you know, in our hearts. That we come to Jesus, we get our sins forgiven and then we go to this other step of lordship. But in Iran it’s happening together. I think as I read the New Testament it happens together. We give our life to Christ and we get him lordship all at the same time. Again, I’m speaking with Joel Richardson, New York Times best-selling author and co-producer of the film Sheep Among Wolves—a film telling the remarkable story of what’s happening with Christianity in Iran. We have to go to a break. But when we come back, we’ll continue our discussion.
JULIE ROYS: Well, is the government of Iran losing its grip on its people? Welcome back to The Roys Report. I’m Julie Roys. And according to my guest today, that’s precisely what’s happening. Though the Iranian government rules with an iron fist and it’s trying to wipe out Christianity, the gates of hell are not prevailing. Despite all their best efforts, Christianity is exploding—growing by 20% each year! And this is largely due to the efforts of Christians and particularly Iranian Christian women, who are risking everything for the Gospel.
Joining me today is best-selling author and co-producer of a film about this movement, Joel Richardson. And if you’d like to join our discussion, you can do that. The number to call: 312-660-2594. Also, I want to let you know that I am giving away 5 copies of a book by Joel today. The book we’re giving away is called The Mystery of Catastrophe, a book that challenges you to see the natural and man-made disasters through the lens of God’s sovereignty and End Times prophecy. If you want to be able to recognize what God’s doing in the midst of many storms that are gathering, to kind of see the spiritual behind the natural, you’re going to want to get this book. To enter the giveaway, to win this copy, just go to JulieRoys.com/giveaway. Again, joining me is Joel Richardson, a New York Times best-selling author, and also the co-producer of a film called “Sheep Among Wolves,” a film telling about this fast-spreading movement in Iran. So, Joel I’ve teased this a little bit but we haven’t really talked about it. But this is a movement largely led by women and, which is, again, ironic because this is a country where women are treated like second-class citizens, often abused and oppressed. But they’re at the forefront, correct?
JOEL RICHARDSON: Yeah, this has been a really interesting dynamic. We thought it was important to highlight. You know, similarly in the West, if you look at church attendance, it’s going to be a majority are going to be women. But there in Iran, it’s a noticeable fact that—most certainly there are men who are part of the movement, and even leading the movement—but there’s no question that women are the majority. And it’s a stunning contrast as you said, in such a culture and a society that’s so dominated by men.
JULIE ROYS: And didn’t you say that a lot of these women, when you’re doing this film, you had to get them out of the country, obviously to do it, but when you do the recording and so forth. But a lot of them had their stories of abuse in their background—of being raped and molested. Like that’s common, right?
JOEL RICHARDSON: Yeah and in fact you know, you can ask me, “why do you think women are taking such a leadership role?” And, you know, the answer actually is pretty clear. When you listen to their stories, probably the most consistent feature is that they were abused, they were molested, they were raped. Often times by, you know, family members, even by their fathers and brothers and uncles. The work is so difficult to get in the country, that often times, to get a job what you have to do is sort of work as an intern, let’s say for six months, it’s kind of a trial basis. And often times, it’s in that trial basis that if you don’t allow the boss to rape you and molest you, then you don’t get the job. And so you get a lot of just, you know, single mothers and women who need a job and so they say, you know “Why should I go work for free for someone and essentially be a prostitute, when I can just go become a prostitute and actually get paid?” You have this dynamic that it’s just, it’s epidemic throughout Iran, unfortunately, but to say, “well why are the women taking such a leadership role?” And I think the answer is there. Is that they are the ones that have been delivered from so much. They’ve been healed from so much that the gratefulness in their heart, the response in all the ways that the Lord’s touched them, is that they have a zeal. They have a zeal that’s often times unmatched by their male counterparts when they come to faith. And so, they’re willing to, they’ve been delivered from so much, they’re willing to give anything to see others’ find the same freedom.
JULIE ROYS: I think another aspect to this, or at least I’d like your comment on this, cause I talked to somebody once that said that women are so much easier than men often to evangelize within Islam because Islam doesn’t offer them very much. I mean, if you look at the afterlife, for men maybe sounds kind of good, you know, you get how many virgins and you can use them as you please. For women that doesn’t sound like really that great of an afterlife.
