Dear Family and Friends,
Praise the Lord! Greetings in Jesus’ precious name! Well, I can’t wait to say it! Glory to God!! Jesus did it all! By the grace of God, I have just returned from carrying the cross through Iran! Hallelujah! The impossible is possible through God! What a glorious honor and privilege! I want to make it very clear from the start, though, that it had nothing to do with any man. Jesus made a way! This was such an incredible trip that it would be hard to believe except, I had a witness! I’m so thankful that my good friend, Ken Janke went with me. From the moment we arrived there was incredible openness and favor shown to us. While Customs officials combed through others’ luggage, we walked through without a single question. No one even turned their heads as we passed through with Bibles and a twelve-foot wooden cross!!
The entire time we were there, we did not receive one negative word or reaction. All we heard was, “You are welcome in Iran, and your cross is welcome here.” We were overwhelmed at the wonderful love, kindness, and hospitality shown to us. In the summer of 1996, I had the privilege of staying in the former Iranian embassy in Washington, D.C., and it was at that time that God put it in my heart to move toward trying to carry the cross in Iran. In late 1997, a group of US tourists were allowed to come in tour groups. After many phone calls, faxes, and e-mails, we were able to make connections with the group that helped us get in as a “private tour.” We were greeted at the Tehran airport by our guide / interpreter and a driver with a 4×4 Nissan! As I don’t always know where I am going to sleep or eat, it was very nice to have these arrangements worked out ahead of time, too. Though we were given an “itinerary,” we had complete freedom to go anywhere and speak with all people. We began in Tehran, then visited other major cities of Tabriz (near the Armenian and Azerbaijani border), Mashad, Kermansha (near the Turkish and Iraqi borders), Ishfahan, Shiraz, even Qom, as well as many villages, towns, and nomadic camps along the way.
Each day we would ask the Lord to show us where and when to carry the cross. All in all, I had the glorious privilege of carrying the cross more that eighty miles! As we entered the first village, some little girls came running after us and presented us with roses just outside the mosque! In many places we were asked to pray for the sick. When asked about the cross, we would tell them that we were there to pray for God’s blessings on the people of Iran, for His peace in this land, and to share the words of Jesus. We then shared about how to follow Jesus, love Him and live in His way. Twice we had the privilege of being invited to speak at Islamic theological seminaries. Our topic – Jesus! We talked about Who He is, how He wants to touch our lives, and how we can know Him!
One morning during a break from carrying the cross, a group of brand new four-wheel drive vehicles pulled up near us. Men dressed in very nice suits, all carrying cellular phones, got out. At first we all thought it was the secret police. I approached them and started talking about our pilgrimage and the message of the cross. As it turned out, they were a group of government officials getting away to do business in a quiet place. They got really excited when they realized we were from America. They asked if we could tell the American people that they desire peace and that Americans are welcome in their country. Then for twenty minutes, they asked questions and we talked about Jesus and the peace, hope, and love that only He can give. We left them after a beautiful time of prayer.
A while later as we were walking down the road with the cross, we heard cars honking. It was them–a group of “distinguished” government leaders, honking, leaning out of their vehicles, and waving! The Persian people have great respect for their poets, and it is reflected in the way they speak. Farsi, the Iranian language, is incredibly beautiful and descriptive. Over and over, we were encouraged that God was using us as we heard people say things like, “Our land is presently in the twilight, and it is becoming darker. But from your face a light is shining, and it is showing us the path back to God in our darkness.” They would tell us, “We must listen to you because Quran (the Muslim Holy Book) tells us that we are to listen to those with the light. They are the prophets sent from God. You must tell us your message!” They continued, “As you speak of Jesus and His Words, it is like hot oil that is being poured into our hearts and souls, and we are being cleansed and purified and melted back into God.”
As always, it had nothing to do with us. We were simply there in a forgotten place, lifting up the cross. God was doing what He does best — touching and changing people’s hearts! Again, the favor that God granted us was almost too difficult to comprehend. Everyone was so warm and kind. The Iranians welcomed the cross and us in all ways. I left Iran more convinced than ever that there is no barrier to love. Though different in culture, religion, and economic status, the hearts of all people around the world respond to love and the call of God. I firmly believe that people around the world are tired of the hypocrisy, professionalism, and commercialism that they have so often seen masquerading as religion. People from all places and all backgrounds, are searching for truth, and desire a pure heart and a real relationship with the living God.
In recent years, there has been a lot of talk and excitement about revival and renewal. I sincerely believe that God needs to, desires to, and is touching the church in new and fresh ways. More than ever, though, I am convinced that God also wants to touch the world outside of the church–in the streets and highways, and in the homes and businesses. Look at Jesus. Except for a few times, His miracles and messages were not in the temple and synagogues, but outside where the people were. True revival and renewal can’t come if we confine our Christianity to Christian meetings and forget to take Jesus to the market place, let alone the battlefield. This is where God’s character needs to become visible in us. Let’s be radical and deny ourselves daily. Let’s take up our cross and follow Jesus!!
Ugandan President Musevini recently said the following words, “Let’s resolve to take Jesus Christ out of the religious setting in which we have imprisoned Him and walk with Him along the dusty roads of our world where He feels much more at home.” Let’s cry for, smile at, and reach out to the precious people of this world. Let’s all seek to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow Him as He leads us where He will.
Years ago a friend sent the following words to me. They challenge me today as they did then
“I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the center of the market place as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap; at a crossroads so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where he died and that is what he died about. And that is where churchmen ought to be and what churchmen should be about.” — Ian Thomas
As you receive this letter, my good friend, Todd Peterson and I will be on our way to Tibet and Bhutan. By God’s grace, we will carry the cross through these countries.
Many of you know and understand the struggle that lies ahead. Please pray that God would give us favor and that He would make our way clear, smooth, and peaceful. Pray that our cross witness would be clear, simple, and fruitful. Pray that people will hear of, know, love, and follow the true and real Jesus. We are asking Him to send His angels before us and with us and that He would cover us in the pure, holy blood of Jesus. Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for your prayers and for your gifts that have helped us to go with the cross and beautiful message of Jesus to the nations. Only in heaven will you know how deeply thankful we are to be able to work alongside of Jesus with people like you. Please remember that this isn’t about what we’re doing, but it’s about what God is doing through so many of you and us together. We don’t have a ministry. We never have and never will! Jesus does! We only want to be the kind of vessels through which He can reach a lost and hurting world. Thanks for loving God so much!! Hope to see you soon!
God Bless You!!
We found a very helpful website where you can study Iran in the Bible. You can find it at www.farsinet.com/iranbibl.
A wonderful company helped us make arrangements for our time there. We found that Americans are welcome in Iran; even, religious tourists and pilgrims who want to visit the Biblical sites there.
You can contact:
Silk Road Tours
Attn: Hossein Lotfi
Telephone: 604.925.3831 or 800.881.SILK
Web Page: www.silkroadtours.com