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Last month, I had the privilege of traveling with The Outreach Foundation to learn about the Iranian church in London. The focus of the trip was on the diaspora church, meaning Iranians who left their home country, either voluntarily or involuntarily. We also learned about how God was working inside of the country of Iran through the underground house church movement, and in those outside of the country.
Our team heard phenomenal stories of Iranians who came to faith in these diaspora churches. We also heard stories of believers who came to faith inside of Iran and needed to flee because of their conversion or their work for the gospel. We met several people who had been imprisoned, had property confiscated, or who had loved ones martyred for their faith. It was an important lesson for me to learn not to confuse Iran with Iranians. We hear horrible news about Iran in the media, justifiably so, but we do not often see the many wonderful people living in oppression and hopelessness, who upon hearing about the love of Jesus come to faith in Him. As a result, Iran is arguably the fastest growing church in the world.
One of the largest resources facilitating such growth for the Iranian church is Pars Theological Seminary
(www.parstheology.com). Pars was co-founded by Sasan Tavassoli, an ECO pastor in Atlanta, who works with The Outreach Foundation. You may remember Sasan from when he preached at our 2016 National Gathering in Newport Beach. Many people commented on his message and their eyes were opened to God’s work in the Muslim world. During that worship service we collected an offering for Pars.
Pars is currently under the direction of Mehrdad Fatehi and his daughter Shadi. Shadi attended our 2018 National Gathering in Houston, and helped facilitate the worship time during our Synod meeting. What impresses me about Pars is the way they teach people from a variety of educational backgrounds solid, deep theology with a Reformed leaning. Their professors are highly educated, and many have PhDs from top institutions around the world. They are also doing an amazing job of ministry skill training and providing deep spiritual formation. They train people both in Iran and work with the church outside of Iran. As you can imagine, they have to do these things in very creative and cost effective ways to prepare the leadership that is necessary for the future.
There are a few reasons I mention Pars. First, I see a deep synergy between ECO and Pars. They embody many of our same values. They are egalitarian, with most of their students being women. They are bold, risk taking, and entrepreneurial. They value the life of the mind and have a huge vision.
Going forward, we see a great potential partnership, as some of our churches are beginning to financially contribute their ministry and can potentially help in various aspects of training. We can also partner with them as we explore potential mission trips for students and emerging leaders to work with and learn from Iranian churches in diaspora, especially in London. We see potential for Pars students to plant churches or small expressions of Iranian churches in the US.
We are also learning from the way in which Pars trains students. Lisa Johnson, ECO’s Director of Lay Leadership Development, was also on this trip to not only learn about Pars, but to also look at what Pars uses to train their students. You may have read in last month’s newsletter that Lisa is working on a training process for commissioning elders and deacons as lay pastors of congregations and within micro-expressions of church, as is allowed in our polity. Lisa and I both found the holistic principles and model of Pars informative for how we train ECO leaders for the future.
I continue to be extremely thankful for ECO’s connection with the global church. Jen Haddox, our Director of Global Engagement (also with us in London), has a great heart and passion to foster mutual partnership with global partners. Pars is one of the places where I think ECO as a whole, as well as our individual churches, can have a mutually beneficial partnerships as we fulfill God’s work together.