JOEL RICHARDSON: (Laughter) Yeah, and there’s a funny point there within textural criticism of the Koran, where some German scholars have suggested that it’s actually not “virgins.” That they mis-translated the word, that it’s actually 72 “raisins.”
JULIE ROYS: (Laughter)
JOEL RICHARDSON: But that’s a different story.
JULIE ROYS: Yeah.
JOEL RICHARDSON: But, yeah, you know, you’ve got statements in the Hadith where Mohammed actually said, “I saw the inhabitants of hell and the majority of them were women.” And so you hear statements like that and you say, “Well, wait a minute, you say why? Are women more sinful than men?” And this sort of thing. And, you know, there are dozens of traditions like this. So yes, often times—not always let’s be very clear but often times—women are mistreated in Islam. And you have these Islamic apologists that try to talk about how Mohammed was, you know, such a revolutionary. And it’s nonsense. He married a 7 year old girl. He had sex with her when she was 9 years old. That was Aisha, his favorite wife. I mean that’s pedophilia. This is not a prophet of God. This is not someone to look up to. This is not someone who’s going to exalt the status of women. On the other hand, Jesus is someone who was, in many ways, revolutionary, in terms of the treatment of women. And so yes, when women come to faith in Jesus, they do find relationship with the One who does exalt them in so many ways.
JULIE ROYS: And I’m so glad that you say that honestly and just telling the truth about Islam and what it says because I think we don’t get that in the West that often. I mean that is a politically incorrect thing just to tell the truth about who Mohamed was, about how women are treated. It always astounds me that the left, it’s supposedly so pro-women, so feminist, doesn’t tell the truth about Islam. But I think that’s a real reality and I’m glad you talk about that. I want you to talk about, too, about how in Islam and in Iran and the Islamic leaders and those who are perpetrating the faith and supposed to be evangelizing for Islam, the way they’re living isn’t necessarily matching the talk and it’s not resonating with the people, right?
JOEL RICHARDSON: Yeah. Well see, the regime itself, you have to understand, they present themselves as the stewards of the government of Allah, so the government of God. But even more than that, they’re the stewards of this invisible messiah figure they call the Mahdi. They say he’s going to come back. And he really, he’s kind of treated as though he’s omniscient and omnipotent. He’s guiding and watching all things. And so, they feed the people this narrative. And the reason that they’re so afraid of Christianity, is because when people believe in the gospel, they reject this false narrative. And that’s the very basis for their power. So, when people come to faith, they lose their stranglehold of power over the people. Now, the country itself is largely like a giant mafia state. And so, the regime is trying to stay in control. The people are all in poverty. They’re suffering. However, if you are willing to turn in your neighbors, if you’re willing to work for the secret police, then you’ll be given a job. And this is one of the easiest ways to get a legitimate job is to actually become part of the regime. And so, you have many of the religious leaders, you have many people that are part of the government apparatus, who do it simply because, you know, they’re traitors to their people but they’re desperate for jobs. And so, they’re not necessarily very zealous for Islam, they’re just selfish people. And so, you know, they’re turning on their own people. Now, there’s a story several years ago on Instagram. There was in a town that was called The Rich Kids of Beverly Hills. You know, these are all these kids and their parents. Maserati’s and, you know, luxury sports cars, drinking and doing drugs in their bikinis and showing off and this kind of thing. And, typically what you would expect to see out of Hollywood. But then, around the same time, another account opened up and it was called “The Rich Kids of Tehran.” And it looked identical, you know. Kids in sports cars, doing drugs, partying. And someone commented, they said, “but you need to understand. These are, this is not the common people in Iran. These are the children of the religious leaders.” They’re incredibly wealthy. They’re incredibly rich. They have no interest in Islam. And so this is part of the reason why the people are so resentful of the government, of the regime and of the religious leaders because the whole thing is a complete façade.
JULIE ROYS: Sounds a lot like the tax collectors in Jesus day who were actually traitors to their own people. Actually, taxing their own people for the religious, well, for the government authorities but pretending to be religious leaders. And the religious leaders were part of that whole system. Fascinating discussion. Again, I’m speaking with Joel Richardson, New York Times best-selling author, co-producer of the film, “Sheep Among Wolves.” We have to go to break. When we come back, we’ll talk about how you can be a part of these Watch Parties coming up this Friday. Stay tuned. We’ll be right back.
JULIE ROYS: Welcome back to The Roys Report, brought to you in part by Judson University. I am Julie Roys. And today, we’re discussing the explosion of Christianity in Iran. Ironically, in this repressive state where Christians are persecuted and killed, the population of Christians is growing 20% every year. That means it’s doubling about every four years! And surprisingly, in a state where women are often treated like property and abused, it’s women who are leading the charge. It’s an incredibly inspirational movement. And it’s the focus of a new film called “Sheep Among Wolves” that debuts online in a livestreaming event this Friday. And joining me today is Joel Richardson, a New York Times best-selling author and the co-producer of this film “Sheep Among Wolves.” Also, I want to let you know you can join our discussion today. Our studio line is open. The number to call 312-660-2594. Also, today I’m giving away five copies of a fantastic book by Joel called, The Mystery of Catastrophe—a book that shows how God can use even natural and man-made disasters for His purposes. And how some of these storms and crises we’re seeing may be related to End Times prophecy. If you’d like to enter to win, just go to JulieRoys.com/giveaway. So Joel, let’s talk a little bit about these watch parties this Friday. I know my small group from church, we’re all getting together in our basement, we have a nice big screen TV. We’re going to watch this livestreaming event. We’re super excited about it. Tell everybody how they can be a part.
JOEL RICHARDSON: So, if you go to the website which is SheepAmongWolvesFilm.com there is just a form that you go on there to sign up and put your information in. And yeah, a lot of these watch parties are just small groups. Some of them are churches. You know, there’s individuals, of course, many individuals will be watching it. We’re actually pushing right now close to 2,000 watch parties. And when you look at the map, it is all over the world. So, it’s a tremendous blessing. It’s you know, and look, you don’t have to watch it Friday night. You can watch it in 2 weeks. We release it into the wild for free. But we’re just encouraging people to do it together. You know, on the 23rd, the release date. And there’s just kind of this neat sense of unity knowing that you’re watching it with the global body of Christ all over the world.
JULIE ROYS: I love that. I love that. I mean I get that kind of chills on Sunday morning because we do a liturgy that I know is done all around the world by churches that are in a similar denomination. But this, to be watching what’s going on in Iran and having our eyes opened to it at the same time with now 2000—last I heard it was 1000—so you must’ve gotten a lot of people to sign up just recently even. That’s exciting to me. And it’s exciting to me that we in the church, in the West, in the first-world are going to be connecting with something that God is doing in and among Christians in Iran. It just reminds me, to me it’s just so biblical. It’s what scripture says, to be praying for the persecuted church and our persecuted brothers and sisters. And we’re doing it together so I’m really, I am super excited about it. And, you know, I just commend you for putting this together. And what I want to do is dig in a little bit on some of the stories that are contained in this film. Because I think they’re so inspirational. I know there’s one that you told me just enough to tease me about some gal who tried to hang herself and then became a believer. Tell us that story.
JOEL RICHARDSON: Yeah, and this is just such a sweet sister. She had, growing up, she had the typical story of she was abused and molested and raped by multiple men in her life, you know, people that she would trust. Even after she had been violated she would go to someone else and they would promise to take care of her and then they would violate her. And it was just sort of a letdown after letdown after letdown. But eventually, but in the midst of all this, there was just this unrelenting cry to God. She didn’t know where to turn. She didn’t know where to look. But there was just this intuitive cry to God, knowing that her defender, her deliverer was out there. So, it culminated with her trying to—well she did—she hung herself. She locked herself in this room. And she used, essentially, she used what she described was a thick copper cable. She connected it to the, I think the light in the ceiling. She wrapped it around her neck and kicked the chair out. When she woke up the next day, she woke up on the floor. She had bruising all around her neck. And this was what was amazing: The room that she was in was locked. The room was still locked when she woke up. And she woke up with a very vivid memory—call it a dream or a vision—of Jesus Himself holding her in His arms. And she said for the first time in her life she had the feeling, “This is the God that I’ve been looking for. This is the God that I’ve been searching for.” And just this incredible experience of feeling cared for. Finally, in her life a man who actually cared for her. And she said, and she looked, and the cable—she said it was so thick that, you know, when it was bent—you couldn’t, she said the cable was laying perfect, perfectly straight laid down on the floor. She said, you know, “you couldn’t have machine-straightened this cable out after it was so bent up.” And she knew, you know, in some miraculous, amazingly strange way, that the Lord had actually taken her down from the noose and revealed himself to her. And she is a passionate, passionate evangelist.
JULIE ROYS: Wow! What an amazing story. It kind of gives me goosebumps just listening to you right now. I hear so many stories like that of Muslims who become believers—or people from Muslim countries—and I don’t know if it’s just that God speaks in a more supernatural way there because it’s—I mean they don’t have the access to scriptures like we do, or to churches like we do. But I wonder if part of it’s too that they have a worldview that accounts for the supernatural. Whereas ours is much more naturalistic. Do you hear, are you hearing those same sorts of things? I mean, is it often sort of these miraculous kind of conversions?
JOEL RICHARDSON: Yeah, no absolutely. And we hear it a lot. And to be clear, I also want to be careful. Because it does happen a lot. But by the same token—and we should trumpet these things; they’re wonderful—but by the same token, the majority come to faith through old, consistent evangelism. You know, just normal people sharing the gospel. Being faithful. It’s not always 4 dreams and 3 visions and 2 visitations, you know? (laughter) So that’s important to qualify. But yeah, you’re exactly right, which is to say, the Islamic culture is very open to dreams. They’re very open to all of these things. And often times you’ll have let’s say a woman,a wife, and she is possessed—they’ll say by Gin—which we call demons. Gin are essentially an Islamic—it’s where you get the word Genie—but they’re kind of these invisible spirits. So, you’ll get these women that they believe are oppressed or possessed by Gin. They’ll take them to the Imams to be delivered—and these Imams will sometimes charge them $20,000 for a deliverance session. And they’ll read some Koranic passages over them. And then they just get worse, and this sort of thing. And so, they have a culture where—you know, I’ll call it a witch doctor so to speak—where religious leaders almost serve like a witch doctor role.
JULIE ROYS: Joel, hold on that story. I’ll let you finish it when we come back. We gotta go to break. I’m speaking with Joel Richardson. You’re listening to The Roys Report We will be right back with the rest of that story after a short break.
JULIE ROYS: Well, a movement of Iranian women, who are risking their lives for Jesus, is taking Iran by storm. Welcome back to The Roys Report. I’m Julie Roys. And today we’re talking about this amazing movement in Iran where the population of Christians is doubling about every four years. And joining me today is New York Times best-selling author Joel Richardson, who’s just co-produced a film about this movement in Iran. This film debuts this Friday in an online livestreaming event. If you want to know more about that, go to SheepAmongWolvesFilm.com. Also, I want to let you know that if you missed any part of today’s broadcast, or just want to listen again or share it with friends, it will be available at my website today by 1 o’clock central time in the event you are listening online somewhere else. So just go to JulieRoys.com and click on the podcast tab.
I also want to let you know that next week, we’re going to be debating what Christians should think about legalizing marijuana. Joining me will be author Jonathan Merritt, who says marijuana is the only thing that’s relieved his chronic pain, and he supports legalization. And challenging his view will be Dr. Richard Poupard, who opposes legalization. This is going to be a great show, probably a pretty lively one. And I’ll be taking your calls, as well. So, I truly hope you can join us on Saturday. I will be getting to our phone lines in just a minute. And if you want to ask a question of Joel or make a comment, the number to call, got to call quickly because we’re in the last segment the number to call is 312-660-2594. But Joel before I go to the phones, I want to just give you a chance to finish what you were saying in the last segment about people going to witch doctors in Iran and how this sometimes leads to their conversion. So finish that, tell us more about that.
JOEL RICHARDSON: Well not literally witch doctors but essentially the Imams serve as a kind of witch doctor or dream interpreter in this sort of thing. So essentially all I meant is that the Lord is visiting them supernaturally simply because He’s meeting them where they are. He’s speaking their language. It reveals the nature of God. He meets people where they are.
JULIE ROYS: Fascinating. I love this discussion today and want to go to our phone lines even though the question isn’t about Iran per se but I know you do a lot of work in the Middle East and I want to give Dan a chance to get his call. Hey Dan, welcome to The Roys Report.
DAN (CALLER): Good morning, I understand that there is also a move of God, the one true God in Pakistan, at least to some degree. I am in contact with someone in Lahore, Pakistan. And I get conflicting information from them. I get photos of church meetings that look fantastic but also requests for money and other things that raise warning flags. And I’m just wondering who can I contact just to have this gentlemen checked out? And if he’s legitimate, I would love to see him get a lot of help from the West.
JULIE ROYS: Okay sounds like two questions, what’s happening in Pakistan and let’s do that one first. Joel, do you know much about what’s happening in Pakistan? I am kind of guessing that you do.
JOEL RICHARDSON: Pakistan is a very different situation obviously because you can have churches leading. There’s plenty of Christians in Pakistan obviously but you have outbreaks of all kinds of persecution. But you do need to be careful when sending money because there’s all kinds of scams there because of the extreme poverty. I don’t know who to contact to vet anyone in particular. If there are red flags, they’re usually there for a reason. So, I don’t really know how to counsel you there.
JULIE ROYS: I will give you something I know from doing a lot of investigations. If they have any presence in the United States they have to file 990s, which are tax forms. And they should have those online. And if they don’t have it, I would ask for it. And I would ask to see their financial reports and statements. If it looks really confusing to you go to someone who can interpret those for you. But I think Christians have and I am shocked how many Christians give their money and don’t look at the finances of the organization they give their money to. That is so critically important. But Joel as we’re talking about other places in the Middle East, Israel is a place in the Middle East that actually touches on Iran becaise Iran is probably one of the greatest threats to Israel’s existence. Yet the church in Iran is actually very pro-Israel from what I understand, tell us a bit about that.
JOEL RICHARDSON: Yeah, this is one of the most beautiful parts of what is going on in the church in Iran and one of the things we emphasized in the film. Because in the natural, as you said, Iran represents the greatest existential military threat to Israel right now. They are spreading their spidery fingers throughout the Middle East through proxies of Hezbollah, Bashar al Assad, and Houthi rebels in Yemen. They are taking over Iraq and this sort of thing. But behind the scenes—you know, this is the thing we don’t often get to see behind the scenes, behind the curtain so to speak—the believers themselves have fallen in love with Israel. I have heard some of the leaders say, “how can we send missionaries to Israel?” And so again, this is the finger of God, this is the fingerprint of God. Because when you are genuinely discipling someone in the scriptures, it’s pretty hard to ignore the fact that Israel still remains God’s people. They still have an ongoing call and election on them. And unfortunately, in most of the Middle East, even in the churches, there is a lot of residual anti-Semitism. As missionaries we talk about the tragedy that the American church has exported the faith movements all over the world, you know, this prosperity gospel. But one of the problems as well, is that we are exporting often times a bad eschatology, which actually promotes this anti-Israel bias throughout the Middle East. This is what I love about the Iranian movement. There is none of that. It’s just the opposite. They actually have God’s heart for Israel.
JULIE ROYS: And Joel isn’t paying me or even asking me to say this, but I want to give a plug for your books because the first one I read was The Islamic Anti-Christ. Opened my eyes to the possibility of the Anti-Christ being Islamic. You make an incredible case for that. But Mideast Beast, Mystery Babylon, these books, there’s a reason why they are New York Times Best Sellers. They are full of truth and biblical exegesis and you’re a phenomenal writer. And friends if you haven’t gotten any of those books, I just encourage you to read them. But given, Joel, your understanding and you’re really an expert on end times and eschatology, where does Iran fit into all of that?
JOEL RICHARDSON: Well when you look at so many prophecies you’re going to get, admittedly, I’ll say, conflicting reports in the Bible, you’ll see judgments coming upon the enemies of God. But interestingly enough, there’s a very positive prophecy in Jeremiah 49, where the Lord says I will place my throne in Elam which is in the southwestern province of Iran. And I actually believe that in that there is a promise. I don’t know if it is literal, that Jesus is going to have His winter palace in Iran. But it’s as though he is saying He will have a special place, His rule in Iran during the millennial reign of Jesus. I think, you know, based on that hint and as an intercessor and as someone that loves the gospel, I think we should push into that and say, “yes Lord, you’re going to have a mighty movement, a people here that will submit to Your rule.” So, we just don’t wait for Him to come back and that happens. We push into that now.
JULIE ROYS: Let’s talk about us in the West. How should we think about our neighbors who are Muslim? How should we think about the people in Iran that you are ministering among? What should be our heart and our disposition toward them?
JOEL RICHARDSON: There was a poll recently done that analyzed bias and prejudice against Muslims and whether people have hatred for Muslims. And what really made me sad was that one of the highest segments that had a hatred of Muslims were Evangelical Christians. In an age of tolerance and all this sort of thing, I think it’s good that we have a hatred of Islam. Because Islam is fundamentally opposed to our faith. But that said if anyone should be a people who love Muslims, it should be followers of Jesus. There are a lot of negative things that can be said with regards to Islam. But when it comes to Muslims, they tend to be some of the most god conscious people in the world, a very god conscious culture. And look the Lord is moving among them. And if that’s not evidence that He loves them and He has a heart for them, then we are not paying attention. So, we need to check ourselves as conservative Christians. We need to say, “am I someone who has received the grace of God myself, but I am not willing to extend that grace to others?” So, we really need God’s heart on this and recognize that look there is a harvest field all around us. They’ve come to us and it’s not about just being opposed to them. It’s about sharing the gospel with them.
JULIE ROYS: Amen. And how can we support the Christians in Iran? I mean obviously we can’t go there and it’s hard to even give money to fund it. I mean, what can we do to stand with our brother and sisters in Iran and support them?
JOEL RICHARDSON: First of all, it’s always going to be prayer. And so, there are different ministries that you can sign up with and get regular prayer updates and testimonies and this sort of thing. And really the best way to knit your heart with anyone is to connect with them through prayer, committing to regularly pray for them. We will have a place at the end of the film, a link to where people if want to donate to a church in Iran – we are essentially channeling that through because we don’t want to name ministries and put a target on their backs and this sort of thing. And where your treasure is there your heart will be also. So that’s another way to connect your heart with the Church is to actually donate. And there are some opportunities—obviously with security, we need to be very careful—sometimes the leaders are able to visit here in the States. And we have, sort of underground meetings so to speak, closed meetings in churches, and you can connect with them relationally. That’s a little bit more difficult. It’s going to be primarily, you know, the first thing really, is going to be through prayer.
JULIE ROYS: And how specifically would you encourage us to pray for them?
JOEL RICHARDSON: The main prayer that they are constantly asking for is, you know the story of Jesus where he was invisible. He walks through the crowds, you know, they’re there. They are right in the heart of Iran. They are all over Iran. They are constantly being monitored. All of the Iranians are being monitored and they just need that supernatural protection, that they would continue their work. And that the Lord would blind the eyes of the enemies so to speak. That they would walk through the crowds and they wouldn’t be caught. That’s the main issue. They are regular people. Yes they’re heroes but they don’t look forward to being put into prison. They don’t look forward to being tortured. Many of them have families and children just like us and to be quite frank, they have genuine fear. We need to pray for their protection and if something happens that they would have the boldness to stand firm in the midst of it should anything go wrong.
JULIE ROYS: And courage is not the absence of fear. It’s the ability to press into that fear to overcome that fear. So we do need to be praying for them. You know Jesus told us in Matthew 16 that he would build his church and nothing, not even the gates of hell, would prevail against that. That’s what I think we’re seeing in Iran today so encouraging and again thanks so much to Joel Richardson so grateful for you and your ministry. Again, if you missed any part of this program, the entire podcast will be posted to my website JulieRoys.com. Hope you have a great weekend and God bless!